Cheney Free Press -

By Paul Delaney
Staff Reporter 

Lemaster retiring for good - really

Long-time Medical Lake tennis coach says at 80, it's time to be a fan

 

Paul Delaney

Leroy Lemaster, seen here during the recently completed city Parks and Recreation tennis clinic June 13, has coached young kids for some 30 years and is retiring - really, he assures. Of course, that is not counting the decades he has done the same at Medical Lake High School.

Few believe that Leroy Lemaster has finally coached his last crew of kids in tennis.

Except, perhaps, Lemaster's knees and legs, which are just not what they used to be, even the new artificial knee he got in 2000.

Lemaster's trying to "get by" with the other one, warding off major surgery at age 80, which he turned last November. He takes supplements, but it's time for him to simply be a fan.

It was last week while conducting another of his 30th or so Medical Lake parks and recreation department tennis camps that Lemaster said this would be his last.

"They wear you out, I'll tell ya," Lemaster said of the kids. But he said so with a smile.

He first coached at Medical Lake in 1965, ushering in a program that offered varsity letters, the first of which were awarded the following year. But his real job in the vocational program at Lakeland Village forced him to resign and not return until 1992.

That began a head coaching tenure which lasted steadily until 2008 and resumed in 2011 and 2012 before retiring to a volunteer assistant role. Along the way came winning back-to-back state championships in 2004 and 2005. Lemaster was also able to coach his own kids, Ty and Tressa. Lemaster also had the honor of coaching his grandson Dallon Bogart in 2007 and watch him and Tyler LeMasters take third place at state.

How did tennis become such a part of Lemaster's life growing up in the tiny Okanogan County town of Twisp, particularly because of him being a multisport athlete in the 1950s?

Much typical of the times, "I played football, basketball and baseball," Lemaster said. Tennis was more on an individual sport.

"It was something I knew I could play for a long time," he added

"The first (tennis) ball I hit was in 1950, the pastor at the church made some wooden paddles," Lemaster said. It came on a cement court constructed by the Twisp Kiwanis Club.

The following spring, a fence was added to the court and in 1951 Lemaster's lifetime link to the sport officially began as a high school freshman.

He and a friend would start the afternoon practicing baseball and then move to the court to hit balls back and forth.

One of Lemaster's earliest top success story was Roxanna Macheel (Ralphs) from the class of 1970 and inducted into the Medical Lake High School's Athletic Hall of Fame. "One of my players this year (at the clinic), Eric Roberts is her grandson," Lemaster said.

There are many other connections, like Brandon Vasquez, who at age 8 first came to Lemaster's camp 25 years ago and emerged to win a state championship.

Lemaster said the enduring memory will not be necessarily the state titles his students have collected, but the love of the game he had instilled into him.

"The thing that I think about the most is the kids when they are that young, you see them smile, happy and wanting a Tootsie Roll for the good hits," Lemaster said. "I went through a lot of Tootsie Rolls."

That love of the chewy chocolate treat dates back to Lemaster's days in the U.S. Navy. His mother would send him a box about every month.

"Soon as that box would get there it would be gone in about five seconds because all the guys around me would want them," Lemaster said. "They weren't the short ones."

He started the "Tootsie tradition" with his team years ago, giving each kid coming off the court, win or lose, a handshake and a couple of candies. That was how he let them know they did a good job.

"Most of them liked the blue ones," Lemaster said.

The clinic dates back some 25 to 30 years, to the Timm Sheppard days as director of parks in the community.

The idea was to introduce youngsters to the game and when they got to high school, they had a choice on what sport to play in the spring - soccer, baseball, softball, track or tennis.

Another example of camp kids who took the sport seriously and have made it pay off was Noah Ray who first attended while living in Reardan.

"He was 10 years-old so that was eight years ago when he was a seventh-grader," Lemaster said. "We've been pretty close," and it gave Lemaster great pleasure to see Ray earn a college scholarship, too.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com.

 

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