by John Unrein
Grain Valley High School senior Ethan Cary perhaps had the best summation of Eagles Boys Head Tennis Coach Randy Draper winning the NFHS/MSHSAA 2019-2020 Boys Tennis Coach of the Year Award.
“Sweet! Coach Draper deserves this award. I spent a lot of time around him this summer and it’s amazing the effort he spends coaching everyone from the varsity level to new kids in the program,” Cary said.
“The main thing that Coach Draper has helped me with is not just how to win the game, but to go out and have fun. He always puts a smile on my face no matter what.”
Grain Valley High School Activities Director Brandon Hart worked to find a reason to get Draper to the high school the week of October 26th. Draper, a retired teacher, was confused when he walked in to see his wife Michelle there until Hart presented him with the award.
“I cannot think of anyone more deserving of this honor than Randy Draper. He has had an enormous impact on the sport of tennis. He welcomes anyone that wants to play to join the program, and he introduces the love of tennis to all his players. His energy is infectious, and he can turn anyone into a lifelong tennis player,” Hart said.
“Tennis does not always gain the attention of sports like basketball, but Coach Draper approaches tennis with the same passion as he does with basketball. His tennis program consistently performs at a high level, but more importantly, his kids always represent our school with dignity and respect. He’s a great ambassador for the sport of tennis.”
Draper is proud of what both the girls and boys tennis programs have become at Grain Valley High School considering their humble beginnings. Two tennis courts at Armstrong Park that are no longer there is where Draper first started the girls program.
“I weedeated and sprayed Roundup on the courts. We practiced that year and didn’t play any matches,” Draper said.
“Our school has been incredibly supportive of tennis. We have tennis facilities that some small colleges would be envious of. The AD’s (Activity Directors) at Grain Valley may not have always had a tennis background, but they have learned about the sport and made it important.”
The Grain Valley Boys Tennis program is typically made up of a diverse group of student athletes from many walks of life. For some, it’s their first sport, and others its their third. Draper has been fortunate to make connections with many of his current players from when he was the boys physical education teacher at Grain Valley South Middle School.
“I always tell the kids that if you like to win or lose, then tennis is for you. That’s because you know why you are winning, and you know why you are losing, because it’s largely an individual sport. Tennis is a lifelong sport and there are student athletes that have made close friendships out of their time in our program.”
Draper credits his mom for his roots in tennis and values what the sport taught him about himself. Baseball was Draper’s first sport growing up. That started to flip as Draper progressed through high school and junior college. Draper would spend many summer hours on the court and that eventually led to him being a regional champion in junior college.
“My Mom had friends and they played on a regular basis. They had the best time being together and I would go and watch as a kid. It’s exercise, social, and highly competitive,” Draper said.
“You are out there by yourself (on a tennis court) and learn a lot. An at bat during baseball is only going to go so long unless you foul off 120 pitches. You reflect personally and analyze a lot while you are playing a game by yourself and other people are watching.”
Draper continued, “I love watching the light come on for players who fall in love with the game. We’ve had kids start as late as sophomores in high school that have become good college players.”
Draper stays driven as a coach through the satisfaction of watching kids learn things they couldn’t do before. A trend that Draper wants to continue as he looks forward to what the next tennis season may bring for the boys Eagles tennis team.
Eagles Boys Head Tennis Coach Randy Draper was awarded the NFHS/MSHSAA
2019-2020 Boys Tennis Coach of the Year Award.
Photo credit: Grain Valley Schools