Helpful Hints from the Coach (42)

      1. The most important thing to remember in tennis is to “look at the ball”: Point of contact concentration. (There comes a time when in order to win you must forget about how you’re hitting and concen- trate on where you’re hitting. Don’t work on strokes when playing an important match. Concentrate on point of contact and where to hit. You have to assume your strokes are right. “You can’t hit well when thinking about how to hit.”

2. Correct one error at a time. Don’t ball up your mind trying to do too many things at once.

3. Move in as far as you can on volleys. If you can get on top of the net – be there. Don’t hit it up if you can take one quick step in and hit it down.

4. Volley low balls deep. Angle high volleys.

5. When playing at the net and on the right hand side, use a continental grip . Many good players volley on both sides with a continental grip.

6. Use your left hand to adjust your grip from forehand to backhand. It is good insurance.

7. Don’t cut your shots too fine. This is to say don’t try to hit within 6 inches of the line when a ball inside 3 feet will do. Don’t make it any harder than you have to. Many players do all the work to get the set up shot and then blow the shot by trying to hit a great shot. Finish the point. Put the cap on it. “Good players, don’t miss easy shots.” Short overheads are the most common spot for this error.

8. You can work on your weaknesses by forcing your self to execute them in play – practice situations. For example, if your second serve is weak, play your practice matches with one serve only. Or, if your patience and consistency is hurting, force your self to practice with- out coming to the net. For backhand problems – avoid running around it in practice. Force yourself to execute your weakness.

9. If a player is a weak volleyer, yet strong baseliner you can often draw him in by hitting short balls. Probably his backhand approach will be weak. Hit a short ball, to his backhand; his weak backhand approach might give you an easy pass.

10. Basically a player has to decide whether he is going to play offensively or defensively. Many college players can be beaten simply by keeping it back in, or “skyballing” them to death. Develop a game suited to your ability. Don’t try to do things you can’t do percentage-wise. Then add new wrinkles when you’ve mastered your play.

11. Often you can open the way to a weakness by hitting to a strength. For example, a player with a weak backhand will often run around it. If he overplays the forehand hit it sharply to his forehand for a placement, or perhaps to move him wide to the forehand, thus forcing him to hit a backhand on the second return.

12. Often a player’s apparent strength is actually his weakness. For example, many players have a weak looking but steady deep backhand; and, while their forehand is well paced and looks good, is actually a poor percentage shot because the player tries to do too much with it.

13. One strategy that works well often, particularly against slow, lazy opponents, is the “drop-shot and lob” strategy. Drop shot them and when they lope up to the net simply lob over their heads. Do over and over again.

14. “Never change a winning play – always change a losing plan.”

15. Pressure pays off. Some players can’t stand it. It takes a lot of ability to apply constant pressure but it pays big dividends. Take the ball on the rise to apply pressure. Move in and take the court away from him.

16. Some players employ the “center theory” against certain players. If you approach down the center you eliminate passing angle. This often works against weak but accurate angle hitters. Some slow court players hit well on the run but can’t get anything on a ball hit straight at them. Players with a great return of serve should often be served at “down the center.”

17. One of the most difficult shots to get any pace on is a high or medium lofted backhand that is deep. Matches have been won in this one strategy. The best place to return a high backhand is to a high backhand. Some big hitters are completely frustrated by this simple shot.

18. Against net rushers, low chips with angle often frustrate them. If you can chip it low they often have to volley up and it opens them for an easy pass.

19. High spin serves at the backhand are often effective (Roswell vs. Roche, U. S. Open 1970)

20. Welby Van Horn – Balance is the clue to tennis (a)You have to know how to hit it (b)You have to get to it so you can hit the way you know.

21. It might be good to approach on your short forehands only. If your backhand approach is weak, crosscourt it to eliminate angled shots as you back up.

22. Cross courts get you out of trouble.

23. Approach down the line; Approach crosscourt at obviously weak passing shots.

D. These Rang True

Here are some quotes on strategy from people I respect. These “rang true” for my many players in many matches.

