By Lamar Battle
Former Saint Paul College student Dempsey Willard (Class Of 76) Has made quite the name for himself in Chicago coaching circles.
The Whitney Young High School boys and girls head coach has achieved success on and off the tennis court by putting the needs of his students first and plain old fashioned hard work.
The Remnant Magazine caught up with Coach Willard and his wife Toni to talk about his career and the influences that have propelled him.
RM: First off, It’s good to see you again. How are things since your days playing basketball at SPC ?
DW: Good to see you to my brother, I am doing well and I am eternally grateful for what Saint Paul’s College has done for me.
RM: I remember you as a basketball player, how did you get started in tennis?
DW: Well during my time teaching in Virginia (Elementary Education Major) I made lasting friendships with some of the business leaders in Lawrenceville V.A.
After winning a bet with one of the business owners I decided to give tennis a try.
I spent time in Richmond V.A. playing and working with the tennis coach O.G.Walker, credited for working with and helping Arthur Ashe.
I also traveled to Maryland where I played against NBA star in the making John Lucas, who also happened to be an outstanding tennis player.
After graduation I took a teaching position in Chesterfield V.A. while while coaching three teams and eventually I earned my certification as a tennis pro.
RM: Do you have any coaching influences?
DW: Moses Gollatt, James Price and Pernell Sims.
RM: You mentioned Saint Paul’s College, What are some of your memories in terms of how Saint Paul’s prepared you?
DW: Most all I learned how to get along with others, to be worldly but most importantly to view all of life as an opportunity to always grow and learn.
One thing I will always remember is the impact religion professor Father Easley had on me especially when as part of an assignment in his class I completed a paper on Infinity which I learned later explains tennis to a degree as a sport that utilizes continuous motion.
RM: I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that this year you coached teams that finished 2nd and 4th in the State. You were also the 1st African American in State history to win Coach of the Year, keeping that in mind how do you prepare your teams to compete?
DW: I would lead by example by always being prepared and on time. I also utilized my captains to the fullest.
RM: Would you say that during your time at Whitney Young High School here in Chicago that you have received the support you needed?
DW: Yes, when I served as an assistant to head coach Ed Cruzat the tradition of winning was established. Principle Joyce Kenner has always been there with support and assistance. Parents like Will Hobert have never failed to provide support and I have to also credit people like Kamau Murray of the Excess Foundation for Inner City Youth.
There have been many others but none more important than my lovely wife Toni who is always there for me. Toni has helped me through tough times with her love and affection.
RM: Do you see tennis as a growing sport in the inner city?
DW: I really hope so and I am doing all that I can to raise awareness and participation in the sport.
RM: Can you provide an example?
DW: Well, Ed Cruzat and I always made a practice to bring on any kid that was interested in tennis. We never told a kid no and to a large degree we experienced a lot of success in developing our young people on and off the court.
I also strongly believe in education and growth so I take every opportunity to learn and develop myself as a coach and role model.
RM: Any thoughts on the violence that impacts the lives of young people in Chicago and around the Nation?
DW: The violence makes me sad and I wish that I could do more but we cannot overlook the impact of social media in the lives and choices of our children.
RM: Let me ask a couple of closing questions? Who was the best player you ever coached?
DW: Gabby Moore.
RM: Why ?
DW: Because of her heart and desire.
RM: Do you still play yourself?
DW: I do, in a 40 and older league and I provide individual lessons.
RM: Federer or Nedal?
DW: He plays the whole court and he has the heart of a champion.
RM: As an individual who puts it all on the line for others I guess you would know.
DW: Thank you.
Reprinted courtesy of the Remnant Magazine.