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Wildcats trying to restore the roar in Springfield tennis

From Althea Gibson playing at Snyder Park to legendary coach Nick Bollettieri teaching here, Springfield’s tennis history isn’t lost on the Wildcats’ boys team.

In fact, they’re trying to repeat it.

Springfield was once a hotbed for tennis in the 1950s and 1960s. The high school team is doing its best to restore some of that glory, which also includes three singles state champions and four state runners-up doubles teams.

For the current Wildcats, led by coach Deanna Brougher, that means challenging for the Greater Western Ohio Conference title on a consistent basis. They hope that provides the foundation for a few more of those state titles.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Brougher said of building tennis not just at the high school but throughout Springfield. “We don’t need to get the kids who are nationally ranked. We just need to get people out there who love the sport. It’s a family sport and something you can play at all ages and all levels.”

The Wildcats (9-3 overall) sit third in the GWOC Central Division at 1-1. GWOC juggernaut Centerville — winner of seven straight Central titles — comes to town Tuesday.

“I think we’re off to a good start,” said senior Sam Brougher, the coach’s son, who is 10-2 at second singles. “It is good to get back to that tradition. We’re not quite at that level but we’re heading in that direction.”

With a flat serve and booming forehand, sophomore Nick Pavlatos is also 9-3 at first singles.

“He’s an intelligent player. That helps a lot,” Coach Brougher said. “He’s academically one of the top in his class — as are all three singles players — so that helps.”

Junior Humza Aamir-Khan, with his strong play at the net, is 10-2 at third singles. Seniors Mitchell Dunlap and Collin Roberts have also given the Wildcats a boost in doubles.

“I’ve seen a lot of growth the past four years,” Dunlap said. “I think our skill, we’re starting to beat teams we never used to compete with, so just to see that growth has been remarkable.”

Coach Brougher has encouraged growth in other ways, too. She doesn’t make cuts so the team has 22 players.

With that many players Brougher receives help from a variety of sources. Wittenberg professor Jay Yoder hits with the Wildcats. His wife Mindy — who learned from Bollettieri — is an instructor at Tipp City’s Schroeder Tennis Center where both Pavlatos and Brougher take lessons.

Brougher and assistant coach Ginger Oakman, a stellar player on the tournament circuit who was also taught by Bollettieri, want to see tennis flourish throughout Springfield. They are among those helping to restart the Springfield Tennis Patrons, a local branch of the United States Tennis Association, that’s been defunct for about three years. The group will meet at 5 p.m. Sunday at the National Trails administrative offices on Mitchell Blvd. The public is invited.

“Springfield used to be such a mecca,” Oakman said. “People would come from all over. We have such a rich history we need to revitalize. … There’s not a central place you can go anymore to get a pick-up game. It used to be you could go down to Snyder Park and somebody would be there to play. That would be nice to be able to do that again.”

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