After a half-century of coaching high school tennis, Jim Ball has learned a thing or two.
The biggest lesson?
“Never judge a player by their form. Judge them by their competitiveness.”
What you see on the court or on the field, "might not be pretty," but it might just beat you at your game, he said.
Ball just completed his 50th year as a tennis coach at Redondo Union High School and has more than earned the right to judge competitors.
“I have coached over 80 seasons of sports at Redondo. I probably have more wins and losses than any other coach,” said Ball, who was the youngest of four brothers growing up in West Los Angeles and later Redondo Beach.
“It’s amazing dedication,” said Redondo Union physical education teacher Steve Shaw. “It comes from the fact that Jim is just Redondo through-and-through. He just lives and dies for Redondo.”
Ball began his tenure at Redondo Union as a chemistry teacher in 1967 and later taught history. He retired in 2006.
His began coaching boys varsity tennis in the spring of his first year. He later took on the girls’ varsity. He stayed on until 2006 calendar year with the boys and girls and then transitioned to being the assistant varsity head coach and junior varsity head coach.
“Jim has been a staple and legend within the Redondo Union tennis community,” said Redondo Union Athletic Director Andrew Saltsman. “His knowledge and passion for Redondo athletics is tremendous. Has always provided me with Redondo facts and stories that have shown me the history and tradition of Redondo.”
Ball works with varsity head coach Jessica Seibert in the boys’ and girls’ tennis programs. She took over in 2009.
“He developed a lot of good players over the years, so I’m glad he has stuck with it,” said Culver City girls head coach Phil Rothenberg, who is in his 20th year and knows Ball well.
Ball's parents, who migrated to California from Oklahoma and Texas and worked for Hughes Aircraft, had no connection with the sport of tennis.
He first learned the sport when he attended Redondo Beach’s Aviation High School. He was part of the first class there in 1957 and played varsity tennis as a junior and senior.
John Brame, who was an excellent volleyball player, was the head coach there and he learned a lot from Ball. He just passed away recently Ball said.
Ball began as a doubles player and found out he was not that good as a junior and his senior year focused on singles. His team won league that year and beat some top programs such as Beverly Hills.
Ball continued to play as a college student at USC on their freshman team. The varsity was NCAA champions that year.
Later, he attended Long Beach State where he earned his teaching certificate. But, but was too busy to continue playing. He picked the sport back up once he started coaching at Redondo Union. It was then that his ability as a player progressed as well.
Ball says his coaching highlights were winning CIF-Southern Section titles with the boys and girls. The girls won in 1980. The boys were finalists in 2004 and won CIF in 2005. They were undefeated with a 25-0 record.
In the 2005 CIF Individuals, the Redondo Union doubles team of Nick Berger and Andy Gerst beat another Redondo Union team composed of Jon Vlasach and Logan Bailey in the finals.
Ball also coached varsity boys’ water polo, girls’ volleyball and softball.
During this time as a coach, he was married to Janice Ball. They had two boys, Jeff and Jonathan, who attended Redondo Union and played multiple sports. His wife passed away in 2012.
“I became a teacher to teach young people who are eager to learn and pay attention and improve,” Ball said. “The reason I am still coaching after all these years is that my players exemplify that idea. Coaching is just an extension of teaching.”
He is also proud that a number of his players have gone on to be successful coaches. At Redondo Union that includes softball head coach Jennifer Dessert, former boys’ water polo head coach Mark Rubke (who has since retired) and Seibert.
Ball was also athletic director on two different occasions and student activities director for a decade.
I addition to that, he announced numerous football, basketball and baseball games.
“I am very loyal to the school, my sons went here, my wife taught here and I am still here after 50 years,” Ball said. “Obviously, I have gotten many positive returns that keep me going.”
“You see him at all the different athletic events,” Shaw said. “He loves to see Redondo win. He’s just a big-time supporter.”
Asked what are the top five things he likes about tennis and Ball came up with the following answers.
First, he likes that tennis equalizes size and strength. Second, he likes there is strategy involved. Third, that you have to be in condition; it is great exercise and a physical challenge. Fourth, beating someone who has had more training and coaching, nothing can beat that. Fifth, opening a fresh can of tennis balls and the smell of the fresh rubber and wool or nylon felt on the ball that makes it unique.
How many more years will Ball continue to coach high school tennis?
He says, “As long as I can have something to contribute to the kids and they respond to my coaching,” he will keep at it.
There is no definite ending.
“I don’t know. I still like what I’m doing.”
“I love going to the court each day. I really enjoy what I’m doing and I’m going to keep doing it.”
Former Redondo Union tennis player and current girls’ volleyball head coach Tom Chaffins said, “He loves tennis, loves all things Redondo, Redondo athletics and especially Redondo tennis.”