-

Aniken Richardson completes a cartwheel on the balnce beam as his fellow gymnasts await their turn Wednesday at TopHand Sports.

High school and middle school athletics are among the many casualties COVID-19 inflicted on Emporia-Greensville. The jury is out on a return date, but athletic opportunities remain available in the community.

TopHand Foundation is going strong, allowing youth to participate in baseball, softball, and gymnastics at its 206 West Atlantic St. facility.

“We have baseball and softball Monday through Thursday, and gymnastics on Monday, Wednesday and Friday,” TopHand owner Rustin Jessee said.

Countless youth athletes are waiting for the go-ahead to resume athletic competition. That has not been the case at TopHand. Youth travel baseball and softball teams spent the last few months competing in tournaments against other organizations’ teams. The Emporia-Greensville Recreation Association opened another avenue for young athletes with baseball and softball in the fall.

TopHand is currently open and going strong, but when the pandemic forced many businesses’ shutdown in March, TopHand was counted among the casualties.

“We closed everything down facility-wise until June 1, Jessee said. “Then, we went through small group sessions and hosted a few camps. All of our baseball and softball teams were playing by the third week of June.”

TopHand hosted two free gymnastics camps in July. The gymnastics program has been going strong for four months. High school athletes are basically locked down from playing sports or working out with their teammates in a school setting. Many are taking advantage of the opportunities provided by TopHand. Jesse said he is seeing many high school athletes coming to the facility as early as 2:30 p.m. and staying as late as 6 p.m. to prepare for a season they hope they will see in December. The facility is now more of a centerpiece than it was before COVID-19.

In a way, TopHand was a centerpiece in Emporia-Greensville long before it was officially a business. Jessee’s father, Randy Jessee, hosted baseball and softball camps at the Meherrin River Park complex in the 1990s when he was the varsity baseball coach at Southampton High School. He boasted winning teams at Southampton, then later oversaw Greensville County High School’s most successful basketball run as head coach from 2002-03 to 2007-08. The Eagles reached four consecutive Final Fours, including back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 2004 and 2005. Rustin was the starting point guard on those Greensville squads.

The staggering success at Greensville County High School brings fond memories for Randy, but teaching youth in the camps is another fond memory for him. It is the foundation that led to the father-son combination opening TopHand.

“It’s always been a dream of ours to open up to a bigger scene and get more people involved,” Randy said during the 2018 ribbon cutting for the new facility. “I’m very proud of Rustin and the rest of the family for what we are doing here. It’s more than baseball, softball or athletics. It’s a common outreach where we can work with mentoring kids, tutoring, parental classes and we are excited about it.”

TopHand began its travel ball in 2013. It has spread its wings to provide community outreach in Emporia-Greensville, and the surrounding area of Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. In 2018 TopHand added the youth outreach to its mission. Rustin said the TopHand program is more about teaching the youth about life off the field than on the field activities.

Rustin spent eight years as an educator in the Greensville County School Division. He saw a great need in the community.

“I’ve seen so many kids that are underprivileged,” he said. “It has opened me up. They are searching for some people to help, so we are trying to be another outlet of a positive role model setting in our community.”

The TopHand Virtual Academy is busy helping students with their classwork. Students from Emporia-Greensville, Brunswick, and Southampton County’s, and even homeschoolers are taking advantage of the Virtual Academy. It allows them to keep up with their schoolwork and get the help they need for academic success.

Though TopHand is providing services unrelated to athletics in Emporia-Greensville, sports remain a centerpiece of growth for many youths. It’s a limited opportunity for growth during the pandemic. It’s an opportunity TopHand brings to the community. For more information about the TopHand Foundation, call 434-336-1950 or visit tophandfoundation.org.