When Arlington boys tennis players Ben Spores and Ben Nichols took the court for practice Tuesday, the state-bound doubles team had a special visitor drop in.
Doug Grimmius, a 1969 Arlington High School graduate and the first Eagles boys tennis player to make the state tournament, made the trip from Portland with his wife to talk to the doubles team before Friday and Saturday’s Class 3A state tournament in Kennewick.
“It is really cool. I’m glad that he was able to come out,” Spores said. “It’s a great experience. It gave a little bit more encouragement to go out and win state this time instead of just going there.”
Grimmius busted out his senior yearbook, giving Spores, Nichols and Arlington coach Ben Mendro a look at what the school was like 50 years ago. But what did Grimmius have to say to the first-ever state-bound doubles team in program history?
“I tried to give them a little bit of the experience I had over there,” Grimmius said. “Because you can kind of get lost in the shuffle a little bit and it can kind of be overwhelming.”
Grimmius got in touch with the program after reading that Spores and Nichols had qualified for state. At the time, it was believed that the two may be the first-ever boys — singles or doubles — to qualify for state from Arlington’s program, but Grimmius let the school’s athletics director, Tom Roys, know that he had qualified for state his senior year.
“I didn’t know the history for sure,” Mendro said. “I knew it had been probably at least 30 years, if ever, since we had boys qualify.”
Grimmius then took it upon himself to visit the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association offices in Renton to find out if any other Eagle had made the trip to state. It turned out there was one more. Eric Elefson made the tournament in 1978.
“Wish he would’ve been here. It would have been nice to meet him. We would have had an all-state team (here),” Grimmius said with a laugh.
Spores and Nichols qualified for state by claiming third place at the 3A Northwest District tournament in October of 2018. Like all the other boys tennis players on the west side of the state, it’s been a long layoff since districts.
“We’ve never had this dilemma before,” Mendro said. “I’ve never had to worry about it. That’s what was so odd about it. When they qualified last year, I was so ecstatic and I was sending out emails to all the staff. … So all the teachers are coming up to me and saying, “Alright, when are they heading off to state.’ And I said, ‘Memorial Day weekend.’ Everyone was just like, ‘What?’”
Finding practice time in the usually wet Washington winters can be tough.
“It gets dark (early), the weather is terrible and we don’t have a lot of indoor facilities around here,” Mendro said.
Further complicating the pair getting practice time as the state tournament approached was Spores’ other commitment this spring.
The senior was a part of Arlington’s baseball team, which lost only one game before being eliminated from the state playoffs this past weekend. The Eagles were a legitimate contender for a state title, and a run to the semifinals would’ve given Spores a difficult decision between playing tennis or baseball on Memorial Day weekend.
“It would be pretty tough,” Spores said. “We lost to O’Dea, so luckily — it sucks we didn’t win — but luckily I don’t have to make that decision anymore. Honestly, I wouldn’t wanna do my tennis partner dirty. It’s more of a history thing.”
Nichols, a junior, said that getting time in has been difficult at times, but the pair has gotten the most out of its practice time.
Heading into Friday’s opening round, Nichols and Spores are focused on sticking to their game and bringing a confident, poised demeanor into the tournament.
“I think we just need to play smart,” Nichols said. “We’re both competitors, and we both feel like we can compete with anyone. I feel that if we both just come in on our game, we can compete with anyone.”
Mendro said Spores and Nichols may have an advantage on being first-time state participants.
“There’s no expectations,” Mendro said. “We have nothing to compare it to. We have no one to measure up to.”
There’s no expectations this weekend, but Spores and Nichols have the chance to be the first to set expectations in quite awhile with a good showing at state.
“It’s an experience to be a part of it, set some of the history for Arlington” Spores said. “A lot of people want to leave a legacy or something like that. If this is one way I could leave a legacy at Arlington, that’s pretty cool.”