Game, Set, MatchMar 08, 2023 04:50PM ● By Kara Schweiss
Photo by Bill Sitzmann.
When Jessica and Andy Shefsky and their young sons relocated to Omaha from the Atlanta area in 2015, they wanted to find a home near Andy’s new job at Nebraska Furniture Mart, where Jessica also has special ties as a descendant of founder Rose “Mrs. B” Blumkin.
“We wanted to be close. My whole family lives like less than a mile from there,” Jessica said. “It was just the right thing for us.”
More importantly, the couple purposefully chose to make their home in a top-notch school district. Their boys have flourished academically, socially, and in multiple activities, and the family has enthusiastically supported Westside Community Schools ever since.
“We are so lucky at Westside to have many amazing families that are super-supportive,” said Westside Community Schools Superintendent Mike Lucas. “One thing that stands out about the Shefsky family is that they are involved at multiple levels, and their positivity really jumps out at you. They are always rooting for all Westside kids to be successful—not just their kids, not just their kids’ friends; they genuinely want everybody to feel accepted, to feel supported, and to be successful.”
The sport of tennis strings the family together; all four of them have played for years.
Son A.J., a Westside High School junior, is a state tennis champion. He and brother Troy, who’s in the eighth grade at Westside Middle School, have played since early childhood and both have been involved with Tennis Buddies—a partnership of athletes with disabilities and tennis players that supplements Special Olympics Nebraska tennis programs.
A.J. also created a racket-stringing business called ShefStrings with support from Westside’s HATCH program for young entrepreneurs, and he’s hoping to eventually pass operations along to his brother (also his first employee).
Jessica and Andy support not just tennis, but all Westside High School sports through their leadership with the Westside Athletic Club, a volunteer and parent-led group that coordinates fundraising and other activities. They even write the club’s weekly newsletter.
It’s fitting that tennis is also responsible for Andy and Jessica’s meeting. Andy was a volunteer tennis coach for an Atlanta youth team participating at a tournament in Omaha, and Jessica, who’s a local, was there to cheer on her brother, Ryan, in his matches.
“We met on the bleachers, just started talking,” Andy said. “And the really cool full-circle thing about all of it is that it was the same court at Koch Tennis Center where A.J. won his state championship.”
Jessica said her sons first picked up a tennis racket as preschoolers. A few years ago, the family had fun taking a reenactment photo of A.J. on the court for a side-by-side comparison of then versus now.
“I’m excited to be more of a leader on our team and be someone that can be like a role model as the older kids were to me,” A.J. said, adding that when he’s a senior, his brother will be a freshman. “Next year, hopefully I’ll be able to play some doubles with Troy.”
A.J. said he also intends to apply for a fourth year on the Westside school board’s student committee. “It’s been really cool to listen to the board and see how they operate.”
A.J. excels off the court as well and is already considering his options for higher education. “Whenever we travel somewhere, we check out the colleges,” Andy said. ” The budding entrepreneur, whose stringing business serves clients from tennis novices to teaching pros, is also in his second year working on Westside High’s dance marathon event committee and is in charge of fundraising and finance. He’s looking at business schools, and—of course—tennis programs.
“I always want to keep tennis in my life and keep playing,” he said.
Troy’s plans are a little less concrete as he finishes out his last year as a middle-schooler, but the academic standout and Junior Honor Society member said his favorite subject is history. He’s involved in basketball in addition to tennis and is thinking of getting back into soccer, a sport he enjoyed when he was younger. His Tennis Buddies experience was a great background for participating in a school-based program called Circle of Friends, which emphasizes inclusion.
“I’m looking forward to opportunities,” Troy said.
“We’re very happy the boys know that school comes first,” Andy said. “Those standards were laid out from the beginning. And it’s not a strict ‘you have to have straight A’s if you want to play tennis,’ but it’s more about effort, and we want to make sure that they’re taking it seriously, they’re giving it their all, they’re following what the teachers are providing them with.”
Jessica and Andy also participate in Westside’s chapter of the TeamMates mentoring program.
“We both have the same mentees that we’ve had for the past six or seven years. Jessica’s [student] is a senior right now, and mine’s a junior at Westside High School. This is my fourth year on the board for Westside’s TeamMates chapter and my first year as the president,” Andy said. “And we have recently successfully recruited Jessica’s mom! This is her first year of being a mentor.”
The Shefskys said it was easy to become involved in the Westside Schools community.
“I think it starts at the top with our superintendent, because he sets a great tone…and I’m very appreciative and grateful for all the members of our school board,” Andy said, praising the district’s emphasis on inclusivity and kindness. “It starts at the top. That has a snowball or trickle-down effect, and it just feels like a very tight-knit community.”
“I think it’s so important for public school families to get involved because education is a big deal,” Lucas said. “You know, the education of children is going to be life-changing. Our experiences as 5- to 18-year-olds as we go through school can set us up for 70 to 80 years of success upon high school graduation. And families are a huge part of that. We want to continue to partner with our families and community to do great things for young people together. Because it really is a collaborative effort with businesses, with families, with retirees, with school systems. We love working with families, and the Shefskys are a wonderful example of that.”
Added Andy: “Any time we have an opportunity to give back or help make the district continue to prosper and be what it is, we are huge fans. We’re very appreciative and we feel very fortunate for all the opportunities that all of us get.”