Find out what your opponent can’t do, or doesn’t like to do, and make them do that.” Jack Kramer 

(Think Nadal over Federer in 2007 French Open. Target? Federer’s backhand.)

Don’t change the “line of the ball” unless you are sure you can make the shot. Otherwise cross-courts “ad nausea.” Two-handed back- hands down the line shots will “slide wide” too often, believe me. T. Parham

When asked what he would do differently, Ken Rosewall replied, “..I would hit a lot more balls cross court.”

Cross-courts get you out of trouble. Jim Verdieck demanded the cross court ball from his team.

Get yourself in a position to “volley away from the source” Verdieck

Any ball hit extremely deep in either corner allows a good attacking possibility Verdieck (“2 and in”)

The simple strategy of tennis singles: “Attack the short ball” Dennis Van Der Mear

Good approach shots make easy volleys J. Leighton

No shots in “no man’s land” is a myth T. Parham

Rule 1 – Find a good doubles partner
Rule 2 – Get along with him/her

E. Thoughts for Young Coaches (50)

Recently, 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.

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Kyle’s mom, Jill Smialek, wrote me with this nice email:

I am hoping you will be 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 is 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 Elon tennis and have now become successful adults.   Two Children that make 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.   Enjoy it!!

Hope you get to catch Kyle and Kaylyn while there.

My very best to Margaret

Cheers,

Jill

I responded with the following email and the thought, “One parent is worth more than 100 teachers…”

Jill–what a kind note and thanks.   Here is an alternate explanation for the kid’s successes..In James Michener’s MEXICO, Michener uses bull fighting as a metaphor for death…he asked 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 “Ferninand 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 the deal about the cape out.   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 weekend.

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 heckuva 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’d 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 iconic 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 #4 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 had taken all of 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 that watching Kyle and George play together made a lot of sense.   It was a tremendous jolt of joy, for me as well as 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 #13 on my first Elon team.   He worked his way up to #5, graduated when no one thought he could and has taught tennis for twenty years.   No one loves teaching tennis more than Joe.   Many of these marginal players ended up as teachers and coaches.   The ones who are cut,  end up bitter at tennis and probably quit playing, let alone teach it.  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 tennis.

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.   Very 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 4” in his freshman year and was ineligible.   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 never blinked, to this day.   Tommy Stratford teaches 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 everyday 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 substituting for a school year.   Next go—Southern Conference Champion, Bredberg a hero!   There were similar kids at Atlantic Christian and really 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!”

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K. Jim Verdieck (40)

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. Dick Gould of Stanford was the “Coach of the Era” (25 years) in the period of time I coached. No doubt he was the best.

But, our absolute best was Jim Verdieck, a competitor, the coach at Redlands University (California). Jim was the best at winning I ran into, in any sport. And he was already a legend when my team made its 1970 trek to Rockhill Tennis Club in Kansas City, home of the NAIA Championships. Verdieck was a strong willed football – tennis coach. His teams won 12 of 13 NAIA titles, starting about the mid-sixties.

I’d admired him and then befriended him. I need to write some of what I saw, one could learn a lot from Redlands and their coach. I asked him one time why he didn’t write about his vast knowledge. Our kids were about to face each other. He pointed to the court and said, “See that match. If you told me we could win that match if I’d write 200 pages, I start right now.”

I asked where, over his coaching years, the non-scholarship Redlands team would rank in California, including the Division I giants of USC, UCLA, Stanford, Pepperdine and all the rest. “Sixth.”
The teams wore national championship warm-ups. Only for Kansas City.
No one got to the courts before Redlands. We mimicked that too.

“But what if it dies,” I asked about his knowledge.
“If I die, it dies.”
He proved true to his word. Suffering a major heart attack, he was told he needed an emergency treatment.
“Not before Kansas City.”
Told he may die if he went, he boarded the plane.

