Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Taking Tennis 101 with Mark Scribner

Warm Springs pro, coach to junior state champs, gets set to leave Ketchum after 25 years

Express Staff Writer

Mark Scribner relaxes at his beloved Warm Spring Tennis Club a day after his Community School tennis team won its fourth state championship in five years. Express photo by Jeff Cordes

Mark Scribner, arguably the best tennis player in Ketchum and Sun Valley for the past 25 years, is leaving the area for greener pastures but his legacy of teaching and playing tennis at the highest level--and promoting the sport—is a lasting one.

"He's a master at this game, the best thing that has ever happened here for tennis," said Dave Martin of Ketchum, whose sons Chancey and Tyler captured state boys' singles championships at The Community School under Scribner's coaching.

Scribner, 44, arrived at 19 and for years was the dominant singles and doubles player in the Sun Valley area. His home base throughout most of his productive quarter century here has been Ketchum's Warm Springs Tennis Club. There, he has taught countless adult and junior players and has played stellar tennis.

"Tennis is really my life," Scribner has said.

With the future of Warm Springs Tennis Club in jeopardy for the past several years because of development proposals, Scribner and his wife Kathy started looking for options that would keep them in the game.

Kathy's children Lauren Drew and Ryan Drew have been playing college tennis in southern California for the last couple of years, so Mark and Kathy nailed down a three-month wintertime gig overseeing three tennis courts at Emerald Desert RV Resort in Palm Desert, Ca.

While Kathy was in her native Wenatchee (Wash.) for a high school reunion, she and Mark heard about a high school tennis program in the small, Bavarian-themed resort town of Leavenworth (population 2,100) on the eastern slope of the Cascade Mountains, 120 miles east of Seattle.

"Cascade High School has an enrollment of 360 and there were 64 kids out for tennis," said Scribner.

They learned there was tremendous interest in tennis in a high school that has produced college tennis players, but the Scribners found the Leavenworth facilities needed an upgrade. They decided they could build a facility and allow kids to practice there—and hopefully Scribner would teach them the game.

Since selling their Hailey home, the Scribners have been living in an RV. They invested in three acres in Leavenworth. Their plan is to design and build six courts from scratch at the foot of the mountains. "We'll live there in the summer and operate the tennis facility," Scribner said.

They'll have one more summer operating Warm Springs Tennis Club, then the Scribners are planning to leave and return only for guest appearances. They'll be missed.

Dave Martin said, "This town is going to miss Mark. The senior ladies, the guys, the kids, they'll all miss him. It's really only since Mark got involved that the junior program has improved. In the old years, it was mostly adult tennis here. With Mark, the clinics for kids got bigger and bigger and the kids really picked up.

"He just knows tennis and he was the best player in town. When he put on the holiday tournaments, the Boise State University guys would come because they knew Mark would run a quality tournament. Everybody respects him—(Hall of Fame pro) Mats Wilander, (BSU coach) Greg Patton, they'll say Mark knows what he's doing and he's a top-notch guy."

The lefty from La Jolla

He's a self-made man, but Mark Scribner had a solid foundation from his parents—in tennis and character.

"I had a very, very stern upbringing. You needed to play by the rules. I never came home when I got into trouble and wanted my parents to know what had happened," he said.

Scribner still plays doubles in tournaments like the Newport Beach (Ca.) Father's Day meet with his 67-year-old dad Charles Scribner, and they've been ranked high in the 60-and-over father and son class.

"I had a head start because my father was so good in tennis," said Scribner about his father, a retired executive of Bank of America.

But Scribner didn't have it easy.

The family moved around a lot in southern California. They went from Laguna Beach to La Jolla High School, which had a powerful high school tennis team. At 15, Scribner was diagnosed with diabetes. He also went through a growth spurt that took him up to 6-1 ½ as a junior.

The lifelong burden of diabetes that requires supplies of insulin has always been a mixed blessing in Scribner's eyes. "Diabetes has secured my longevity because I needed the activity of things like tennis to keep my blood sugar down," he said.

He made the La Jolla high school tennis team, no easy accomplishment because of its international flavor, and won a state title in boys' doubles as a junior. As a senior, Scribner decided to play singles and cracked the top four in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) tourney—despite being unseeded. "It was a challenge," said Scribner about his switch from doubles to singles.

Scribner's prowess in doubles—he has also partnered up with step-children Lauren Drew and Ryan Drew in big doubles tournaments over the last four years—has often been overshadowed by his singles success while he's been in Ketchum.

Martin said, "Mark is a master at square inches on the doubles court."

Community School athletic director John Remington pointed out that in the recent State 3A tennis tournament, Scribner made a small but significant change in the positioning of his players that made a huge difference when the opponents served.

"Mark is willing to experiment and he can see things that are happening that anybody else wouldn't see at all," said Remington. "In this case he saw the weak points in the games of the other players and had our players adjust to that."

Scribner's success in one of California's best high school tennis programs led to college scholarship offers from about 50 schools, he said. They weren't just any offers. They were full-ride offers. "I picked the University of Colorado because I liked the mountains," he said.

Never strong academically, Scribner lasted three months at Colorado. "I never bought a book," he said. Certainly his parents weren't happy, particularly his Harvard-educated father. But they saw their son was determined to make his own way.

Next stop for Scribner was the school of hard knocks, which was a nine-month stint in the wilds of Dawson Creek, British Columbia. He was a dry wall apprentice and a fence digger. He saved a little money and made sure his insulin supplies stayed current, then he surprised his parents by coming home to California.

