By Timothy L. Hudak
Sports Heritage Specialty Publications
4814 Broadview Rd.
Cleveland, Ohio 44109
The boys tennis tournament is the second oldest high school tournament in the state. Started in 1920, it is three years older than the boys basketball tournament (1923), but 12 years younger than the state’s oldest competition, that for boys track, which began back in 1908.
Unlike most of the other state championship competitions, tennis, be it boys or girls, does not honor a team champion. In fact, in tennis there are but two titles awarded each year, one for the best singles player, and one for the best doubles team. However, this is not to preclude some schools from excelling at this sport and gaining some recognition as a “tennis school” of sorts. Topping this list is Upper Arlington High School. The Golden Bears first made their mark in Ohio high school tennis back in 1938 when Bob Faught won the school’s first tennis trophy in the singles competition. It would be another 24 years before Upper Arlington added any more tennis hardware to its trophy case, again in singles, but ever since then the school has become the state’s most consistent winner of boys tennis championships. The Golden Bears have won a total of six singles titles, the last coming in 1973, but it has been in doubles competition where Upper Arlington has really excelled. Between the years 1965 and 1999 the Golden Bears took home 14 boys doubles championships, twice the number of the next best school, Bexley High School. The school’s combined total of 20 boys tennis championships is also tops in the state.
Leading the Golden Bears over the last 18 seasons has been coach Dick Fryman, whose overall winning percentage of .865 (256-40) is currently the third best of all Ohio boys tennis coaches, active and retired.
Perhaps the most dominating performance by a single school in state tournament play belongs to Walnut Hills High School of Cincinnati. The Eagles, under the direction of coach Cliff Beaver, won the singles competition in both 1939 and 1940, with Marshall Chambers taking the honors each time. In 1945, Walnut Hills finished second in both the singles and doubles competition, but this was only a preview of things to come. A freshman by the name of Tony Trabert was half of that doubles team in 1945. The next season Trabert switched to singles competition and the rest, as they say, is history. One of the country’s all-time tennis greats, Trabert won three consecutive Ohio singles championships in 1946-47-48, the first Ohio high schooler to do so.
Walnut Hills’ tennis success did not end with the graduation of Tony Trabert. Now coached by Dean Giacometti, the Eagles swept both the singles and the doubles championships in 1949 and 1950. John Rauth won the singles competition both years, while Barrie Rich teamed with Don Brown in 1949, and Bill Bowling in 1950, to take the doubles titles.
No school has ever managed to equal this accomplishment of seven championships in five years (1946-1950), although a few, like Youngstown Rayen in the 1920s, Lakewood in the 1930’s and Bexley in the ‘70s, have come close.
While Tony Trabert’s singles “trifecta” is rare, he is not the only Ohio school boy to accomplish this feat. Clark Graebner, himself a future pro tennis great, won three consecutive singles championships in 1959, 1960 and 1961 while playing for Lakewood High School.
The only other boy to win three state singles championships came within one match of winning four consecutive titles, something only about two dozen boys in the whole country have managed to do. That young man is Justin O’Neal, who roamed the courts for Lima Shawnee High School from 1993 to 1996. In 1993 as a freshman, young Mr. O’Neal won his first state singles title. The next year he missed making it two in a row when he was defeated along the tournament trail, a loss that would prove to be his only defeat during a brilliant high school tennis career. Justin came back to win his second state championship as a junior in 1995, and made it three out of four as a senior in 1996. He then went on to have an outstanding All-American tennis career at the University of Florida.
The team work and consistency of play needed to win a doubles championship is extraordinary, so it is not too surprising that there have not been many repeat champions in this category. No team, manned by the same two players, has ever won three consecutive doubles titles (and there is no known record of this ever having been done anywhere in the country), and only six teams have managed to win back to back state doubles titles. The last time this happened was in 1989-90, when Kevin Seckel and Andrew Stern teamed up to do it for Bexley High School.
Only one boy has managed to win both consecutive singles and doubles championships. Conant Ohl, playing for Toledo Scott High School, won the first two state singles championships in 1920 and 1921. He then teamed up with Cornell Walbridge in 1920, and Edward Staley in 1921, to capture the first two Ohio doubles titles. In this day of specialization, we may never again see this accomplishment repeated. Those are, by the way, Toledo Scott’s only state boys tennis championships to date.
We tend to focus on the schools and the student athletes in these Centennial Moments articles. However, if it were not for the dedicated coaches who pass on their knowledge and expertise of the various sports, we would not have these great stories of athletic achievement to relate. Often this is a family thing, where a son will follow in the coaching footsteps of his father. However, in Ohio tennis we can go that one better. Rob Cusick coaches tennis at Lima Shawnee High School. His son, Eric, is the tennis coach over at Beavercreek High School. Meanwhile, Eric’s grandfather, Ted Stepleton, is the tennis mentor at Lima Senior High School. Three generations of coaches, all teaching the same sport.
Compared to the tennis coaches around the country, those who coach Ohio’s high school boys rank among the very best. As of February of 2006, Jeff Sinnema at Rocky River High School was the state’s most successful boys coach in total wins with 567, while Ed Wolff at St. Ignatius and Vin Romeo at Miami Valley High School were right behind with 561 and 552 wins respectively. These totals place these men among the top ten coaches in the country. When you add in his victories while coaching the girls team at Miami Valley, Vin Romeo’s total of 1,026 victories places him among the nation’s top half-dozen high school tennis coaches.
Among the state’s other top boys tennis coaches, either still active or retired, are Arnold Bradshaw, Geneva High School, 485-44, .917; Russ King, Cin. St. Xavier, 388-43, .900; Jim Click, Bexley/Polk County, 316-51, .861; Jim Parkes, Portsmouth/Minford, 373-76, .831; Larry Davis, Canfield, 349-77, .819; and Dave Rehnborg, Norwalk, 350-91, .793.
Running up victory totals like this means that a lot of factors have to fall into place, not the least of which is having quality student-athletes with whom to work. Another factor which often goes unnoticed is the time that these coaches put in. Not just the hours in the day, but the years that these men and women dedicate to their profession of tutoring our youth. Just using Vin Romeo, Jeff Sinnema and Ed Wolff as examples, these three men between them have been coaching tennis to Ohio’s youngsters for an average of 35 years, and counting. While this is obviously at the top of the scale, there are dozens of coaches around the state, including Bob Walters at Lakeside High with 41 years of coaching, who have devoted 20+ years to their coaching profession.