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DOWNEY – Warren High alumnus Kirk Wilson is still contributing to the Downey sports scene long after his graduation in 1974.
Today Wilson is a well-recognized tennis coach at the Lakewood Tennis Center, and students come from as far away as San Clemente and Santa Clarita for individual sessions with the affable, but meticulous, instructor. Wilson’s coaching style is the epitome of positive reinforcement, combined with the ability to help a student identify the important components of a complex stroke.
Wilson’s students are primarily young, competitive-level players who at least want to play for a college, if not professionally. Many under his tutelage have national rankings, and they go on to play for schools such as Stanford, USC, and the Naval Academy. Warren High graduate Daniel Kosakowski will be enrolling in UCLA next month on a tennis scholarship. Eight of Wilson’s students competed this year in the Junior National Hardcourt Championships in Kalamazoo and San Diego.
As with all good coaches, Wilson is interested in a student’s development as a person – not just as an athlete. He stresses the value of courtesy and respect, and the Sportsmanship Award at the USTA Zonal Team Championship in Colorado Springs this year went to one of his students. This is Wilson’s third year as a Southern California Tennis Association coach.
Wilson is also known for encouraging his students’ intellectual growth. He loves reading the “classics,” and he often gives copies of “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey” and “Don Quixote” as high school graduation presents. If his students mind this kind of present, they don’t show it. Rather, they recognize his genuine concern for their development. Even when out of state or across an ocean (University of Hawaii), many students keep Wilson’s cell phone vibrating with text messages about their progress.
Wilson describes himself as “a jock,” but his varied interests and the twists and turns of his early path in life might surprise those who know him only as an instructor for accomplished young athletes. Wilson, whose father died when he was 11, said he was too “independent-minded” in high school to play team sports – he was a surfer and he wasn’t going to cut his hair. Still, he was talented enough to sign with the Anaheim Angels in an open tryout when he was 19. But then, describing an act which he says he still regrets, he balked when the Angels assigned him to play with their Triple A team in Salt Lake City. He elected to stay in Southern California.
Wilson attended Cerritos Community College and the Art Center in Pasadena, hoping to work in a field that he was passionate about – making movies. During this time he was also playing competitive tennis, and he decided to put school on hold to see how far he could go in the sport. An injury forced him to quit tennis after three years on tour.
To make some money, Wilson decided to give lessons until he figured out what to do. Venus Williams was one of his early students in Bellflower before her family moved to Florida. Wilson also coached the Warren tennis team for a short while, which included, coincidentally, his younger brother Scott. What started out as a temporary employment grew into a real career, and Wilson has never looked back.
Wilson’s personal interests include auto racing, music, and golf. Wilson still races open-wheel racing carts, and his collection of musical instruments includes 18 guitars, 3 mandolins, and a banjitar. The instrument he plays the most is a Les Paul electric guitar. But, says Wilson, the one he would save if there was a fire is the Ibanez Blazer. It belonged to his younger brother Scott who was tragically killed in a store robbery in 1996.
Wilson is proud of his Scottish/Norse heritage and often mentions his grandmother’s haggis recipe and heavy Scotts brogue. An avid golfer, Wilson is making plans to play on the historic St. Andrew’s golf course in Scotland next year.
While the majority of Wilson’s students are teenagers, Wilson does have some genuine “seniors” on his roster. He meets regularly with a ladies foursome and they are all over 70.
Wilson’s non-traditional path through life reflects his independent spirit. When Wilson gives a lesson, some observers may feel that he is just conveying knowledge about the skills and strategies needed to be a good tennis player. But Wilson is doing so much more. He is also a role model for his students about the virtue of hard work, a generous spirit, and the ability to embrace what life has to offer.
Published: September 9, 2010 – Volume 9 – Issue 21