He knew his business. Janice Metcalf, a fine California player, played #6 on one Redlands men’s team. It was early 1970 and there were no girl’s teams in the NAIA. I was on the rules committee that denied Coach Verdieck’s appeal for a substitute for Janice, who’d injured her knee after the substitution deadline. The rule was clear and Coach Verdieck accepted the decision.

He flew Janice out for her first round match, which she won easily, and then boarded a return plane to Redlands. Redlands University won the national title by that one point. When I asked Verdieck about that move he explained. “I’d figured the draw pretty close. I knew Janice could probably beat this kid easily, and told her to walk off if it was bad at all.”

Perhaps as impressive as Jim were his sons, Doug and Randy. Doug won NAIA singles all four years. He won the doubles, I think three times, twice with Randy. When Coach Verdieck was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame, Doug flew from Hawaii to introduce him. As Doug tried to speak, tears, not words, came. He backed out and tried again with the same results. Another attempt. The NAIA official next to him stood as if to relieve him. “No, dammit, no. I flew all the way from Hawaii to do this and I’m gonna do it.” Angry now – his level voice stated: “My dad is the greatest,” and sat down.

Coach Verdieck told me that three times he had lights approved for the university courts. Somehow the school procrastinated every time they said yes. Later he found out that when he’d tell his wife the lights were to be installed, she nixed the deal. She simply went to the administrators saying, “If you put lights up, he’ll stay there all night, and I’ll leave him.”

His roster included twenty-four players – a very large team. Not only that, each week every player in the top eight had a one hour private lesson with Verdieck. Sixteen remaining players got a half hour per week with him. This, in addition to team responsibilities.

Upon learning he’d retired at age 65, I called to congratulate him. He was within sixty or so wins of 1,000 wins. No one else is close.

“Did you consider staying until you break that barrier?” was one of my questions.
“No, I promised my wife if I got to 65, I’d stop. A deal’s a deal.”

Though he quit coaching he couldn’t give up teaching. I asked Coach Verdieck early on if he knew Dennis Van Der Meer. Not only is Van Der Meer the world’s most prolific tennis teacher, he was very close to my mentor, Jim Leighton. Verdieck said, “Know Dennis? I taught him 90% of what he knows!” When I asked Coach Leighton if he knew Coach Verdieck, he said no. I told him of the Verdieck comment about Dennis Van Der Meer. Leighton was appalled, and said he intended to ask Dennis about that! A couple of years went by and I asked Leighton if he’d asked about Verdieck. Leighton admitted that Dennis had responded, “Yes, that’s probably about right.”

In retirement, Verdieck worked with Dennis at Sweetbriar College, in the mountains of Virginia. I called Coach Verdieck and asked if I could hire him. “What for?” he asked. I told him I wanted to know more about coaching and that he was the one who I most respected. I’d been coaching 25 years at this point. Still not convinced, he argued that his knees had gotten so bad he couldn’t move enough to hit many balls. I replied, “Coach, I just want to talk with you.” He contended he didn’t talk much, but to come on and we’d probably be done in thirty minutes. My wife went with me and waited patiently for three and a half hours. “Tom, we have to set the babysitter free at 8:00 pm.”

You’re never to old to learn, and I learned a lot that day. When I became Director of Athletics the first thing I did was book an hour with five different athletic directors I admired. Dylan said you had to get up close to the teacher if you want to learn anything.

N. Coaching Girls and Women (20)

After open heart surgery, two back surgeries and a hip replacement, I was beginning to get straightened out (2001).

My good friend and Athletic Director, Alan White, called me into his office, “Tom, you’re looking much better, and by the way you’re adding the Women’s team to your job next fall.”

Good friend, did I say? Actually I’ve taught women or girls all my career. The tennis boom (late ‘60s) hit when I first started teaching and in Wilson, NC alone I taught three generations of girls, women, mammas and grandmas. But…I’d never coached the college women’s team. Thirty-seven years of men’s tennis, now they let me coach the girls. What bothered me wasn’t all I’d observed about the women. (There are some “horror” stories out there). It was coaching two teams at once. I later said you had to have a M.W.A. degree to do it (Management While Wandering Around).

