Watching Elon University grow was fascinating. Our team was changing
fast, too. Duane Johnson was an unlikely “cornerstone” for a college tennis
team, but I recognized him even before I changed jobs. I’d seen him play
the year before. His mom, Eleanor, was the engine that drove Duane. Here
I repeat an earlier story. It applies to a lot of mothers, including Duane’s,
Eleanor. Coaches have known this about good mothers for a long time. In
James Michener’s “Mexico” the author explores bull fighting. The worst
scenario for a promoter is a cowardly bull; Ferdinand, if you will. No
courage, no fight. Michener explains that determining the probability of a
fierce bull can’t be ascertained by “trying out” the bull. Show him the cape
and after one audition, he’ll know where the matador is. Solutions for
fight promoters? You try out the mothers. If the mother has courage, it’s
likely the offspring will.
Maybe “drive” is the word for the Johnsons. And for so many other
successful people. “Just keep pecking away at it.”
Duane would park in my office chair and wait for me. He’d tell me his
ideas, goals, and how to motivate others. Once he (or we) obtained one
goal, on to the next. He wanted to beat neighbor Guilford College. Done in
year two. Atlantic Christian? “We’ve never beaten them!” Beat them in the
second conference and district tournaments. Go to a national tournament?
Elon’s first qualification in 1987. Next goal, same chair: “I want our team in
the top ten of the country.” Our finish in 1988? Tenth of 55 teams. I want to make Academic All-American! Picked that up in 89 too. First-Team All-
American? 89! When he graduated in 1989, I thought I’d done about allI could do as his coach.
Our team, led by Roland Thornqvist, won Elon’s first national title in 1990.
I thought Duane would be elated, but when I saw him he was angry. “Well,
what is it now, Johnson?”
“I wanted to be on that team.”
Big drive.

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