It was an eye-opening experience for the Classen boys tennis team at the state tournament last year. Equipped with little more than rackets, bags and water bottles, the Comets felt they were ready for the biggest weekend of the season. But when they saw all of the other teams and their tents set up across the Oklahoma City Tennis Center, the Classen crew realized it was a different animal. All the Comets could do was try to find a tree to sit under to take in some shade. "That’s just how new we were to everything,” said coach Ron Mims. "We didn’t know any better.” Classen is ready this time. The girls team made sure of it. The girls arranged for a tent for this year’s state tournament, which begins today at the Oklahoma City Tennis Center. When Mims was asked to coach the tennis program six years ago, he decided he’d give it a chance. Mims is also the boys basketball coach. He played tennis in high school because his basketball coach required players participate in at least two sports. So Mims had some tennis knowledge. But with Classen playing top teams such as Heritage Hall and Bishop McGuinness, Mims preached that wins and losses didn’t matter as long as his players were learning the game. "We had to crawl before we could walk,” Mims said. Classen has progressed well. The school’s entire boys team has qualified for state for the second straight season. The Comets have gone from a "beginner’s approach” to a contender ready to make noise in Class 4A. Sophomore No. 1 singles players Chris Chan, who placed fifth as a freshman, has seen the transformation. "It’s been real interesting watching this program develop,” Chan said. "I remember back in sixth grade how things were. And now how they are — it’s a big difference.” Tennis hasn’t grown at Classen because of Mims and his technical teachings. It’s been his ability to make the sport fun and help the players deal with the game mentally. "Mims is a friend and a coach. He can be serious, and I’ll know when he is, and he’s also a friend that I know I can joke around with,” said No. 2 doubles sophomore Danny Vo. "He is very supportive and helps me keep my cool during matches.” A strong performance would punctuate the resurgence of Classen sports. The school is known primarily for its academics but has experienced athletics success recently. Freshman swimmer Chelsea Ye won two individual state titles. Freshman Melissa Dang became the first tennis player to earn runner-up honors in school history last week. "There’s a lot of hope for the future, and it’s been an inspiration, not just for sports but for the school,” said No. 1 doubles player Neil Pruthi. Mims said he knew he had to stick it out for the kids. The coach said he couldn’t teach the kids about persevering through tough times if he didn’t do it himself. "He’s the only coach I’ve ever had, and I’m sure he won’t be the last, but I know he’ll always be my favorite,” Vo said. For a class-by-class preview of the boys tournament, read the high school blog at blog.newsok.com/highschoolsports.
BLOG: Prep Boys Tennis Preview (what to watch for)
Boys State High School Tennis Championships
→When: 8 a.m. today →Where: Oklahoma City Tennis Center, NW 36 and Portland