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Friday, March 18, 2011

A Tennis Coach Instills Love, Respect for Game

By Janina Paragele


The sound of neon balls hitting against the rackets had surrounded the Rancho Cucamonga High School tennis courts. It was a clear Saturday morning, the height of the sun’s heat was still at a bare minimum and the young Rancho High girls were at the start of their doubles match against Etiwanda High School’s girl’s tennis team. The score card read 1-0 as the Rancho girls lead the first set.

Outside the court, several family members watched behind the metal fenced-wall, while Rancho Cucamonga’s coach watched the court attentively on a nearby bench. He sat back against a warm silver metal bench, arms crossed over his chest. Behind his sunglasses, his eyes moved back and forth the court following the path of the ball. From time to time, he would comment on the strategies at hand and other times he would say in a proud demeanor, “Good job Kim. That was a good save.”

As the head coach of the tennis team, Coach Harry Wickes observed his players during weekend tournaments to see how his team can improve their game. Each Saturday, he heads a league of varsity, junior varsity, and novice players against opposing teams within the school district. Coach Wickes has been coaching the tennis team since 2003 when he retired from Verizon Communications. That same year, he got his United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) certificate as a Developmental Coach. Since then, he has been heading the Rancho Cucamonga High School, with 8 seasons underway. The Rancho Cucamonga team is currently leading the roster of 154 wins, while the Etiwanda team is at 86.

Varsity player, Kim Hao, stood behind the service line, knees bent, both hands on the racket, placing it in front, and waited for the opposing team to serve the ball inside the service box. Once the ball touched the left service box, Ashley Koehler, who was standing at the far left corner of the baseline immediately, pounced at the ball with speed and demeanor and with enough power for the ball to reach close to the other end of the baseline in the opposing side. The opponent struggled as she sped towards the ball but managed to hit it over the net. As the ball hit the green asphalt, Kim lightly volleys it over the net into an open area in which the opposing team failed cover. Thus scoring another point leaving the score board to “love… 30.”

“Good job girls. Good teamwork.” Coach Wickes said in low-toned serious voice, pleased at the two girl’s efforts in playing the game. Kim and Ashley walked towards each other and gave one another a high five and ran back quickly to their respective lines to get ready for the next set.

It is said that a doubles tennis game is a thinking man’s game. Strategies and techniques come into play in the same sense a golfer maps out his ball’s path to a hole or how chess players calculate each move on the tiled boards. According to, Tommy Valentini, men’s head coach in tennis at Gustavus Adolphus College, “Helpful coaching combined with playing experience allows one to develop various strategies and an intuitive understanding.”

For the Rancho Cucamonga tennis team, Coach Wickes has made sure the right strategies were played out within the game. Wickes said, “Most tennis players have a plan A and a plan B. If they get into that first set and win at that first set, then they get into plan A and continue playing with that plan. If they lose the first set, then they go to plan B. Of course if they lose in plan A and they lose in plan B, the match is eventually over so there is no plan C.”

In this particular doubles game, Coach Wickes used his assistant coaches’ theory in placing a set-up player with an attacking player. The set-up player would steady the point at the baseline and there would be a very aggressive net player who would cover the area in which the ball crosses the court.

In between game time, Kim and Ashley huddled together and tried to figure out if they were going to move on with their strategy or keep their current strategy. It was a stark contrast to their opponents, who in between breaks stood behind their respectively lines and gossiped about what happened the night before at their friend’s house. In this sense professionalism and conduct came into play on the tennis court.

Professionalist or Perfectionist?

Most students at Rancho Cucamonga High School mistake Coach Wickes as a perfectionist. Some have even complained about his authoritarian demeanor when he would shout at the football team to be quiet during a tennis match or would not allow anyone to play at the basketball court that is directly adjacent to the tennis court.

However for Coach Wickes, it was what he calls the preserving of the integrity of the game. Tennis matches have different standards when it comes to the enthusiasm in a game, unlike other sports such as football or soccer. The hype-factor in football or soccer has a much greater intensity than in a sport such like tennis where noise can be a factor of distraction for the player. More importantly, Coach Wickes explained the importance of sound in the game, “The sound of the ball coming off the racket will make a different sound depending on the shot. And at a very high level players can distinguish that sound.”

Not only does integrity come with the game but also the integrity that was built within the team. Coach Wickes has treated his players with the same respect they ought to be treated and he has tried to reflect that against opposing teams. He has exemplified this idea during match events when his girls would properly line-up during the introductions. He noted that prior to each game, there was introduction protocol where the home team would line up at the baseline and the visiting team at the service line. He said “My girls all stand, and [usually] a lot of the other girls will talk while I’m giving instructions. [Most] are out of control and when they line up, they will stand nonchalantly. But my girls, they all have their hands behind them [and] pay attention.”

