Mike Terry became the tennis coach at Quincy High School in 1980, but he gave up the position in 1986 to accept a position as an instructor at John Wood Community College.
Terry determined in 1994 that he still had interest in coaching and returned to direct the boys tennis program at QHS. Three years later, he started coaching the girls. He's maintained both jobs since, and his teams have won more than 500 matches. The QHS boys won their first Western Big Six championship in 19 years last spring.
Terry, 65, is the co-chairman of the John Wood Community College Language, Humanities and Fine Arts Department, and he's also a grandfather, but he doesn't plan on giving up his coaching duties any time soon.
How did you become the tennis coach in 1980?
I was in Kansas City. I taught English and journalism at Arrowhead Junior High School in Kansas City, Kan. I had applied for an English job at Quincy High School and interviewed with Robert E. Meyer, Right after I got the job, I found out the tennis job was open. Dr. (Paul) Heath (president of John Wood Community College at the time) made me aware of it. His son, Kevin, and Jeff Green were going into their sophomore year. Bill Gross hired me. That's how I got started.
Was the plan to coach forever back then?
I will tell you that in 1980, I had an inside room in Senior High I, and I was looking out over the quad and thought, "This is really what I want to do." I wanted to come to Quincy. I wanted to coach. I had unbelievable years coaching basketball with Don Kelly, and then I got to be around Jerry Leggett and Mike Hellenthal. Those three were amazing in their own ways. When I got to come back, I was very happy I got into something I really loved.
So why did you give up coaching in 1986?
This job opened up, and I made the move thinking I would never come back to coaching. I hadn't completed my masters yet. They had hired me with the understanding that I had to finish my masters. I started in the Open Learning Center. I started driving to Truman State every day in the summer for three summers, and I would go to Pittsfield and the ag center to teach in the open learning centers, so there wasn't much time for me to coach. When I became more centered here in Quincy and was in the open learning center in our old building, then I could work it into my schedule. I had checked with (JWCC president Robert) Keys, but I honestly didn't think they would let me do it. Keys was a big sports fan, and he said, "No problem. Those are kids in our district. There's nothing wrong with that if you can work it into your schedule."
Does it surprise you that you're still coaching?
After some of those great years, there always seemed to be a reason to come back. My daughter Meghan and my son Jeff both played for me, then my niece Kadi Fauble, then my youngest son Jake and my nephew Andrew Fauble ... it just seemed like they were spaced out just right. As a coach, when so and so are gone, you always think, "What are we going to have?" We've always been able to find players who I enjoyed coaching. I got into the (tennis) coaches association and became president a couple of times, and when we gave plaques to guys who coach 35, 40, 45 years, those guys showed me it was possible to keep doing it as long as I could. I still enjoy it.
How did you gravitate toward being a tennis coach?
I played two years of tennis at Quincy High School and had the tremendous good fortune to play for Joe Yagel in 1969 and 1970. He didn't know anything about tennis, but he was a decent coach. He coached basketball and cross country, and he got us in shape. He did all the necessary things without any technical knowledge of the game, and he was fun to play for. I had a scholarship to go to Illinois State, and on Labor Day weekend, Kent Schnack, Mark Schuering and I drove to Kirksville to play in a tennis tournament. School didn't start until after Labor Day back then. I did pretty well in the tournament. Willard Sims was the assistant basketball coach (at Northeast Missouri State), and his son played tennis. He asked me, "Where are you going to go?" I said Illinois State, and Sims said, "Why don't you come here?" Believe it or not, I went home and said. "Dad, they asked me to play tennis." He was of the generation that just valued college so much, and he liked small colleges. He said, "If you really want to go there, do you think you will play?" I said, "I think so." I had the good fortune to play four years and go to nationals three times. I was just inspired to be a coach, and tennis was the sport I knew best.
Had you not gone to that tennis tournament, how do you think your life would be changed?
I have no idea. Honestly, I love Quincy, I love Quincy High School, but I don't know where I would have ended up. I probably would have wanted to coach, but who knows? I could have ended up in some different profession.
What is it about tennis that makes you want to be involved? The sport itself? The competition? The players?
I think it's all three. Tennis is a tremendous sport. You can play it your whole life. It sounds hokey, but it's wonderful being part of kids' lives. I've had players who went on to become tennis professionals, doctors, lawyers and airline pilots. Tennis is a very confrontational sport. Your opponent is right over there. You're looking at them. You're talking to them. You have to be able to handle adversity. You have to come back after a defeat, sometimes right after losing a heartbreaking match. In the article on Kevin Meyer (The Herald-Whig's Coach of the Year in boys basketball), he said something that was so true. He talked about how he enjoyed being a part of certain moments in players' lives. That was a great quote. That's what it's all about. There are only so many opportunities to be a part of someone's life.