And there were other issues, mainly Title IX funding for two quality coaches was tough for smaller schools. Our men’s team had done well, and our women had good suc- cess too. The problem was turnover among women coaches, due mainly to “part time salaries” for the Women’s coach. This was Dr. White’s dilemma and one for many tennis programs. Many athletic directors took the tactic Dr. White was proposing: Hire one full time person for both jobs and give the Head Coach a part time assistant. Men and women thus have equal coaching.

After the initial shock I made two decisions.

  1. If Alan White asked me to do this I couldn’t turn him down. He’d done too much for me. Plus, I understood his situation.
  2. If I were to do this I’d do it to the best of my ability.

Never have I gotten more advice: “Run for the hills,” “You’ll be sorry,” “Can’t be done,” “You’re too old for this,” “They are different.” “They” are different. And I had a lot to learn. And I didn’t learn it all, and don’t know it all. But here are some things I did know and some I did learn.
Continue reading “N. Coaching Girls and Women (20)”

A.30 The Toughest Coach, the NAIA, Kansas City…and Russell (25)

One of the great coaches I ran into along the way was a competitor. Redlands University (California) was coached by Jim Verdieck. Jim was the best at winning I ran into, in any sport. And he was already a legend when my team made its 1970 trek to Rockhill Tennis Club in Kansas City, home of the NAIA Championships.

Verdieck was a strong willed football – tennis coach. His teams won 12 of 13 NAIA titles, starting about the mid-sixties. There was a “one-foreigner” rule in the NAIA early on, so battles pitting Texans against Floridians versus Californians were heated. The coaches were tough. Clarence Dyer of South Eastern Oklahoma coached in twenty-two straight tournaments, finishing 2nd to 4th of fifty teams or so, every year. He never won. Why? Verdieck and Redlands. Unlike the NCAA team format, the NAIA featured a single elimination, 256 draw men’s (and later women’s) tournament. The draw separated team members from early on meetings, but a #1 player could play a #4 guy on your team at any time. It was vicious, the draw could kill you. Pressure caused many seeded players to wilt. Endurance was the biggest factor. To win singles and doubles both, a player had to win 8 singles matches and 7 doubles. Fifteen matches in five days. And match #1 began at 7:30 AM. Early on, you played three singles matches the first day if you won. Tired puppies, and sore bones the next day.

The number one tough coaching trick was to get college kids to go to bed at 9 o’clock for a week. “Morning acclimatization” was crucial. You were up at 5:00 am, hitting to shake the cobwebs loose. My sidekick, Russell Rawlings and I would pound on the local McDonalds’ door, begging for egg McMuffins and juice for the players. They’d play at six different sites early on, so to get them up, fed, crapped, and distributed was hair-raising for a Robbins redneck. Russell helped immeasurably.

It was magic; 7-6 in the third set everywhere, hamburgers and ice cream from the Rockhill Grill, throngs of business men on their lunch hour-watching youngsters from all over. Mostly, they wanted to see Verdieck and his Redlands team. Doubles was great, particularly the Texans and Okies teams. They seemed a lot like us, but could play better. I began to pick up what Verdieck was doing, and watching various great players from all over. It was like popcorn going off. Later, as an old coach having moved up to Division I NCAA, I’d tried to tell the new ones how much fun the NAIA was. And how good.

It’s true, there were very weak players and teams there. I took some of them. A draw that pitted you against Donne, Nebraska or Cedaville, Ohio meant you at least had a chance. And every kid got to play, often 3 or 4 or 5 days. If you won you got to play again. Each match won counted a point for your team and the team with the most points won. One point could make the difference in your team finishing tied for 3rd in the nation, or being 6th. Kids played hard. They got to fly on a plane. There was a great banquet with good support from the NAIA staff, college volunteers, and the people of Kansas City. Our kids were taken in by our “honorary coaches,” a program that used volunteer townspeople to help out. Joanie and Bob Mullet drew our team, lucky for us.

