ASHVILLE - Mornings for the last few weeks, Jake Roberts could be found on the tennis courts at Loomis Bay Park, helping a handful of youngsters learn the basics of a game he loves.
''We're working on the basic strokes, teaching them how to hit volleys and serves,'' said Jake, who works as a tennis instructor through the Busti-Lakewood Recreation program. ''It's really emphasizing the stroke to get the fundamentals down.''
Knowing and sticking to the fundamentals is something Jake knows intimately. The 16-year-old son of Richard and Lisa Roberts of Ashville has kept on task throughout his academic career and is currently at the top of the incoming senior class at Panama Central School. His self-discipline has also propelled him to all-county and all-state band status, membership in National Honor Society, a seat in the Infinity Performing Arts Big Band, and the role of first singles player on the school's tennis team.
Standing Out in the Crowd
In addition to the involvement of his parents, Jake can attribute that self-discipline to a lifelong battle with Tourette's syndrome - which he said has forced him to learn the arts of focus and patience.
''Through the years, I've learned to cope with it,'' Jake said. ''It's taught me a lot of different lessons. There have been some rough spots, but I've learned to overcome them.''
Tourette's syndrome is a neurological syndrome which Jake says means he has ''too much energy'' in his nerves. It manifests itself in the form of physical and vocal twitches or tics - mostly physical in his case, Jake says, which gives him some trouble on the tennis court from time to time.
''(Tourette's has) taught me a lot of different lessons. There have been some rough spots, but I've learned to overcome them.''
''When I'm playing tennis points, if I twitch when the ball comes to me, I'll probably miss the ball,'' he said. ''So I kind of have to time it - hit the ball, then you can twitch and wait for the ball to come back.''
Jake said he has a good sense of humor about his disorder, even going by the nickname ''Twitch'' and having it emblazoned on his hoodie when he played soccer for the school. His mother said she is proud of her son's ability to push through and make light of his situation, and that his classmates have been very mature and supportive as he has grown up with the syndrome.
''His peers have been wonderful about accepting peculiar traits,'' she said. ''Because he joined Panama as young as third grade, they've really just grown up around him.''
The Robertses came to live in the Panama district when Jake was in third grade, and the move wasn't a short one. Jake was born in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Before eventually settling in Ashville, Jake and his family also lived in Texas and Norway - moving due to Jake's father's job as a petroleum engineer.
''Traveling like that and living in different places, I have appreciation for different cultures and people,'' Jake said. ''I like traveling a lot, learning different things about other countries.''
Jake had another chance to meet people from different cultures and countries earlier this summer, when he traveled to Boston after being selected as a People To People student leader. While in the weeklong program based at Harvard University, Jake worked with other top students from around the world working on leadership, team-building and the formulation and implementation of community service projects.
''It was a lot of fun, and I made new friends that I keep in contact with,'' he said. ''I got to learn a lot about Boston and Harvard, and all the leadership skills.''
With college on the horizon, Jake has been looking into top schools including Cornell, Carnegie Mellon and Penn State. Like his mother and father before him, he hopes to earn a degree in engineering.
When asked if he is aiming for a career in engineering that will allow him to travel throughout the world, as his father's did, Jake said he would likely be more content doing that than settling in one place.
''I would like to travel,'' he said. ''I think it's a good experience - so if that's an option, I'd really consider it.''
For the time being, though, Jake will be staying put for one more year - providing leadership and a positive influence on those around him.
''I try to do the right thing when it comes to moral values,'' he said. ''I talk to friends and help them with whatever they need - whatever I can do to steer people the right way whenever I can.''
If you have an area student you would like to recommend for Standing Out In The Crowd, contact Dave Emke at 487-1111, ext. 253 or firstname.lastname@example.org. This series of features highlights students who stand out both in the classroom and in their community.