Thomas Jefferson tennis player aces academic competition, wins Saint Vincent scholarship

Sunday, April 24, 2022 | 9:01 AM

Thomas Jefferson senior Anthony Sparta doesn’t necessarily cause a racket on the tennis court.

He makes his most noise in the classroom with an impressive 5.0 GPA this year and a cumulative GPA of 4.65.

Sparta was one of five students awarded a scholarship to Saint Vincent in Latrobe as a result of his performance in the college’s 41st annual Wimmer Scholarship Competition.

As the first-place finisher in the contest, which drew almost 100 entrants, Sparta has been awarded a four-year, full-tuition, room and board scholarship valued at more than $200,000. He plans to study chemistry in college.

“I’m incredibly grateful to receive the Wimmer scholarship,” Sparta said. “I really love Saint Vincent College from the times I’ve visited, so I’m thrilled to go there. I had already essentially committed before even learning that I won, and I’d met with faculty and administration a number of times. So it was a great experience to be recognized by some of the same people that I’d previously talked to.

“The competition was actually broken up into three parts. One was open-ended math, one was an essay analyzing an excerpt from Mark Twain, and the final was 100 questions of general knowledge, ranging from history and science to philosophy.”

Sparta learned of his scholarship as he was surprised at his high school by Heather Kabala, Saint Vincent’s director of admissions, his parents (Chris and Donna) and AP Physics classmates.

Sparta is a four-year member of the TJ boys tennis team and volunteers as an instructor for a junior tennis clinic every summer. He competes at the third singles position for the Jaguars.

“Tony is very athletic,” said Chuck Correll, TJ’s veteran coach. “His backhand is very good, and his ground strokes are very consistent. He has been a valuable volunteer for summer tennis the last four years. He was a motivator for the younger middle school players. Tony is also a great role model for the younger players on the team. He has a quiet, show-by-example personality.

“Tony really deserves the award he is receiving. He is a great person. His strong family influence is responsible for Tony’s great moral integrity. I am very impressed with the respect he shows everyone.”

Thomas Jefferson recently defeated rival South Park to remain undefeated in section play.

“Our tennis season is going very well,” Sparta said. “We’re hoping to finish at the top of our section, and we’re looking forward to the playoffs.

“Unfortunately, I’ve been struggling with a calf injury. … Overall, it’s been a great season, and we’re hoping to keep the momentum going forward.”

Sparta has been playing tennis since the sixth grade and is the only tennis player in his family. The TJ senior doesn’t plan to continue his career in college.

“I honestly hadn’t been planning on playing in college because most of my time will be probably be focusing on a possible double major in chemistry and physics,” he said.

Sparta enjoys working with younger students in his community, serving as a proctor for the Math 24 Competition for local area middle school students and volunteering at a Future Problem-Solving Program workshop to introduce new students to the problem-solving competition.

Sparta is a National Merit Scholarship finalist. He has been recognized as an AP Scholar with Distinction and is a member of the National Honor Society.

“Regarding being a National Merit finalist, I haven’t heard back yet about the scholarship,” Sparta said. “I’m honestly just grateful to be chosen as a finalist. It’s an opportunity I never really imagined having.”

Sparta also is a member of the AP Humanities and history clubs and is the president of TJ’s STEM club, in addition to being a member of the Varsity Academic League team.

He has been a member of the Pennsylvania Future Problem-Solving Team since middle school and has gone to the state finals with the team multiple times.

Sparta also is active in mock trial and earned recognition as a “top witness” last year.

“I’m fairly sure Saint Vincent has a mock trial team, so I’d love to join that if possible,” he said.

The TJ boys tennis team was 9-0 and atop Section 1-2A with three matches remaining on its schedule. WPIAL team playoffs begin May 2.

“Last year, we were a team made up of mostly juniors,” Correll said. “I expected the experience from last year to help us be much better. We are having a tremendous season.”

The Jaguars’ starting lineup consists of seniors Drew Dimidjian at first singles, Chris Pham at second singles and Sparta at third. Dimidjian won the section singles championship.

“Drew is a dominant player with a complete game,” Correll said. “His strength is his serve and severe topspin ground strokes. He was a state singles qualifier last year.

“Chris has improved his control and has become a very good baseline player. He hustles on every point. And Tony has been a very consistent player for TJ. He is a lefty, which makes him very difficult for his opponents. His backhand is very good and has a lot of pace.”

Senior Luke Georgulis and junior Gavin Sweeney compete at first doubles for the Jaguars and have not lost a set this season.

“They are both strong servers and great net players,” Correll said. “Luke hits very good cross-court returns. Gavin is good from the baseline. They are a very good combination and have dominated their opponents.”

Three players — seniors Nick Muffi and Joe Woderak and junior Kyle Siler — rotate at second doubles.

“Nick is without a doubt the most improved player on the team,” Correll said. “His ground strokes are very good, especially his cross court return of serves. Nick also has a very good serve.

“Joe has been really important to our team. He has managed to improve in spite of other commitments at the beginning of the season. His forehand has been dominant and his serve has been good.

“And Kyle is one of the best athletes on the team. He is a relentless hustler. He is all over the court and keeps the team in the match. His ground strokes are solid and he is very aggressive at the net.”

Correll is retiring from the coaching ranks following the 2022 spring season.

“We will be in the playoffs and should be one of the four top teams,” he said. “This season has been awesome. What a great year for my last season.”

The Wimmer Scholarship program is named for Archabbot Boniface Wimmer, who founded Saint Vincent College in 1846 as the first Benedictine college in the United States.


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