Randy Stewart jokes with his tennis pupils that they shouldn’t let a grandpa beat them. But he isn’t just any “grandpa” — Stewart has been synonymous with local tennis for nearly a quarter century.
Stewart recently retired from his position as the head tennis coach at Bryan after 24 years. He came to Bryan from his hometown of Graham and served as an assistant coach under Don Fuller before taking over the head job. His youngest son, Tyson Stewart, was starting high school at the time and now is the head tennis coach at San Antonio Northside Harlan and president of the Texas Tennis Coaches Association.
“Once we got here, we realized that there are just a ton of things that are positive about Bryan-College Station,” Randy Stewart said. “Tenniswise, it was a good atmosphere.”
Rudder head tennis coach Bobby Kleinecke met Stewart in the mid-70s when Kleinecke was a student at West Texas State and Stewart coached at Amarillo. Kleinecke took the Sandies job after Stewart left for Graham, and Stewart later followed Kleinecke to Bryan. Though Stewart cares about the technical aspects of the sport, what sticks out most to Kleinecke is his love for working with young players.
“He loves the game of tennis and will try to promote that at any possible opportunity,” Kleinecke said. “He gives up his time to run tournaments. I’ve just seen him give everything he has to the kids.”
The two have coached against each other for the past eight years, and Stewart also coached Kleinecke’s children. Though their styles differ, Kleinecke respects his friend.
“What sticks out to me is how much he cares about the game,” Kleinecke said. “He could play it every waking minute.”
To Stewart, patience and knowing how to compete are among the most important lessons a player can learn. He hopes more young athletes will play in tournaments outside of the high school season to improve even if that means taking some losses. He said Jamie Smith, the tennis pro at the Phillips Event Center, also is working to get younger kids involved in tennis. Stewart brought the varsity tennis squad to Bowen Elementary School for an introductory tennis unit and said many local elementary schools have courts where potential future Vikings can learn the game.
Stewart coached one state qualifier at Bryan in Jacy Smith, Jamie Smith’s daughter, in 2014. Stewart is proud of Smith, who was a semifinalist that year and now plays at Western Carolina, but he wants tennis to be a lifelong activity for all of his students.
“I’ve said numerous times throughout my career if I had somebody that was 40 years of age still playing tennis, I did my job,” Stewart said. “The kids here, they’ve responded well. They’ve done well. We’ve had regional qualifiers. We’ve had district champions.”
Though he’s moving on from coaching the Vikings, Stewart plans to remain involved in the TTCA, of which he is a past president, and work with local camps, United States Tennis Association tournaments and adult players. He also helps with the UIL state tournaments in the fall and spring at the Mitchell Tennis Center and helps out with Texas A&M tennis. Through that, he’ll still do what he did at Bryan — watch tennis players grow.
“I enjoy watching them have a zest for the game, at the same time watching them think, ‘I can’t do it,’ and then watching their faces light up when actually they can,” Stewart said. “Sometimes you’ve got to get out of the way and let them make mistakes. When they make mistakes, it gives you an opportunity to correct them next time around. It gives you some good teaching points.”