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August 2002 Article

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Positive Difference, Pass It On

John Mills Photo
John Mills, USPTA

This past weekend I attended a celebration of my high school tennis coach's accomplishments. Approximately 40 ex-Kerwin/O'Connel High School tennis players (ages 35 - 58) who had all shared the same coach, Vince Stiglich, met at the Galveston Racquet Club for a reunion. At least 24 of us played a round-robin format for 2 hours. Many of the players had continued to play, several had not played. Amazingly, everyone could still play and we all had a great time.

Our school was a private Catholic High School with a very tiny population. We not only won our Catholic State Title for a national record setting 15 straight years, but we competed in 5-A tournaments and were very competitive. Many of our players received college tennis scholarships. We all wondered how this could be possible. These are my thoughts.

  • We shared the tutelage of Vince Stiglich.

  • We congregated at Menard Park, a public tennis center just off the beach in Galveston, very close to O'Connel High School.

  • Vince Stiglich's family owned and operated a small general store across from the park. We could go there, get cold drinks, and check out tennis balls to practice with (unheard of today). He would take us to tournaments in his car. I'm sure no one reimbursed him for his expenses.

  • In the summer, our practices were very unorganized. Each Saturday and Sunday morning the tennis players congregated at the park. You were either playing or watching tennis all day. We played "King of the Court" for hours. There would be teams lined to to play. We ate lunch together. We played singles and doubles all day long.

  • Vince Stiglich would come by frequently, ask how things were going, give encouragement, and share his knowledge of the game.

  • Vince was very proud of his school (Kerwin/O'Connel), his players and his program.

  • Vince gave his students discounts on string jobs and equipment. The average tennis shoe cost $3.00 to $4.00 and the best shoe cost $14.00 to $15.00. Shoes lasted us about 2 weeks. We thought that was a fortune. (Remember that this was 30 years ago). Trust me the coach was not making any money on us.

  • We always felt we were part of a successful program and we were. We all felt like we "belonged."

Because of all this, Vince's program produced many great tennis players and many great people. As I talked to my friends I found out most were in professional careers, (Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers, etc.). Some decided to follow in Vince's footsteps and coach tennis. Manuel Mareno coaches High School tennis in our area. Bobby Keinecke is the ladies tennis coach at Texas A & M where he has set many coaching records. Together, Bobby and I had a hand in training a local girl, Lynn Staley, who achieved many great accomplishments in her career. It was nice being part of that team. I believe our relationship with tennis has helped these men achieve the life goals they set for themselves.

Observing this group of accomplished men, who came from all over the states, to honor our coach and express their gratitude, has made me aware of the powerful influence one person can have on the lives of so many. It has refreshed my enthusiasm and determination to make a positive difference in people's lives, just as I hope it will inspire you to do. Tennis is a very powerful game, you too can reach out to someone and make a difference in their lives. Someone reached out to you when you started playing, pass it on.

Thanks for indulging me this month and allowing me to share my thoughts about this reunion. Special thanks to Don Farmer and the other members of the team who worked so hard to get everyone together.

See you on the courts!

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This column is copyrighted by John Mills, all rights reserved.

John Mills currently teaches tennis at the University of Houston, Clear Lake campus. John Mills' experience includes four years as head pro at the Windemere Racquet & Swim Club, where he was responsible for organization of all tennis activities at the club. John also played college tennis at the University of Houston and has spent 20 years teaching tennis at the Memorial Park Tennis Center, the Pasadena Racquet Club, and as the head pro at the Bay Area Racquet Club.


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