The Illinois High School Association is proud to celebrate 100 years of the IHSA Boys Tennis State Final Tournament in 2015 with a series of stories chronicling the history, memorable players, and storied programs that have made the last 100 years so special:
by Michael Maratea, Head Coach, Tinley Park (Andrew)
When asked to write an article to celebrate the 100th anniversary of high school boys’ tennis, I sought inspiration from my own experience at the tournament in the spring of 1971 and 1972 at the University of Illinois. I still remember the tough competition, the physical exertion, and the blisters. The most vivid memory, years later, is the experience itself, especially the camaraderie among the players and the honor of being part of something special. Even if one does not go “downstate” all players can achieve that experience during the duals and tournaments while proudly representing their schools during the regular season. If fortunate enough to make the sectional lineup, that experience can continue throughout the state series. No matter how long the season it should create great memories.
In the past four decades the tournament has seen numerous changes: racquet sizes and composition, strings, strategies (both singles and doubles), number of state qualifiers, scoring, coaching rules, and others. But some things did not change. Players still proudly compete for their schools in one of the greatest sports.
There have been many great coaches during this time period. One of the best, Tom Pitchford, spans the time period from the 1960s into the late 1980s. He was known as "Mr. Illinois Tennis." Coach Pitchford was instrumental in moving the state tournament from the University of Illinois to Arlington High School in 1973. The new venue was filled with tradition and the northwest suburbs served as a gracious host until 1984 when Arlington High School closed. Just the year before Tom Pitchford was named the National Coach of the Year. The tournament needed a new home and Coach Pitchford provided it when he and the tournament moved to Hersey High School. Today Coach Pitchford’s contributions are remembered with the Tom Pitchford Invitational which attracts the top players in the state and annually with the Tom Pitchford Sportsmanship Award given to a player that exhibits the qualities that Coach Pitchford displayed during his long career as coach and mentor. Another great coach from the 1960s to 2009 was Jay Kramer of Hinsdale Central, whose teams captured 16 state titles.
Not to be outdone, New Trier has won 14 state titles since 1980. Under Coach John Schneiter, the school won eight titles and made him one of the most successful coaches in the past 35 years. Winning a state title requires a true “team effort” and emphasizes one of the founding principles of IHSA sports.
While coaches provide leadership and structure
to a team, the players themselves are the heart and soul. From 1980 to present time many great players have competed at the state finals. There have been only four repeat singles winners, showing just how competitive the field has been. Two-time winners include Danny Weiss of Glenbrook North, Tom Hanus of Palatine, and Robert Stineman of New Trier. In my opinion, the greatest player during the past 35 years was Mike Morrison of Deerfield, who won titles in the spring of 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986, an amazing accomplishment. The only other player to win four state singles titles was Marty Riessen of Hinsdale Township in 1957, 1958, 1959, and 1960. Riessen is generally acknowledged as the greatest Illinois high school tennis player of all time.
Through all the changes Illinois boys' tennis has seen in recent years, there has been one constant that hasn’t changed. Every spring almost 10,000 boys compete during the regular season. Over 1,500 begin play in the sectionals, and 384 qualify for the State Finals. Of that total only nine win their last match at state. Wins and losses eventually fade leaving the experience as the lasting memory. It is the goal of the IHSA and coaches to make that a positive experience. I believe that the Olympic Creed says it best when it begins, “ The most important thing is not to win, but to take part....”. These are simple but powerful words. We hope that the hundreds of thousands of boys that played high school tennis were provided with a positive experience to create those lasting memories.