For Coach Wickes, this was the type of integrity he expects from his girls. He has required them to show up in their respective uniforms, whether it is the last tournament of the year or a weekend league game. In this particular game, the differentiation between the Rancho Cucamonga team and the Etiwanda team became apparent in appearance and action. When it came to dress code, the Rancho Cucamonga girls came in their uniforms as they wore their white sneaks, matching black latex skirts, and white tops. However Etiwanda dressed down as one of the players wore a gray tee and khaki shorts, while the other wore black tights and a purple top showing no representation of Etiwanda’s red and gold colors. In addition, with the latter’s attire, it seemed she was in the wrong team because she was wearing Rancho Cucamonga’s purple and black school colors.

It was these simple things that show how different of a team the Rancho Cucamonga girls are. Coach Wickes recalled times when he was riding on a school bus with the team to attend an away game. He said that bus drivers often compliment his team for being obedient and respective. Coach Wickes said sometimes the girls would talk but within their own respective vicinity. Often, they sang songs and the bus driver would compliment them saying, “Man, they can actually carry a tune!” One thing he took pride on was the studiousness of his team in the bus. He says, “They don’t yell and they stay within reason. If it gets too loud then all I have to do is [look behind] and they will shut up. They know that that means ‘Hey it’s getting a bit too loud.’ Sometimes when it gets a little bit too loud, I don’t even have to turn around the captains will actually do it.”

For the most part, the girls’ good spirits were carried on to the courts each time they played. Coach Wickes said that during most games, while one group has finished their matched, they would go to the next court and support their fellow team members. He said, “They know that no one can win a league championship and they know that no one can lose it for you. It takes nine girls who are working out there to make it happen… One of the best part of coaching is seeing these girls when they first come in and see how they’ve changed over the 4 years.”

With 7-2 on the score card, Kim and Ashley faced the north side of the court towards the drop back of the snow-capped mountains. Sun glared at their face, Ashley said, “It’s harder to play in this side of the court because we get the glare. Sometimes it’s hard to see the ball.” Kim took her position at the service line and prepared, while Ashley arched up and threw the ball to the sky to serve it into the service box. One of the opposing players ran for the ball near the service line and had hit the ball but Kim at service line counteracted and did a backhand over the net. However the other opposing player would not let Kim get the score and returned the ball back over to Rancho’s side just in time. The ball reached a close proximity to the baseline and Ashley had her eyes ready to hit. She pulls in a powerful forehand stroke and had made the hit as it landed on the inner side of the double line. Then in quick reaction the Etiwanda girl in quick reaction played the ball and had hit it to the other side, passing it over the double line which ended the play with an out.

“Fuck! That was an out!” the Etiwanda player exasperatedly addressed herself and began to hit her racket to the ground with slight frustration. The other player consoled her and told her not to fret as they get back to the line. As the two continuously discussed about their failed attempt to get the previous score, Ashley and Kim stood behind their lines waiting for the others to begin.

In Tennis and Philisophy, Valentini, quotes tennis philosopher Randolph Feezall, saying “good sportsmanship [is someone who] ‘sees his opponent as both competitor and friend, competing and cooperating at the same time.’” Coach Wickes instilled in his girls a sense of sportsmanship when it comes to games. He taught them honesty and trust between competitors and their partners. He portrayed this, when Kim directly saw a ball go out of the double line and she would call out. Valentini says that playing fair and having the player do a line call shows good sportsmanship because it is the player’s duty to not cheat but play. Coach Wickes has made sure that Kim and Ashley understood their roles as a player and their duties.

One point away, the frustrated Etiwanda player served and the game began its back and forth act. The score was currently 40-15, with the Rancho girls at the lead. Etiwanda served again but had barely made it out of the service box. Kim, who was at the baseline, ran for the ball and had hit it to the net as the ball touched the top and bounced on the other side. The other opponent at the service box had hit it over the net but Ashley had gone for the ball and hit it to the baseline. The Etiwanda player at the baseline ran for the ball but was not quick enough and missed it as she barely made a hit. The ball continuously bounced and the score cards were flipped, 8-2 game point.

Ashley and Kim smiled at one another and gave each other a high five. They then quickly walked towards their opponent and gave them each a hand shake.

When asked why they enjoyed the sport, both Kim and Ashley’s eyes lit up and a sense of enthusiasm surged in their voice as they said in unison, “It’s just fun!” Kim in honest passion added, “I can play this game for hours… until I die!”

Research Log:
-- 2 hr Interview: Coach Harry Wickes
-- Fact Check: USPTA certificate : http://www.usta.com/
-- 30 min. Interview: Assistant Coach Steve Mildon
-- 20 min. Interview: Kim Hao
-- 20 min. Interview: Ashley Koehler
-- Brief Interview: Pauline Rivera & Judith Nainggolan
-- Fact check Roster: http://ehightennis.olinesports.com/roster.php?sport=570
-- 8 hr of observation time
-- 1 hr of observing game inside the court
-- 1 hr tour of the tennis court/compartments
-- Read parts of Tennis and Philosophy: What the Racket is All About edited by David Bagget
-- Fact Check who Tommy Valentini was:
http://www.itatennis.com/AboutITA/News/TommyValentininamedHeadTennisCoachatGustavusAdolphusCollege.htm-- Used Coach Wickes Tennis Booklet – Handout
-- Also used Coach’s website: http://rchstennis.webs.com/

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