Originally Published: April 10, 2018 6 a.m.
Most people during childhood have a best friend, one who for whatever reason you become close to, playing together, going to school together, getting involved in sports, hanging out, and eventually becoming best friends.
My parents moved to Newark, Ohio, the very first day of my fifth grade experience and I was miserable. Didn’t know anyone, new school - the kid who once was popular at his old school was no longer.
It was a good thing I had a brother (Jeff) one grade ahead of me because he became my life-line.
It took me about six months to find out there were a few kids who lived in our neighborhood and soon we were walking to and from school, which was a little over a mile from our homes.
One of those kids, Mark Klyza, was in my class and lived a block away.
Mark came from a family of four siblings and myself five, very similar backgrounds.
The summer we turned 12 we were given the chance to learn the game of tennis at the old Fiberglass tennis courts. Each Saturday morning for four weeks the Licking County Tennis Association had a group of volunteers to help youngsters learn the game each summer. My parents must have read about it in the paper and signed us up.
The cost to sign up was $10.00 and each child had to bring one can of new balls.
We were awful, but the adults teaching us were very patient.
And you know what, we all had a great time. Something different from our normal baseball, basketball and football endeavors we knew so well.
After our four weeks of clinics were over, we’d still ride our bikes down to the courts and have hours of fun playing each other. The balls we used were white then and mainly without any fuss left on them. Our racquets were made of wood and purchased for little or hand-me-downs. But we didn’t care.
Around the tennis we played all kinds of street ball, tag, Frisbee, took bike rides, built forts, board and card games, had paper routes, shoveled snow - raked leaves - mowed grass, on teams with YMCA football, Little League and Bitty Basketball leagues. It was a great life.
As teenagers we learned to drive together, had our first crushes and girl encounters - eventually girlfriends and high school sports.
Klyza was a pretty good student and I was a pretty so-so student, except for art classes which I loved.
There was no tennis team at our private Catholic school, so I started one in the 10th grade. I was the coach, player, set our schedule with other schools, driver and made the T-Shirts we wore. Klyza and our neighborhood gang became for two years the only tennis team our high school ever had.
From the age of 12 we also had been playing in local and state-wide tournaments. I became hooked, more-so than the rest of the kids who all started together, and it became my outlet, my identity in many ways.
Klyza went on to college, Oberlin - Cincinnati - and Tulane, becoming an attorney, and has done quite well.
I started teaching tennis, moved to Phoenix and learned from the best and have survived in my own way in the world of tennis.
And this last weekend Klyza and his wife Suzanne came out to visit here in Prescott where we played tennis and enjoyed catching up. He now lives in New Orleans and is a partner in a large firm there.
Isn’t if funny how after 40 plus years of working and raising families in different parts of the country you can get back together with a life-long friend and not seem to miss a beat?
I just hope kids today aren’t so caught up in their video games, computers and phones that they miss out on true relationships that really do matter - everyone needs good childhood and teenage friends, don’t you agree?
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 45 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or email@example.com.