By Aaron Swaney Herald Writer
When the girls on the South Whidbey tennis team talk about Coach Kramer it’s best to stop them and make them be a little more specific.
These days there’s two Coach Kramers and both command quite a presence on the courts of the school on Whidbey Island.
Karyle Kramer, who helped guide the Falcons to back-to-back state championships in the late ’80s and was three-time singles state champion, has returned to take over for her father, Tom, the architect of six state championship teams and two other teams that were state runner-up over his 34 years as head girls coach.
“Initially it was just relief; let someone else do it,” said Tom Kramer, who stepped down as the boys and girls tennis coach before the year started. “Relief in a sense that she’s doing it so I don’t have to, but also knowing that the program is in good hands.”
The program seems to be just fine as the Falcons are off to a 7-2 start behind players like returning state qualifier Hayley Newman and have high hopes of a state finish.
“I have to continue forward and have a belief and a confidence that we can continue,” said Karyle, “although we aren’t Coach Kramer, we are in a sense products of his coaching and I have confidence we can continue on his legacy and add to it.”
When Tom started coaching tennis he knew about as much as his pupils. Already a basketball and track coach at South Whidbey, Tom was asked if he’d also coach girls tennis in the summer of 1978. Why not, he thought.
“I read a book on tennis,” Tom said, jokingly. “It’s a simple game. You just hit it over the net one more time than your opponent. I was able to pick the game up rather quickly. But (early on) it was the blind leading the blind.”
Over time, though, Tom built the tennis programs — he took over the boys team just a few years after taking over the girls — into dynasties. He would give free lessons in the summer and his detail-oriented, hands-on coaching style produced results — especially for the girls.
After the boys and girls teams finished second at the Class 1A state championships in 1987, the girls would go on to take the crown over the next two years. When South Whidbey moved up to 2A in WIAA’s expansion to four classes in 1998, the girls team didn’t miss a beat, winning state titles in 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2009.
“Success breeds success and once we got going people wanted to join,” Tom said. “Kids had a good attitude and they expected to win. Once you have that attitude going they see success and it’s modeled for them. We just got more consistent and better.”
A big part of that success was Karyle. After losing a three-set heartbreaker in the state championship singles match as a sophomore on the 1987 team, Karyle returned to win back-to-back singles state championships on the 1988 and ‘89 teams.
Karyle’s not the only link from those teams that is roaming the courts at South Whidbey these days. Jenny Gochaur and Nancy Ricketts, who both played significant roles on the state title teams, have returned to act as assitants to Karyle.
“I was overcome with emotion during the interview process for Jenny and Nancy,” said Karyle “For me personally my dad was a large part of my tennis life. It was extra special to be stepping into his shoes, however big they might be, but to know I was doing it with Jenny in the spring and Nancy in the fall. It was almost like ‘Is this real?’”
Karyle said the success that her father has had brings a sense of pressure for her and her coaches, but the legacy of coaching and the quotes they remember — called “Kramerisms” — give them a solid foundation in their own coaching.
“The phrases are in my head for sure when I’m coaching and playing,” said Gochauer. ” ‘Keep your head down,’ ‘Hit it early.’ The things I heard a million times are definitely still in my head in Tom’s voice.”
In his first year of retirement, Tom hasn’t taken as much of a backseat as one would think, especially this spring. With Karyle guiding the ship and taking care of the minutiae that is being a head coach, the elder coach Kramer has been helping girls with their forehands or serves and spouting the “Kramerisms” that made him famous.
Karyle think her dad feels a responsibility to the girls.
“He comes out and he’ll say I’m staying until 4 and then I’ll look out there at 4:15 and say, ‘So are you staying a little longer?’ and he’ll say “Well yeah, yeah she’s got this and this to work on.’ I think he sees what needs to be done with some players and the individual instruction at this level is priceless, so I think it’s hard to pull away from.”
Most of the girls on the team are familiar with both Kramers (Karyle has coached area parks and rec tennis teams and given private lessons for years) so the transition to Karyle as head coach has been seamless.
“It’s pretty much the same,” said sophomore Amelia Weeks, who has received private lessons from Karyle since seventh grade. “Karyle works a lot with the mental. I do notice that Tom usually gives us small little techniques, which can make all the difference.”
Kalie Stayskal, a senior on this year’s team, isn’t surprised the elder Kramer can’t stay away. “I expected him to be out here a bunch,” Stayskal said. Coach Kramer always says ‘Tennis is a family game.’ “
She didn’t attribute the quote to a specific Kramer and it didn’t seem to matter.