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Berry Tramel: Tennis coach James Wadley is OSU’s grand old man

by Berry Tramel Published: September 27, 2009
STILLWATER — James Wadley came to Oklahoma State University as the tennis coach in 1972.

Floyd Gass was the football coach. Mike Gundy was 5 years old. Sam Aubrey was basketball coach. Travis Ford was 2. Tommy Chesbro was wrestling coach. John Smith was 7.

Wadley remains on the job he took in the first Nixon administration. The grand old man of OSU athletics has begun his 38th year coaching Cowboy tennis.

How much of an institution is Wadley? He’s been on the job longer than was the very definition of OSU institutions, Henry Iba, who coached Cowboy hoops for 36 seasons.

"He’s older than Methuselah,” said OSU athletic director Mike Holder, who better not cast too many stones, since he’s been employed by the department, either as golf coach or AD, for 37 seasons.

Wadley took a pay cut from what he was making at Duncan High School to come to OSU. Took a pay cut and a part-time job working at an apartment complex’s laundry, along with a young couple named Mike and Robbie Holder, to coach Big Eight tennis. Wadley coached it well, winning 12 Big Eight titles, and he has made OSU a consistent Big 12 force.

"He’s very competitive,” said Yevgen Bondarchuk, who played for Wadley and now is his assistant coach. "He wants to win. He hates losing. He’s mad when we play bad and he’s happy when we play good.”

Doesn’t sound like the recipe for a guy about to call it a career.

"My wife thinks I’m retired already,” Wadley said. "I wear shorts to work and have a lot of time off in the summer.”

If Holder ever wants to be the grand old man of OSU athletics, he might have to fire the competition.

"Who’s going to win?” Holder asked of the marathon he’s running with Wadley. "I don’t know. I’m trying to fight off Father Time.

"He’s changed with the times. When he started in the ’70s, it was a different kind of student-athlete. Not many things are real similar.”

True enough. The players are better today, the competition stiffer. The recruiting is international, because the best American athletes aren’t playing tennis, and with men’s tennis scholarships reduced to 4 1/2, you can’t make a mistake on a recruit or wait for a prospect to blossom.

But one thing hasn’t changed: OSU’s facilities.

by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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