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Volunteer Tennis Coach Wade Garland’s First Lesson? Have Fun

Volunteer tennis coach Wade Garland tosses the ball to serve it into play at the Roddick Tennis Center courts in Granite Shoals. Garland teaches kids the sport for free. Staff photo by Jennifer Fierro

GRANITE SHOALS — After one of the boys missed the ball, coach Wade Garland looked at the two young players to ask a question.

“What’s the first rule of tennis?” he inquired.

“To watch the ball,” one of them said.

“No,” the coach said. “The first rule of tennis is to have fun. The second is to keep your eye on the ball.”

Garland, who turns 82 in July, has been having a lot of fun since he offered to give free tennis lessons to youth at the Roddick Tennis Center in Granite Shoals.

Each Tuesday and Thursday morning, Garland can be found with a cart full of balls, some racquets, and eager students wanting to learn the sport and other lessons their coach has gathered during his life.

“It helps the kids become better citizens,” he said. “They develop better coordination. They become better sports. It’s a sport you can play all your life.”

Meanwhile, his students are heeding his instruction.

“He’s an amazing coach to play for,” 17-year-old Michael Pugh said.

His 12-year-old brother, Marcus, agreed.

“I have an awesome coach,” he said. “There’s a lot to do, and it’s not boring. He wants us to be the best we can be.”

Born in Anson just north of Abilene, Garland has been playing tennis for about 60 years, picking up the sport after doctors told him there was a chance one of his legs would have to be amputated. He developed a bone marrow infection when he suffered damage from a mesquite limb while cutting wood.

At about the same time, a new drug emerged that gave his family hope: penicillin. During a three-week hospital stay, he thinks he probably got hundreds of penicillin shots.

“I had shots night and day,” he said. “They told me I should never play contact sports, so I was looking around, trying to find something I could do in the sports world. Tennis interested me, so I started playing.”

He taught himself how to play from a library book called “How To Play Tennis” by “Big” Bill Tilden, who had been the No. 1-ranked player in the world from 1920-25. Tilden won 15 majors and 10 Grand Slam tournaments and became the first American to win Wimbledon in 1920.

“I kept that book on the court with me as long as they let me check it out,” he said.

Garland, who became an architect when he finished his military service in 1961, said he was never a skilled player but continued to join tennis clubs and even played on the Texas senior circuit and the first tennis league in Austin. He finished second in the inaugural year of the league.

“I certainly enjoy tennis,” he said with a grin. “It gave me a break from working on other people’s problems.”

Garland doesn’t charge families for the tennis lessons.

“That would take the fun away from me,” he said. “Tennis has been good to me. I know how much it meant to me. I know how much it’s meant to me. I also try to teach Christian principles along the way. I hope some of that sinks in.”

Part of the reason why he doesn’t charge a fee is because the Roddick Youth Tennis Foundation has supplied him with tennis balls and has helped reserve the court for his lessons.

Garland works closely with Marble Falls Middle School tennis coach Joe Powell and emphasizes the basics of the sport to set a solid foundation for what’s to come in grades 7-12.

He became a volunteer in the Afterschool Centers on Education (ACE) at Highland Lakes Elementary School last year and has taught students attending Llano High School and Faith Academy of Marble Falls.

“I don’t know what it is about tennis,” he said. “It’s given me great pleasure in working with young people in tennis.”

The lifelong player tells his students they have a sport they can play well into adulthood and enjoy.

“As you can tell, you don’t have to be competitive,” he said. “You can play with friends and family. Even when you get into business or other vocations, you can play with tennis associates. You can always find folks who can play on your level.”

Email Garland at tuliaxs@zeecon.com for more information about lessons.

jfierro@thepicayune.com

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