Tom Campbell has served as the Capital High varsity tennis coach for 51 years.
He’s been doing it since 1968, the same year Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and the same year “Star Trek” showed the first interracial kiss in American television history.
That tenure will come to an end in May, when Campbell plans to retire after one final season. He will leave behind 15 team state titles, 82 individual state titles and countless coaching awards, including a 1988 National Coach of the Year award. He’s only the second coach in the history of the 54-year program.
Campbell said the graduation of his youngest grandson, Michael, who is a senior on Capital’s tennis team, prompted his decision to retire. He retired from teaching in 2003 and stopped running the planetarium at Capital High in 2017 — after opening it in 1969.
“It’s not so much what he means to the program and the school, it’s what he means to tennis in the state of Idaho,” Capital Athletic Director Steve Sosnowski told the Statesman. “This guy is a legend. How many people do you know that have put in over 50 years doing one thing with kids?”
The school plans to honor Campbell before its home match Tuesday against Rocky Mountain. The ceremony is slated to start at about 3:30 p.m., and anybody who has had a tennis relationship with Campbell is welcome to attend, Sosnowski said.
“It’s a tremendous tribute that people like Steve would think enough of me to do that,” Campbell said.
As recently as 2016, Campbell was named the Intermountain Tennis Development Coach of the Year. And in 2003, he was inducted into the USTA Idaho Hall of Fame.
Campbell, 80, is also a past president of the Idaho State Tennis Association, the Idaho State High School Tennis Association and the Idaho State Science Teacher Association. His tennis legacy consists of developing and running the Treasure Valley Junior Tennis Circuit and the Capital Tennis Classic, which hosts 36 schools from four states. Campbell also wrote the District Three tennis coaches manual and helps prepare the schedule for the SIC each year.
Campbell is too old to have graduated from Capital High. The school opened in 1965, eight years after he graduated from Boise High. He then earned his bachelor’s degree at San Jose State and his master’s from Boise State, well before the blue turf was implemented. He began his teaching career in California but moved back to Idaho, where he taught at North Junior High in Boise for a year before accepting a position at Capital in 1966 to be a chemistry teacher.
Two years later, and one year before the United States put a man on the moon, he began teaching astronomy and coaching tennis. Thirteen years after that, in 1981, Campbell took over Capital’s girls basketball program. He was the Eagles’ basketball coach for a decade.
“I’ll miss when he talks to me on change-overs,” Capital sophomore Gina Dudley said. “He knows my personality and knows what to say, so it will be a different change not having a coach that you have built such a good relationship with.”
When Campbell first started playing tennis — he still plays today — players still used wooden rackets. One noticeable change, Campbell said, is that players use significantly more power in today’s game due to an increase in technology.
“It’s a different technology now,” he said. “Technology has taken a whole new direction. ... You don’t see as many people coming to the net. You coach them and teach them to do what they do well, and most of them are baseline hitters. You don’t coach them to come to the net like you used to in singles, at least.”
Campbell said one mainstay in his coaching philosophy is that playing sports must be fun. To be successful, he said, players have to work hard and enjoy what they are doing. At one point, as many as 80 students came out to play tennis for Capital, Sosnowski said.
“He can connect with us,” said Caden Johnson, a member of Capital’s boys tennis team. “It’s high school sports. It’s more about the enjoyment.”
“A lot of student-athletes here say, ‘Aw, I’ve got practice today,’ ” teammate Jacob Tomann added. “But nobody here is like, ‘Aw, I have tennis today.’ He can relate to us.”
Campbell said that once he retires, he plans to travel. The thing he says he will miss the most is the relationships he has built with staff members and former players.
“It’s hard to find coaches, really hard,” Sosnowski said. “It’s tough to coach these days. Parents, fundraising, all of those things that are coming into play. It takes a lot more effort to get through a season now than when the school was providing most of the money for you to run your sport. A lot more time involved. ... It’s just a rarity, just a rarity.”