For a few weeks, readers seemed more than a little curious about last Dec. 2 View From Above — “Tennis Dying? Not quite … and here’s evidence” — publication about local tennis. There were plenty of responses.
Some of the names left out of that piece seemed incredulous. Remember, this is a small, small newspaper that’s published once a week — its size is based on local advertising space — and they only give me a few thousand words a week in this corner.
Paul Womack, known more for coaching football at Redlands High plus a little softball — but he was Terrier tennis coach back in the 1960s. Womack’s Terrier tennis teams, in fact, reached the CIF Division I championships in back-to-back years. The likes of brothers Dick and Ron Bohrnstedt, plus the Verdieck Bros. — Doug and Randy — were part of those teams. So was Richard Jimenez, who’s still making his mark. Every one of those guys was a heavy hitter.
Womack, though? I remember chatting with him about coaching tennis. Can’t remember much from those chats. Only that he coached the sport. And that he loved it. Back to Womack: Coach Glenn Bassett’s loaded Santa Monica High team KO’d
Womack’s Terriers twice — 22 ½-5 ½ and 20-8 — in back-to-back years, 1963 and ‘64.
Here’s who Womack was up against in Bassett: First off, Bassett’s the only guy to ever win an NCAA tennis title as a coach, assistant coach and a player. After leaving Santa Monica High, he took off to coach UCLA (record, 592-92), 13 NCAA team titles.
Under Bassett, the Vikings won five straight CIF titles — including the two over Redlands — between 1962-66.
At UCLA, Bassett coached legends like Arthur Ashe and Jimmy Connors.
It was like Womack coaching against John McKay, who led USC to four NCAA football championships, only on a high school level.
Let’s not forget that Redlands’ Ron Borhnstedt lost to Arcadia’s Tom Leonard, a future pro, in the 1965 boys’ CIF singles title.
Or that Dick Bohrnstedt knocked off Temple City’s Terry Neudeker in 1967. Yes, Neudecker played some pro tennis. A year later, 1968, Dick handed San Gabriel High’s Chris Chapin, another future pro, a 6-1, 6-1 loss. Both CIF title matches.
As for doubles, the Terriers’ Bill Schoen-David Ciano combo racked up a 1962 CIF title, an 11-9, 7-5 dogfight over Santa Monica’s Bill Fort and Bill Grimm. Two years later, Doug Verdieck and Ron Borhnstedt beat Glendale’s Richard Reed and John Weston.
Ciano, incidentally, was a baseball player. “But our baseball team,” he told sports writer Jack Williams, “had finished either last or close to it for three years in a row. And tennis was a relatively new sport at the time.”
Womack, he said, “had just renewed the program three years before I came to Redlands High.”
Instead of baseball, Ciano went off to play college tennis.
I get the feeling University of Redlands coach Jim Verdieck and Womack often chatted about lineups, strategies, tennis drills and other relevant subjects. Gotta remember, too, that Verdieck was Womack’s football coach at U of R.
How Verdieck used to line up his Bulldog teams in matches against, say, USC and Occidental College on the same day. He’d schedule major college teams for non-conference matches.
He’d play his “A” guys against the top-level Trojans and line up a studly bunch of “B” guys to knock off small college Oxy.
Those “B” guys better win, though. Any conference loss could jeopardize NAIA or NCAA Division III championship hopes. Those Bulldog players that lined up against USC or Pepperdine, Notre Dame or Stanford, would be sufficiently tested for small college players from Kalamazoo (Mich.) University or East Texas State at nationals.
It’s high level tennis at its absolute best from little Redlands. Some more Royal Tennis names:
Sean Comadena’s 2014 Terrier squad came up a whisker short, losing 10-8 to Santa Ynez, of winning four straight CIF titles. They beat Laguna Beach twice and Yorba Linda in 2015-2017.
On Comadena: It’s like we’ve got a miniature version of Verdieck walking around local courts.
Fepie Verdieck, an Occidental College product, Jim’s wife, taught youth tennis on Saturday mornings.
Overton Pratt, whose sporting goods store was last seen on the corner of Citrus and Church — it’s now an auto parts stop — should be a highly-remembered tennis patron. One of the little nuances of Pratt Bros. Sporting Goods was there was a tennis court on its roof.
I’d often wondered who played up there.
Jimenez: He took over Fepie’s part, teaching youth beginners.
Gary George, tennis chief at Ford Park tennis: Lots of drills, lots of travel, lots of matches against other tennis-rich communities.
Current Bulldog coach Geoff Roche took over from Jim Ducey, who was coached by Verdieck.
Over at Redlands East Valley, Ed Stark & Co. nearly pulled off a CIF Division 4 championship in 2018.
Those aren’t easy achievements, folks.
When it came time to grab a local CIF champion like Jansen Comadena — part of two CIF Terrier team championships with his dad, Sean — he escaped to Pomona-Pitzer College in Claremont.
“I tried hard to get him to come (to Redlands),” said Jansen’s former CIF championship Terrier teammate Brysl Libao, “and so did his dad.” Jansen scored something like 1590 out of 1600 on the SAT (hope I got the numbers right). That’s the real headline, folks. Kid’s at a genius level — carrying a racket after classes — and he shows up at a nice rival campus.
Redlands has lost good players to other campuses before. Redlands East Valley’s Tyler Davis — incredible player around these parts — escaped to Point Loma.
Redlands’ Hermehr Kaur took off for Brigham Young University’s women’s squad. We could go on with more names. More achievements. They ought to construct a West Coast version of a Tennis Hall of Fame — a satellite version. You know, right here in Redlands.