Feb. 6, 2007
Inducted with Strause-McKenna; Bellarmine's Mican also honored
By NATHAN CHAMBERS
Sharon Rahman welcomed Rex Ecarma to the 2006 USTA Kentucky Hall of Fame and Awards Dinner at the Hilton Garden Inn on Saturday night with a greeting that lent great perspective to the imminent induction of the University of Louisville men’s tennis coach.
Rahman, who is the acting director of USTA Kentucky, shook Ecarma’s hand and warmly addressed him as the fellow Doss High School graduate that he is.
Now think about that for a moment. How many other U of L head coaches graduated from a Louisville high school?
Of course, there are no others. In sports, few do what he has done without leaving the town in which he started.
“There was a really important buzz word when Steve Kragthorpe was hired (as U of L’s football coach),” he said. “The school wants to make the city of Louisville - and the University of Louisville - a ‘destination job.’ But I already knew that in 1990. It was a destination job for me then.”
The 41-year-old Ecarma, a native of the Philippines, has lived in Louisville since 1977, when he was in the sixth grade. He started playing junior tennis in Kentucky when he was 14 and eventually rose to No. 2 in singles and No. 1 in doubles in the state rankings. He reached the Kentucky high school quarterfinals twice while playing for Doss. He played for U of L and still ranks second on the school’s career doubles wins list.
Those facts alone might have convinced someone to nominate Ecarma for the USTA Kentucky Hall of Fame. But his career since 1990, the year U of L made him one of the youngest head coaches in NCAA Division I tennis at the age of 23, all but guaranteed his election alongside Janey Strause-McKenna on Saturday.
Read Ecarma’s U of L bio for more details of his 17-year coaching career, including his team’s increasingly common conference championships, NCAA tournament appearances, and national rankings; his Coach of the Year Awards; and his role in designing, funding, managing and expanding the Bass-Rudd Tennis Center.
Here, it suffices to say that Rex Ecarma is Louisville tennis.
But his graciousness also must be noted. Ecarma has been known to call The Courier-Journal’s sports department after a match and praise the efforts of his players before the U of L Sports Information Office has even faxed or e-mailed a press release.
So it was no surprise that he first and foremost wanted to acknowledge what other people have done for him on an occasion when the who’s who of the Kentucky tennis community wanted to acknowledge what he has done for the sport.
“This is a night for me to celebrate all the people who have helped me along the way, to publicly thank them,” he said.
Strause-McKenna has less local cachet but also is a worthy inductee. The former Ballard High School star was the premier junior singles player in Kentucky in the early 1980s, reaching No. 1 in the state rankings, winning the high school state championship in 1982, and earning All-American status in 1982-83.
Her playing career continued briefly at Indiana University, where she was named All-Big Ten, before she transferred to Furman and became a three-time Southern Conference champion from 1985-87.
Strause-McKenna also served as the tour director for the USTA Women’s Professional Tennis Circuit in 1990, and she was Georgia Tech’s head coach from 1992-94.
Among the many other honorees at the dinner, Louisville resident Lisa Heffley’s USTA Adult League team was prominent. The Heffley-captained women’s 3.0 unit received Special Recognition for winning state and section championships and performing well at nationals last year, and its coaches, Greg Combs and William Hughes, received Tennis Professionals of the Year awards for their work with the team.
“(Combs and Hughes) did everything,” said Heffley, who nominated them for the award. “I can’t even begin to describe it. We were doing lessons, clinics and extra practices, and they reorganized their schedules and put their personal lives on hold to accommodate us. We also were one of the few teams at sectionals that had coaches with them, and they even scouted other teams for us.”
Bellarmine University women’s tennis coach John Mican was recognized as Co-Coach of the Year for his work rebuilding the program. The Knights had a 16-70 record over the six years before he was hired but are 31-20 in less than three years with him at the helm.
Other Louisville-area honorees included:
Former St. Xavier High School star Andy Edwards, who received the Mark Ragland, Jr., Sportsmanship Award;
Sacred Heart senior Adrienne Bartlett, a 2004 state doubles finalist who received the Girls’ Scholastic Achievement Award;
Jack Barton, who received the Educational Merit Award for his work with Rising Stars of Kentucky Tennis;
The Louisville Tennis Association, which received the Team Tennis Event of the Year Award for its Middle School League;
The family of Larry and Sue Kline, which received the Family of the Year Award for its work in the sport;
The Joe Creason Kentucky State Qualifier, which received the Junior Tournament of the Year Award;
Maks Gold, who received the Junior Player of the Year Award after becoming No. 1 in the state and No. 2 in the South in boys’ 14 singles;
And former St. Xavier High School star Colin Purcell, who received the Adult Player of the Year Award in large part for his role on the University of Georgia team that reached the NCAA finals.