Rick Graves had only been employed at Loogootee High School as a teacher for a short time when he threw his name in the hat for a job that would change the Lions’ tennis program forever. Graves had a passion and love for the sport, but he’d never played in high school or college, but that didn’t matter. Now, 452 victories later in both boys and girls tennis, the hiring of Graves is one of the best decisions the Loogootee athletic department ever made.
With a victory last week over Paoli, Graves earned his 300th win as the boys tennis coach with a victory Sept. 26 at Paoli. He also has 151 wins as the girls coach to bring his overall record as a high school tennis coach to 452-169 (.739) with 24 sectional team championships. When Graves took the job coaching the girls team in 1987, he had no expectations of how long he would hold the job or how successful he would be.
“I kind of thought about the future and how long I could do this,” Graves said. “At first I thought 20 years would probably be a good stopping point. With the boys I did 20 years and then was out of it for a little bit and then they needed someone so I came back to it, but I really had no idea how long I would stay with it. Here I am all these years later.”
Graves coached girls from 1987-1998, and soon after he took over coaching the girls team, he took on the boys team as well. Being able to coach both teams gave Graves a interesting dynamic of being able to coach different personalities while still staying successful.
“Athletically there isn’t a whole lot of difference between boys and girls,” Graves said. “I’ve always had players that were pretty dedicated so when it came to that there wasn’t a whole lot of difference. When it comes to the psychological difference with girls versus boys that would be the difference. Overall it’s pretty much the same game, it is just how you handle girls versus boys that is a little bit different.”
Fortunately for Graves he didn’t take over a program with the girls that had to start from the bottom, but a team that had some talent. Graves said in those days there were less sectional sites, and therefore the Lions had to win the sectional at Jasper, which wasn’t an easy task. In total, Graves won seven sectional championships and compiled a record of 151-62. While Graves had a successful run leading the girls program, the program he built with the boys has exceeded anyone’s expectations.
As coach of the boys team, Graves compiled a record of 301-107 and 17 sectional championships in 22 seasons. Graves took over coaching the boys team in the fall of 1988 — two seasons after coaching the girls team. From 1993-2007, Loogootee won the sectional championship every year with the exception of 1996. That kind of dominance couldn’t have been foreseen by anyone no matter the expectations. Despite his immense success, Graves knows he didn’t do this alone.
“I’ve had a lot of support,” Graves said. “I’ve had a lot of parents that have been willing to take their kids to plenty of tournaments throughout the summer and get lessons and do all those things that need to get done to produce good tennis teams and good tennis players.”
Winning in high school sports can be a tricky situation while attempting to balance keeping the players happy along with winning on a consistent basis. Graves said balancing winning is enjoyment has been an important part of his time at Loogootee.
“I think winning is certainly important,” Graves said. “I think there is more to gain from being a part of a team and participating and learning than just wins and losses. You have to go out with the idea of winning each match that you participate in, but, realistically that isn’t going to happen. It’s always a goal, but I think you have to enjoy what you’re doing. As a player, if you’re not having fun then it’s probably not worth it for you to do that. Winning isn’t the ultimate goal, but it’s certainly important.”