Last night at my academy I was informed that Les Phipps had passed away. For those who didn’t know Les, he has been an important figure in the area tennis scene for a long, long time. His obituary will fill you in on some of it, including his coaching stints at Grace College and Warsaw High School. However, what it didn’t mention is that he was also a former coach at Wawasee High School.
I played tennis with Les on many occasions and sat talking with him about his coaching experiences as well as life experiences. He was a truly great man and always fascinating to talk to.
A fews weeks before he passed away, my phone rang one morning and it was Les. “Hello, Shane!” he said with his normal enthusiastic tone. Our conversation was brief that day, only about 5 minutes or so, but he had called just to see how I was doing and said he appreciated all the things I was doing for the kids over at Wawasee. “You’re doing great things and I appreciate it!” he commented. It meant a lot, especially coming from him. It also summed up Les perfectly…this was a man who loved tennis and cared a lot about the development of the sport at the youth level. He stated he had stopped by my academy one day, but I was busy on court training someone, so he didn’t want to interrupt. He just watched for a few minutes and then departed. Last spring he walked on court during one of my practices with the Wawasee girls tennis team…that was Les just checking in. After he left, a few of my girls asked who he was. I told them that he was a former Wawasee tennis coach, the man who had built the hitting board in back of court #6 at our tennis facility. That hitting board so many junior tennis players started out their careers on. I went on to tell them that he’s also living proof that tennis can be a life sport, still playing weekly into his 80s and still very good. A true inspiration.
When I was in my first year coaching at Wawasee, Les took me aside and really showed support and interest and always displayed that infectious enthusiasm towards coaching and the sport. He was not only a team coach, but also a personal coach to many juniors in his time as I am now and I can truly say I learned a lot from his stories, his generous sharing of his knowledge and experience with me.
I will miss Les and remember that final phone call for the rest of my days. Hopefully by the time my days are over I will have managed to contribute a solid fraction of what he managed to accomplish in tennis throughout his life.
Today I was torn with the predicament of missing his services due to previously scheduled lessons or cancelling those lessons in order to attend his memorial. My wife asked me, “What would Les think? Would he want you to be there?” After I thought about this for a while, I finally concluded that Les would surely give me hell for cancelling even a few kids’ tennis lessons, because that was a big part of what Les was passionate about…teaching tennis.
So his memorial services will be held Saturday morning while I’m on court at my academy, doing my part to teach the sport he loved so much.
If you believe in heaven and you know Les Phipps, right about now you can picture him inside those pearly gates adorned with windscreens. And an immaculate tennis court within. You can picture him stretching pre-match with a smile on his face and that enthusiastic glimmer in his eye, as he looks at you and says, “I’m ready to rip and tear!” And, even in heaven, he’ll measure the nets…just to make sure they’re up to spec.
Thank you, Les, for all that you did for tennis in your life. Although you will be missed by all of us in the tennis community and beyond, you will never be forgotten.
Shane Staley is the founder of Staley Tennis and a USPTA-certified trainer, Accredited Professional Coach and instructor.