Area tennis buffs such as the Valley’s Tom Loucks and his sons Matt and Adam have a friend in the Spokane Tennis Association.
The tennis league provides an avenue that is both recreation and a springboard to a career.
Area players can maintain a lifelong involvement in the sport, whether they are former stars like the 37-year-old Loucks, or budding players like his 11- and 9-year-old sons.
Loucks, who was once the Northwest’s No. 1-ranked age group player and ranked nationally, hasn’t played competitively since 1991. He said he is playing in the STA mainly to provide guidance for his sons.
“This league is great right now for the kids,” he said. “I want them to get a variety of match experience.”
Players are put in leagues by ability, given lists of names and phone numbers and then they arrange matches to be played on Spokane area courts.
Tom Loucks and Matt, 11, are undefeated in the second highest adult doubles league and Tom also plays in a league with Adam.
In singles, Matt is undefeated playing against adults in the third highest men’s league and Adam, recuperating from a fractured wrist suffered in P.E., has won two matches in the 15-under junior league.
“I think both have big aspirations,” said Loucks. “Matt’s really into it now and his younger brother is one of the top 10-unders in the Northwest.”
Matt has practiced against University High state qualifier Leslie Whitten and beats the other girls on the team, which was coached by his dad.
“He’s definitely going to be ranked in the Pacific Northwest (12-Under) this year,” said Loucks. “I didn’t have him go last year but he came out of the blocks in his first tournament and beat a player who was ranked sixth last year.”
Adam also will be ranked in the 10-under despite being one of the younger competitors.
“He’ll still be 10-under next year and I haven’t seen anyone his age who could beat him,” said Loucks.
His sons have won two of three doubles tournaments together and remained friendly.
“Players get along great during good times. You have to make sure in bad times they are not blaming each other,” said Loucks. “That’s a classic doubles mistake.”
Tom Loucks reluctantly took his first tennis lesson in 1967 at age 9, got hooked on the game and wound up studying under Robert Lansdorp who coached Tracy and John Austin. His sons are following in his footsteps.
“I really figured six or seven years ago that since I did tennis they’d be golfers or something,” he said. “You can’t tell how they are going to be until a later age, but they’re both good athletes.”
As a former teaching professional, Loucks worried about coaching his own sons. He didn’t want to make playing a chore or cram fundamentals down their throats.
They began by playing on a racquetball court to develop hand-eye coordination.
Loucks’s experience enabled him to teach his sons skills it took him years to acquire.
How far they go, he said, will depend upon whether they have his passion for the game and willingness to work endlessly.
“At their ages they are much better than I was,” he said. “I was a good competitor but did not nearly have the technique. They’re learning things I did at 13. But it comes down to you have to like practice.”
There will come a time when Spokane Tennis Association leagues won’t provide enough competition and Loucks can envision moving to a warmer climate three or four months out of the year for his sons’ benefit.
“Matt’s 8-0 in a 13-player (men’s) league and the others aren’t returning calls,” Loucks said. “I will have Adam play in the men’s league also. It’s fun for them and tests guys egos who think they’re playing me and end up playing one of my boys.”
In the meantime, a man who was once ranked 55th nationally will play doubles with his sons even if they expect him to make all the shots.
“It’s fun playing with them and they love it,” he said. “It’s a great environment to talk with them, tell them what’s working and what’s not without ordering them around.”
Tom is also getting back into singles shape again in response to a challenge.
“We were riding in the car and Matt said he’d be beating me in a couple of years,” said Loucks. “I said ‘By the time you beat me, cars won’t be a mode of transportation.’
“You’ve got to keep them humble.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Tom Loucks took his best shot at pro tennis tour Two decades ago, Pullman native Tom Loucks was a tennis phenomenon: A 16-year-old who beat the area’s best adults, a two-time state champion who would go on to play at UCLA, a nationally ranked Junior Davis Cup hopeful. He began playing tennis at age 10. By the time he was 14, Loucks was ranked No. 1 in the Northwest in his age group. In 1974, ranked 25th in the nation as a 16-year-old, he got to play an exhibition against Pancho Gonzales. He left high school a year early. As a UCLA freshman, he won the Inland Empire Tennis Tournament and tried out for the U.S. Junior Davis Cup team. He didn’t make the team, which included the likes of John McEnroe. “The biggest thing I remember was how hot and humid it was,” Loucks said of the Junior Davis Cup tryouts, which were held in Houston. “I was in the best shape of my life and could have played 10 sets in a day and not be fatigued. But the humidity really got to me. A three-set match drained me.” After finishing his career at UCLA as the Bruins’ No. 4 singles player, he played the British circuit and played in a Wimbledon qualifier. When he came back to the U.S., he landed a job as a teaching pro in Seattle, where he taught for 13 years before moving to the Spokane Valley four years ago. “I needed to make a decision and felt I was a notch below those on the pro tour,” said Loucks. “The time was right to teach and I was having foot problems, too.” The University High School girls tennis team coach of two years has resigned to work with his sons. “The kids wanted my time and are at a point where they needed me to play with them,” he said. - Mike Vlahovich