Do any moments come to mind for you?
Absolutely. Sayeed Ali and Pi Boulavong swept through the first day at the (1997 Class AA) tournament, then they got upset by a team from St. Charles North. They were devastated. They really had a shot to win the state tournament. They fought through the backdraw and played for fifth place. Tom Derouin, one of my great friends at Moline, was talking to the tournament director. The coaches get to sit on the court in the semifinals of the state tournament, and our match was for fifth place, but the tournament director announced, "The coaches can sit on the court." I knew it was Tom who had convinced him. And Sayeed and Pi almost won it. They still got sixth in the state.
In my second year, we won our first sectional. We were tied with Jacksonville, and it came down to the fifth tiebreaker. It came down to the highest percentage of games won. Kevin Heath was in the third-place match, and I said, "I think we've got a shot to win this." And he said, "I've got it." And he won. I remember looking at this calculator and I said, "Guys, I think we won." They were so excited.
I'll throw one more in there. I remember when Kadi Fauble, maybe it was her 13th birthday, and I had given her a Blue Devil tennis shirt. I knew she would be on the team, and she played No. 1 all four years. We had rain (at the state tournament) on her senior year. She was in the backdraw, and it got pushed back to Saturday. She was still playing on the last day in the morning, and I was standing there next to her father when she took her warmup off. She had that old T-shirt on. That was just too much, honestly.
Your wife also comes from a tennis family. Was that a prerequisite for her to date you?
Her family knew that about me. Our first date, we played tennis at QU on the courts that used to be behind the gym. Our second date was over Labor Day weekend. We went out and played tennis. We sat on the wall at QU and talked. She still loves tennis and plays tennis. She won her first city doubles title in her 40s. That's the beauty of tennis that she can keep playing.
What is the state of tennis in Quincy?
In Quincy, there's always been an ebb and a flow. It's hard for us to compete with Edwardsville or Belleville East, who have a huge number of kids who come out. Within 20 miles, they can play top-level matches. Quincy is isolated, so it's hard to have the same depth as other schools do. Because of the Quincy Racquet Club and Monica Hinkamper and Todd Willing, we still have top level tennis. It's very healthy in Quincy.
What was your proudest moment?
Always it would have to be watching my own kids play. As much as I love the moments with the other players, having Meghan, Jeff and Jake be part of the teams was great. Whoever follows me as a coach is going to have to drive a lot of miles in vans if they want to keep the program at a good level. If you're not willing to do that, it's going to be difficult to do that. Being in the van as many hours as we were, all those moments and conversations that we had, I think that's what I'll take away.
How often do you play?
I just got my shoulder repaired. I play in practice. I played two or three times a week for many years. I'm getting back into it.
Who was the best player you ever coached?
Sayeed Ali has to be right up there. He went to state in singles three times and also went in doubles, and he medaled as a senior. Kadi Fauble would be first for the girls, and Matea Simovic would be right there. Ryan Schnack is right up there. Bill LaTour would be, too. Bill has won more singles titles in city tennis history. He's the winningest player in Western Illinois University history. But his freshman and sophomore year, he was so bad. I didn't even watch him play. I sent him to other parks. When he came back (from WIU), he became a really, really good player. He got much better after college.
What do you do for your players during a match?
There's a lot of talk in pro tennis. Should they have coaches? They have coaches who give them signs from the crowd, but you have to figure things out on their own. I talk with them about psychological things. What's going on in this match? How are you winning points? You know the answers, but you review it with the players. The beauty of tennis is you're never out of a match. You can be down 6-0, 5-0, 40-love, and you're not out of it. If you're down 40 in a basketball game or down by 4 touchdowns in a football game, you're out of it, but a tennis match can swing on one point. A player can lose confidence, and their whole level of play changes. Can you spot a weakness? Is there something that you can exploit? Maybe it's "Hey, things are going great. Just keep doing what you're doing." A young coach I met years ago stood at the fence with me when I was talking to a kid, and I had just said that. He said, "Are you kidding? is that all you say? I was expecting something a lot more profound." My wife Jan has helped me as an assistant. She talks me off the cliff all the time, especially when I'm about to go up to the fence and say, "What are you doing?"
How has the sport changed since you started coaching?
The really good players, when I started coaching, couldn't touch the players of today. The game's faster. It's much more athletic. People played with straightback swings. They would stop, set their feet and step into the ball. Now the racquets are so powerful. You have to get to the next shot, so you can't stop moving your feet. Also, when I started coaching, there were great players who weren't great role models. Coaching high school tennis when John McEnroe, Ilie Nastase and Jimmy Connors were playing, that was a little tough. Now we have such great ambassadors. Who could not love Roger Federer? Venus Williams and Serena Williams are great. The challenges with parents are little more different now, but if you don't expect it, you shouldn't coach.