Ralph Ipri shrugs at the notion that all good young tennis players migrate to places like Florida, California, and Arizona. Ipri should know. His boys’ tennis teams, at Glassboro High for four years and at Cherry Hill High School East for the last 39, have amassed more than 900 victories, placing him first in all-time team victories among the nation’s high school boys’ tennis coaches.
Ipri’s feat alone would seem sufficient for South Jersey tennis, but it so happens that the next two names on the boys team victory list are Bill Kingston of Moorestown High School and Jeff Holman of Haddonfield Memorial High School. The three schools are within several miles of each other in Camden and Burlington counties.
As if that were not enough, Holman, 56, a school counselor and former teacher at Haddonfield, is the all-time leading coach in girls’ high school tennis victories and in combined boys’ and girls’ victories. Kingston, 65 and a social studies teacher at Moorestown, is second in both categories. Both men coach girls in the fall and boys in the spring—and both have more than 1,500 combined wins.
What’s behind this South Jersey success story? “There are excellent feeder programs around here,” says Ipri, 65. “The kids play at their swimming pools in the summers. There are enough courts and good coaches. We’ve been fortunate to inherit them by the time they are in high school.”
“These three are fairly much alike,” says Carol Parsons, associate director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, which oversees boys and girls tennis. “They are all soft spoken. They never brag. They eat, sleep, and think tennis. When I see them at tournaments, they are as happy to be there as if it’s the first time they have made it, when in fact they are there every year.” What’s more, says Parsons, “They all played the game and know it well. They always seem to get the kids’ respect, which is what long-term good coaching is about.”
Coaching tennis is not like coaching other team sports. In tennis, the coach is not an on- field general, but still plays an important role. “In doubles, for instance,” says Kingston, “it is important to get the right chemistry. You don’t want to put two hot-headed kids together. You have to know personalities.”
At tournaments, the coaches make subtle adjustments between each set. “That is a difficult thing with so many matches going on simultaneously,” Parsons says. In fact, a tennis coach has to focus on five matches—three singles and two doubles—usually all going on at once.
Kingston says his players have made his tennis success easy. “They are motivated kids doing what they like to do,” he says. “Many of them, it just so happens, are high achievers in school and self-motivated.”
Ipri, a retired social studies teacher at Cherry Hill East, is proud that his teams have lost fewer than 90 matches, maintaining a winning percentage above .900 all these years.
The three schools usually zip through their respective conference schedules with ease and almost always schedule each other in order to have tougher matches. Sometimes they travel as far as California for matches, but they usually stick to New Jersey. There are often good teams in North Jersey, Kingston says, but somehow the three South Jersey schools and their coaches, have maintained an extraordinary record of excellence.
“The schools seem to like having us, so I’m sure we will all stay as long as we can,” Kingston says. “We all schedule a lot of matches because we have a lot of kids who are good and deserve a chance to play. Everyone gets a chance with all of us. That, even more than all the wins, is what is rewarding.”
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