Z5. CHARIOTS OF FIRE (431)

I’d taken the team to Hilton Head Island. And we’d “splurged” on housing. It was a big rental place rather than the usual economy motel. We had a match the next day at 2:00 p.m.
College coaches often recruit some aberrant bastard who has no business in higher education. Young coaches listen: Recruit good people, and you’ll live and coach longer. And win your share!
Nineteen eighty-four was my eye-opener. Sure I was ticked at college tennis and it’s sellout to internationals. The tennis Gods got me. The two guys I brought in weren’t bad guys, but they had a different agenda.
This night, or morning, the agenda had been a lot of beer drinking. I laid awake, and stewed.
At dawn I heard them sneak in. I gave them enough time and went in barking and cutting the lights back on.
“What the hell,” in Swedish.
“Get your asses up.”
“We don’t play until two!”
“Get your asses up, or you’ll never have to get up for me again. Meet me in
the living room in ten minutes.”
I got the other three up, Gowda, Krister Eriksson (Swede) and New Zealander,
John Malpass. They were three really fine kids, but puzzled at the moment. “Coach, what are we doing?” captain Krister asked.
“Chariots of Fire”, I said. We’d seen the movie as a team earlier.
I took them to the beach. There was a bike at the beach house.
I rode along beside them for two miles, three rules: (1) If you finish last, you lose your meal money. (2) If you quit, you lose your meal money.
(3) If you puke, you lose your meal money.
Running dead last, Johan Samuelsson puked, and took one more for the team, quitting. They played the match at about half speed. I figured Senior Thomas Linne was the worst and took him to task. It got heated. Linne could have kicked me, but I was really angry.
In 1997 I visited the Swedes in their native land. On a bench in Stockholm, Thomas and I rehashed the scene.
Boiling mad I had told Thomas to take a quarter I held out a nearby phone booth (remember those?).
“What for?” says big Thomas.
“Call the damned bus station and find out what time a bus goes to the Raleigh- Durham Airport. You are on the next plane over. I’m through with you.”
Realizing I’m pissed Thomas gets as angry as his coach. We’re near blows. Thomas in Stockholm, reminded me of that earlier day in South Carolina. “Coach, you held the quarter at arm’s length. You told him that if you hit me
as you were about to, you’d be fired. And it would really hurt your family. You brought Captain Krister over as a “witness”. “When I drop the coin Thomas, it’s every man for himself.”
We were within a hair’s breath when somehow Krister stopped us.
I had tried hard to motivate Thomas to get his degree. He was a month away. So I compromised.
Thomas was made coach of the other two I couldn’t understand or tolerate. They were to ride in the back of the van and never speak to me. I’d coach the other
three, and we’d communicate through Captain Krister, who although he was Swed- ish was more “like us”.
It worked well. We were actually playing as a team, competing to see whose theory worked best. They played hard to prove me wrong.
We were within inches of winning the second national title when Thomas ap- proached me quite startled. “What’s wrong?” I asked. In 1984 they’d begun to let people coach on the court. Teammates could be “designated coaches”. Thomas was of course coaching “his player”, Stefan Vanemo. Vanemo, extremely talented, was also as mean as anyone I’ve coached, or coached against.
I saw Stefan win set number one, and wasn’t sure what he was doing as he put his racket in his bag. He’d played very poorly in set two, and his anger showed. Thomas’ problem, I thought.
Thomas said, “You’ve got to talk to “Teddy”, Vanemo’s nick name. He’s mad and says he’s not playing anymore damn tennis. Quitting for good he says.” Hurry down there coach, we need that point to win.
“Thomas”, I said, “he’s on your team. I don’t give the tiniest shit if you guys don’t win.” I walked away.
When Thomas told “Teddy” what I’d said, Vanemo unleashed what seemed to be a magic racket from the bag. Hardly lost a third set point.
Not every athletic contest is the Super Bowl or the Final Four. Great games occur everywhere. There were some great contests, team efforts, and fine people in NAIA tennis. I’m grateful I saw twenty-eight tournaments.

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