Once you had hosted a team you could be reunited by choice at the next year’s tournament and my sidekick Russell had made note of a big hill near their house. Russell had been born with a hip problem, he couldn’t run on it and it limited his ability to exercise. This was one of life’s cruelties, as Russell really loved sports. His limitation caused him a weight problem and he was a big boy. Later, he did go from 320 pounds to 160 pounds, or “two good-sized Orientals,” he contended. One of my true joys was watching him conquer obesity. He did love to eat. As we exited one all-you-can-eat buffet, the Kansas City proprietor whispered to Russell, “Sir, it’s okay if you don’t come back.”

I was puzzled one year at the pre-tournament picnic the Mullets hosted at their home. After the meal, Russell asked Mr. Mullett if he could borrow his bicycle.

“Sure”, Bob said.
“And your station wagon?” asked Russell.
Puzzled, but courteous, Bob agreed again, “Sure.”
“Come on coach,” Russell enthused.

The hill was a constant decline for about three miles and Russell sent me and the station wagon down to the bottom. He then glided all the way down the winding road to me and the wagon. We put the bike in the back and drove back uphill to the Mulletts. It was his first long bike ride.

Soon after, sans about 150 pounds, he rode his bike from Wilson to Morehead City, one hundred plus miles.

Introduction (1)

In 2007, I wrote a book, “Play is Where Life Is.” Since then, I have enjoyed putting bits of the book, and the comments they elicit up on this blog. My son, Dan, was kind enough to do all of the technical and design work.

Many of these posts are tennis related…many are not. They are all here for everyone’s use and I hope you will find some, or all, of them helpful.

-Coach

B. Grandmother’s Advice (18)

We required an “Exit Interview” for all teachers at Atlantic Christian College.   I asked one question of Clifton Black, our first black basketball player.   He was from a rural Eastern North Carolina town.

“How did you do so well athletically, socially and academically?”
“Coach, when I left Conetoe (home village) my Grandmother said, ‘Clifton Earl, you know the difference between right and wrong.   Do right!’ That’s about it.”

I saw Cliff this past fall for the first time in thirty years. What struck me was how proud he was of his children.

L. The Digital Divide (29)

I lost my cell phone.   No big deal.   It was so complicated, I never really used it much.   However, my wife-type, Margaret, demanded I get a replacement because of old age possibilities.

Okay, but I want a “simple” phone.   Just calls…outgoing calls, incoming calls, taking messages maybe.   And bigger numbers, to accommodate both my vision and the size of my fingers.

Asking around, I was told several renditions of, “Well, they just don’t make a simple one anymore.”   Why not?
“You bend to them, they don’t even think about you.”
Again, why?

Being a Luddite is not a rarity among us elderly.   There are lots of us.   Is our money no good?   What happened to supply and demand?   Moreover, are these guys really that smart if they alienate a large and lucrative market?

So…We call about a new phone, Margaret did the talking  . She has an “I’m an old lady on a limited income” approach that is nothing but impressive.   The word “simple” is repeated often in the conversation in describing our needs from this phone.

The “simple” phone arrives.  The instruction booklet is 166 pages long.

We attacked Step #1, Step #1 mind you of 166 pages…We attempt, and attempt, and attempt, to unlock the phone and put the battery in.

We tried for 45 minutes.   Enter NASA and a Rocket Engineer.

With the closing of NASA, several of their engineers have taken employment in our surrounding military bases.   One such family has recently moved in next door to us.   Aha!
The engineer, his wife and their two teenagers willingly agreed to help their elderly neighbors.

The six of us proceeded to spend 25 minutes trying to unravel Step #1…

My money had been on the two teenagers but it was neither the kids or the rocket scientist who ultimately solved Step #1.   The wife noted that while the picture demonstrated Step #1 (again just opening the cover) with the cover open, it was actually only possible with it closed…

The scientist went home without suggesting we move on to Step #2.   The phone remains on my desk.

“Call your next case.”