Coaching girls tennis was an accident, retired coach and teacher Tom Kramer says.
That turned into one fortunate happenstance, as 34 years later he will be enshrined Friday night in the South Whidbey High School coaches hall of fame.
“It was all a big mistake,” says Kramer, who was flattered by the impending honor. “I’m joining some fairly big company — (Carl) Westling, (Mike) Parnell, (John) Knaplund and Coach (Jim) Leirer.”
Back in 1978, Kramer was teaching at Langley High School, now the home of Langley Middle School. The girls tennis coach, who was also the school’s principal, was hired for a different job away from South Whidbey. When Kramer was asked to coach the girls tennis team for a season, he reluctantly said yes.
Only six girls signed up to play for the tennis team, which needed seven to field a full squad. Kramer made the team’s manager play that season, more than three decades ago.
The rest is history.
“After the first year, I was hooked,” Kramer says.
Since that first year, until he retired from coaching in the 2011-12 school year, Kramer amassed an incredible resume. He coached girls tennis on South Whidbey for 34 years and boys tennis for 31 years. The Falcons recorded six Washington Interscholastic Activities Association state titles, 11 individual championships, 18 top-six finishes at the state tournament and 23 district team titles. He guided the program from being a small 1A program up to a 3A team in the early 2000s and back to 2A and 1A before he resigned.
His storied resume includes one special moment: when his daughter won the school’s first individual title in 1986. Kramer’s daughter, Karyle Kramer, who followed her father’s legacy and coaches both boys and girls tennis, won the state singles title as a freshman.
“We had never had anyone in the program win state,” Tom Kramer says in his iconic, reserved tone. “That was a big first for us.”
Karyle Kramer remembers feeling a lot of pressure to succeed. Not only was her coach watching at the state tournament, it was also her dad.
“I can remember playing in the state tournament, in the semifinals and I had split sets,” she said, adding that during a set break he pointed to the other semifinal match and told her she could beat either player. “He was pretty intense during some of those matches. I felt I was going to die of heat exhaustion on those courts.”
There was also the time the South Whidbey High School tennis team rolled at the state tournament, claiming several top places and winning the team title.
“You know that feeling when you have the best car in the lot, with all the horsepower?” Kramer asked. “When we showed up at state, I felt that way.”
Those are hefty achievements for someone who took on the tennis coaching job to help the school for one season and learned most of what he knows about tennis from Vic Braden’s book, “Tennis for the Future.”
“The irony is I don’t necessarily agree with some of the stuff,” he says.
Over the years, Kramer watched trends come and go in the tennis world. His secret, he says, is no secret at all. Coaches need to understand their players, their players’ strengths and weaknesses and coach them accordingly.
“Know your players and pick a style of play that fits their personality,” he says.
Even with his daughter, who also teaches at South Whidbey High School, and two former players as assistant coaches — Jenny Gochanour and Nancy Ricketts — running the program in her third year, Kramer still attends the home varsity matches. As to whether he can turn off his coach’s instincts to analyze the games, well … .
“In case you’re wondering if I’m looking for mistakes — yes,” he says. “I’m still mentally coaching.”