Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series on the 2020 Tiger Hall of Fame.
Larry Grose, with his 1989 national championship tennis team set for induction into the Cowley College Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame on Jan. 18, reflected on what made that team so special.
Grose, who was inducted into the Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008, began coaching at Cowley in 1988. The team Grose inherited finished last in Region VI in his first year as coach. However, then began a chain of events that helped to put the wheels in motion for the first-ever national title in Cowley history.
The first important happening was making the critical decision to move from NJCAA Division I to Division II. Then-Cowley athletic director Ron Murphree came to Grose and said that the NJCAA was developing a new division separating the “full-scholarship schools” from the “parcel-scholarship schools.”
“Knowing that the Jayhawk Conference was just that and no chance of ever becoming a full scholarship conference, I gladly opted to declare Division II,” Grose said.
The second big thing that happened was at the end of the first semester Coach Grose lost three players.
“I dismissed one for team and school violations and two became academically ineligible. Wow, I was in big trouble,” Grose said. “I went to Ron Murphree and told him my dilemma. I remember him saying to me, ‘Larry, what do you want to do, it’s Christmas vacation?’ I said I want a tennis team. He looked me in the eye and said, ‘Well you better get to work.’ Well, I did just that. My son, Jason, and I spent that Christmas calling coaches and making recruiting trips to Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Wichita. When all the smoke cleared we had recruited three great young men to join us. We had a tennis team with no reserves in case of sickness or injury. That is how the second semester began.”
The second important ingredient to bring this team to its maximum potential was the schedule — built around the philosophy of finding the best competition available and not worrying about the won/loss record.
“We played NCAA Division I, II, NAIA and the top junior colleges in Oklahoma and Texas,” Grose said. “Not to mention at that time Region VI with Johnson County in Overland Park, was a top-five team in the nation.”
The third important happening was the practices.
“This group was a tough, strong competitive group that worked hard in drills and practice sets,” Grose said. “They hated to lose, even against their own teammates. I broke up more than one confrontation that spring.”
In match play, even though oftentimes the Tigers would be overmatched with the likes of Wichita State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma University, Tulsa and the mighty Oklahoma City University Chieftains (who won five national titles consecutively) this Tigers competed from the first point to the last one. Their attitude portrayed aggressiveness and tenacity.
“It made me very proud the way they represented themselves, the team, the college and our beloved community,” Grose said.
The Tigers were so dominant at the national tournament that they had wrapped up the team title at the end of the fourth day of competition. Jason Grose and Tim Shanahan teamed to capture the national title at No. 2 doubles and Bill Shaw won the national title at No. 2 singles as the Tigers brought home the school’s first national title.
“It was a great week and the beginning of a new and wonderful era for junior college tennis,” Grose said. “I am glad that they were the first team to start the adventure. What made the group so ready for the national tournament can be summed up by Bill Shaw’s statement to me as he prepared for his finals match at No. 2 singles. He was on his assigned court, waiting for his opponent to arrive and he called out to me to come out on the court, which I did. He said ‘Coach, this tourney is a piece of cake after the bloodbath schedule you have put us through.’ We both chuckled and my reply was, ‘Well, maybe if you win this match.’ He did. The team was mentally tough, physically prepared and began to feel quickly that we were one of the teams to contend with. We were definitely in the hunt. They could see the championship in their grasp and pursued it with a vengeance.”
Other members of the team were Dan MacDonald, Doug Owens and Eric Wedemeyer.
“I am so very proud of these young men and what they accomplished in the classroom and the tennis program while at Cowley,” Grose said. “They certainly hit an ace serve and set the bar high for the teams that followed after them.”
That is all fine and good, but there is something even more impressive. Former Cowley tennis coach J.C. Louderback always told his players and teams, “Boys, you must propagate the sport and give back to those following you. Remember, someone older than you taught you and gave of themselves so you could learn and develop your skills to become a tennis player.”
Grose carried that theme with his teams.
“That is what I am most proud of with this group,” Grose said. “Besides every one being outstanding examples of citizenship, fathers and husbands, every one of them have their finger in the tennis world. Yes, for sure they are giving back to our beloved sport. I am most proud to call each of them my friend. I never felt like I had a job, I was too busy having too much fun with these guys. Hail to the Cowley Tigers.”