Remembering a king of the court: Tennis community mourns the death of Jack State

Jan. 15—When Jack State first arrived at W.F. West in 1974, it was to coach boys basketball and teach physical education. He didn't know much about tennis, but he knew how to keep score. To the school, that was enough to fill the vacant tennis coaching spot.

Over the last 50 years, since his first tennis season in 1975, State became one of the most influential sporting figures in the community, coaching and impacting the lives of hundreds of young tennis players until his death on Jan. 6.

This past fall was his 50th coaching the boys' team, and this upcoming spring would have marked his 48th season coaching the girls'.

"Supporting young people was the center of his career up until the very end," former W.F. West tennis player and Chehalis School Board Member J. Vander Stoep said.

Vander Stoep was on State's first team in 1975, a year he described as a learning experience.

"He really made himself a student of the game," Vander Stoep said. "And he became an excellent and very dedicated tennis coach."

State learned how to teach the mechanics and proper technique, but he also put a focus on problem solving and other lessons that would apply just as much off the court as they did on it.

"Overcoming adversity and handling failure mattered more to Jack than teaching the proper technique for a forehand," Thorbeckes Tennis Director T.J. Underwood said.

Underwood played for State at W.F. West from 1995-98, and he said that State inspired him to pursue a career in coaching. Underwood joked that while he didn't go to college expecting to become a tennis coach, he was pulled in that direction because he realized how much State's teaching had helped him develop as a person.

"I was driven to help future generations of tennis players from Lewis County," Underwood said. "Hoping that I could provide them with similar opportunities for personal growth as the ones I'd received (from State)."

One of State's main focuses was on integrity and fairness. In high school tennis, a player is their opponent's umpire, calling whether their shots were in or out and impacting the score of the game.

Vander Stoep noted that fairness was always more important than winning to State, and that "there is an integrity that carries with that in young people."

Of course, State still gave his players specific pointers, but he always did so in a kind way. Bryn Hunter, another former player for State and one of Vander Stoep's daughters, recalled one story when she was the top singles player at W.F. West.

After a close set against another top player, Hunter went over to State. After a few typical notes, State noted that her opponent was left-handed, and Hunter was consistently setting her up for the point by hitting to her backhand.

"It was just like 'Hey, good job, but also here's this major flaw,'" Hunter said while laughing. "Just patient, consistent, appreciative coaching ... You kind of take that coaching method for granted because it's so parent-like. Someone who is consistent and kind and looks at you as a valuable member of the team."

State didn't just view each and every player as part of his team, but also as peers. Known as a player's coach, State was known to keep in touch with his athletes after they graduated, and he didn't hesitate to vouch for them if asked to.

Vander Stoep recalled a letter of recommendation that State wrote for one of his daughters, Isabel, when she was applying for colleges. Vander Stoep has written some recommendation letters for students, but he said State's was by far the "most remarkable."

"He had the whole picture on Isabel," Vander Stoep said. "It showed that he was really focused on her as a whole person and her qualities, and he was concerned about her future beyond the tennis court ... He was far more concerned about how they were doing as people than just tennis players."

After all, that, Underwood said, is what really mattered most to him.

"What brought him joy was seeing his players go on to live fulfilling lives off the court," Underwood said. "And even if legacy didn't matter to him, the fact remains that his influence is tightly woven into the fabric of our local community, and (it) has been for multiple generations."