An Elon graduate, Kyle Smialek, and his family donated tennis
scoreboards at the Jimmy Powell Tennis Center on the campus of Elon
University. Graciously, they named the scoreboards in honor of my
assistant, Bob Owens, and me.
Kyle’s mom, Jill Smialek, wrote me this nice email:
I am hoping you will be there! Kyle is going as well as Kaylyn.
If it wasn’t for you my children wouldn’t be going and there might not
be a scoreboard!
But, God bless you, you had given him a chance–and to his credit he
followed through for four years. Because of your dedication, which you
have passed on to my son. He never gave up. He was Elon inside and out.
Tom, you have given my son the determination to try his best. He may
never had been given that chance if it weren’t for you. He may not ever
made it “big” in college tennis but his loyalty and his determination are
admirable. And that loyalty drove Kaylyn to try her best at Elon. And again
she struggled with tennis but never gave up!
I attribute that determination to you. They have both grown through
Kyle Smialek with Tom Parham Elon tennis and have now become successful adults. Two children thatmake me very proud of their accomplishments.
So when you are there–look at those scoreboards and know you made a
difference on not one but two people’s lives. You deserve that scoreboard.
Hope you get to catch Kyle and Kaylyn while there.
My very best to Margaret.
I responded with the following email and the thought, “One parent is
worth more than 100 teachers.”
What a kind note and thanks. Here is an alternate explanation for the
kid’s success. In James Michener’s “Mexico,” Michener uses bull fighting
as a metaphor for death. He asks the reader “what is the worst thing that
can happen from a promoter’s point of view?” Answer: The bull must have
courage or he won’t fight! Picture Ferdinand the Bull.
Next question: what is the surest way to determine if a bull has the
necessary courage? Practice fight? Can’t do that, because one practice and
the bull figures out the deal about the cape. Kills the matador. Promoter’s
best guess at determining the potential courage of a young bull? Fight
the mothers. If the mother has heart, the offspring will have courage. You
did good with the kids, Mom. Jill, I loved Kyle as a person and you all as a
family. I’m glad, but not surprised about their success. Margaret and I are
quite thrilled about the scoreboards and look forward to seeing them in
action. (Hopefully with some Phoenix wins on the boards). I must tell you
and your family that as much as we appreciate our names up there with
Elon, our most intense thanks are for the remembrance of our beloved
friend, Bob Owens. I truly believe Bob is an angel. Can’t wait till next
Stay in touch, and thanks once again.
Tom and Margaret Parham
The Smialeks think I did Kyle a favor by keeping him on the team. It was
a no-brainer. First of all, he was a good player. More importantly, he was a
heck of a fine student and person.
But I started to think about unsung contributors who often don’t get to play much. Football coach Henry Trevathan is a dear friend and legendary
coach. I once asked Coach Trevathan what he liked most about coaching.
As was his way, he pondered the question a while and finally said, “There
was almost always a kid trying out for the football team who had no
business trying out: Too small, lack of talent, slow—whatever. But he had
one quality. He wouldn’t quit. I somehow could keep him around and turn
it into a positive for him, the team, and myself. Took some time,
some patience, some faith.”
I had several of those kids who played for me, Kyle was one; his friend
George Memory was another. George’s family, the Don Memorys, are part of the “Memorys of Wake Forest College.” Bull and Jasper Memory are icon-
ic at “Old Wake Forest.” They were also tennis players who took my father, E. T. Parham, under their wing when he was an aspiring young theology
student and ministerial hopeful. They taught him tennis, and he played
number four for Wake Forest in 1928. I met Don Memory socially when
George was a senior in high school. We uncovered our connection, and
I learned that George was interested in Elon. We got him to Elon, and he
was a “marginal” player who I kept on the squad. The summer of George’s
second year I checked my returning player data with Elon and George was
not enrolled. I called his dad, and I don’t believe Don would object to me
saying there were “tears in his voice” when he told me that George “had
worsened” (he suffered from severe kidney problems) and would not be
able to play anymore. And he was not going back to Elon. I encouraged
both to have him come back. I would keep him as manager and “in”
tennis—a game he loved.
Fast forward two years, George’s health had thankfully improved and he
was able to return to the team. We were playing Davidson; they were good
and it would take all of our efforts to win. George and Kyle Smialek were
up to play doubles together in a “scratch match.” We may have already won
but you’d never know watching Kyle and George. I don’t remember much
else about that day, just that our team won. It was beautiful out and
watching Kyle and George play together made a lot of sense. It was a
tremendous jolt of joy, for me and the team.
I did my share of winning. It is worthwhile to do your best. I remember a lot of these “Smialek” moments and what great kids some of these non-
starter, marginal players were. Many of my era’s kids would have played on a lot of fine college teams but were bumped by the influx of foreign and
international players. My first team had great guys who would not have
played later. However, given the chance and some time, they blossomed
with experience. Joe Roediger was number 13 on my first Elon team. He
worked his way up to number 5, graduated when no one thought he
could, and has taught tennis for 20 years. No one loves teaching tennis more than Joe. Many of these marginal players ended up as teachers and
coaches. The players who are cut, end up bitter at tennis and probably quit
playing, let alone teaching. The marginals though, will possibly be your
next great tennis teacher, pro or coach.
One of the few things that I did not like about Title IX was that it dictated
squad size for men be equal to women, or vice versa. You had to cut at a
certain equal number. Until then, I could let them hang around as long as
they would. Coach Jim Verdieck of Redlands University and our NAIA days,
kept 32 on his squad. He gave the top 16 a private hour lesson weekly, the
bottom 16 a half hour. Many of these “subs” are teaching today. Plus,
Verdieck won more national tennis titles than anyone, ever, in college
I did, of course, kick a few off. None who didn’t deserve it. And I kept a
few I should have run off. Maybe I was idealistic, but I thought they could
all be salvaged. Often, a challenge match cost a kid a starting slot, or a
chance to stay on the team. One kid lost a challenge match on the match
point of a third set tiebreaker—on a double fault. That hurts. But he didn’t
quit and eventually became a fine starter. Almost every kid I kept, sooner
or later, came back and got me a crucial win. Peter Van Graafeiland lost
and lost and lost. He was as nice a kid as ever played. He figured it out and
became solid at the bottom of the lineup. Jon Hodges, Ashley Shaw,
Justin Clark, and Micheal Prelec were Americans who sat out until their
time came. John Morel grew four inches in his freshman year. He later
became all conference.
So many more examples, Chad York teaches at one of the better tennis
clubs in Charlotte. He took lump after lump, and it killed me to watch him come up short. Chad has never blinked, to this day. Tommy Stratford teach-
es tennis in D.C. He would bleed to play and always, always supported the team. Tommy Nielsen was the same. A guy named John Potanko was
recruited out of PE classes. Andrew Hodges teaches today. I watched him
play freelance every day while we practiced. I convinced him to come over
to the varsity courts, hit with some of the better players. He didn’t think he
was good enough. Great kid. Kevin McCabe was another. Sebbe Bredberg,
a Swede, fought shoulder problems and substituted for a school year. Next
go—Southern Conference Champion, Bredberg a hero! There were similar
kids at Atlantic Christian College and, I’m sure I’ve forgotten several.
I wrote this thinking of, and thanking, the Smialeks. More than that,
thanking my persistent kids. I loved seeing them make it. More than either,
though, I write this for the young coaches. “Don’t cut ’em; don’t give up on
’em; coach ’em; coach ’em; coach ’em!”