"I guess what I learned in Dawson Creek was that there are a helluva lot tougher ways to make a living," said Scribner. "I started thinking that to have those opportunities that I had, and to have an athletic gift like I have, and to piss it away was just plain dumb."

He enrolled at Orange Coast Junior College in 1980 and quickly moved over to Saddleback Junior College in Mission Viejo, where he came under the guidance of coach Bill Otta, who had started the Gauchos men's tennis program in 1975.

"I became good friends with Bill Otta and still consider him a good friend," said Scribner. "From him I learned that you have to stick with people—that not everything is black and white, that there are grey areas. He taught me about loyalty."

Scribner became a Hall of Fame Gauchos player for his efforts for Otta in 1981 and 1982, and Otta's Saddleback tennis dynasty of 17 conference titles, 10 regional championships and eight state crowns continued through his retirement in 2000.

His first summer in Ketchum was 1981 at Warm Springs Tennis Club. "Bruce Blakeslee had Warm Springs then, and my father had dated Blakeslee's sister. Bruce had seen me play and wanted me to be his stopper," said Scribner.

Having a stopper encouraged competition within a tennis club. If a hotshot player moved up the ladder, the tennis pro would offer him a match with a stopper. Beat the stopper, and the lesson would be free. But nobody beat Scribner in those days.

In 1982, "Fiery Fred" Stolle took over Warm Springs Tennis Club and Scribner settled in for his long stint at the University of Ketchum. Stolle, then 44, was the tall, slender Australian who was on the tail end of a great career featuring a U.S. Open title in 1966 and three times Wimbledon runner-up (1963, 1964, 1965).

With a great snow year looming, Scribner even got a Baldy lift operator job in the big winter of 1982-83 and took up a few offers of ski lessons from the tennis players he had taught during the summer. And he had a cup of coffee on the professional circuit.

"I went pro on-and-off for a couple of years and got as high as #519 in singles and in the top #400 in doubles. But I didn't like the traveling," Scribner said.

What he did enjoy was teaching, and that's what has become the focus of his life for the last 20 years.

Besides doing his clinics and private lessons, Scribner started helping out with The Community School tennis team in 1983. He moved to Wood River from 1986-96, then has spent the last nine years back with The Community School building the small Sun Valley independent school into a Gem State powerhouse.

Scribner said, "I always thought I wanted to be a history teacher because I enjoy history. I just love to teach. I wish there had been somebody like me, when I was growing up, who had some of my experiences and could have passed them on."

His teaching approach is geared toward contemporary kids.

Scribner said, "I'm just trying to save you a little time and explain the game, is what I try to do. There are a lot of charlatans out there who just want to take your money. But what I say to these high school kids is, I understand what goes on when you're 16, 17 and 18. All I want from you is to be loyal, committed and do your best when you're on the court."

He prefers being direct and straightforward with his students. Scribner said, "You take a person and you tell them you believe in them and that there is no physical reason you can't do it. So it's up to you. And I say here's how we're going to get it done. But I also say that it's your time and it's your medal, not mine."

Remington, who has observed Scribner teach countless Community School kids on the court, said, "Mark uses humor and combines that with a real serious approach to tennis. He repeats lessons time after time after time, and if that doesn't work, he uses humor again. He really encourages them. He's the first one out to greet them after a match."

It isn't just The Community School kids he encourages, despite the fact that the Cutthroats have now won four state team championships in five years. In Scribner's nine years at the helm, the team has finished first or second at state eight times. His success at the small school level in Idaho tennis might not be equaled.

Martin said, 'I've seen it time after time. A coach from another team will walk up to Mark and ask him what his kid is doing wrong. And Mark will tell him—like the kid is out in front with his forehand and needs to wait and not hit it as hard. Mark would help any kid. You just have to ask. He does it after a match. He'll say this is how you can improve. He's very generous."

Added Remington, "Mark makes little distinction between a Wood River player and a Community School player. They are all tennis players. And they all get coaching and encouragement from Mark."

Repetition has been the key to Scribner's progress in tennis and it's also been vitally important to his teaching. The secret is hard work.

"Mark works on everything with the kids, but you can safely say that every one of his kids has a big, big forehand. That comes from hitting and hitting and hitting—and grooving the swing," said Martin.

"He's a tough coach. Many people think these Community School kids are pampered, but they don't realize how hard they're working with Mark. The kids are expected to work hard and they give him no back talk. They don't throw racquets because they respect him so much. They just listen, don't argue and go out and play tennis for him," Martin added.

After winning the state championship May 21 in Boise, Scribner said about his team, "They realized they won it because everybody tried. They realized they won because they worked for it. And the record shows we've done it year after year."

Scribner's idea of a team concept in an individual sport is perfect for high school kids, Remington said.

"He makes them all feel like they're part of a team. His view is any player on the team is just as important as someone who has won three state titles. He makes that distinction and he makes them know that. Mark has left our program in great shape," said Remington.

And he has lent proper perspective to a generation of prep players.

Martin did a lot of traveling with Scribner to out-of-town tournaments when son Chancey was learning the ropes. Recalled Martin, "Whether we lost or won, it was the same thing. Everybody left in a good mood and that came from respect for Mark. You couldn't be a crybaby just because you lost.

"A remember one time, we were leaving from a tournament, and Chancey had lost. Mark said to him, you know, if you play this game a long time, you'll probably win 500 matches and you'll probably lose 500 matches. That's just tennis.

"I really think both of my boys are better human beings because of Mark Scribner. All that Mark wants is 100% effort and that's what the kids have given him."

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