Former Chaney tennis coach to enter Ohio Hall of Fame

By Tom Williams

When a coaching career has fewer wins than losses, the final destination is rarely a Hall of Fame.

John “Jack” Wendle is the exception to the rule. Sunday in Dublin (outside Columbus), the former Chaney High School tennis coach will be inducted into the Ohio Tennis Association Hall of Fame.

Wendle, who resides in Jensen Beach, Fla., during the winter and Youngstown the rest of the year, admitted that his reaction to the induction news was “kind of like shock.

“My [high school coaching] career ended a long time ago and there were not as many wins as losses.”

Wendle, 83, said his coaching philosophy was “not about winning or losing.” His purpose was to instill a love of the game to players who knew nothing of the sport.

He found satisfaction in watching a player pick up a racquet at age 15 and watch them become “very good.”

One of those was Tom Lucci, a 1971 Chaney graduate who had never played before ninth grade. Lucci joined the Chaney team as a sophomore and did well enough that he eventually turned professional.

“At one time, he was ranked in the 400s,” Wendle said, adding that Lucci was once named by a tennis magazine to be the best player in five states (Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan).

Not long ago, Lucci found out about the Ohio Tennis Association Hall of Fame so he contacted Greg Aten, the OTCA president, to get details.

“What they look for is someone committed to teaching the sport, someone who is dedicated to the game, not just won-loss record,” Lucci said.

Lucci and other former Chaney players wrote passionate letters promoting Wendle.

The plan worked and Lucci will be Wendle’s presenter.

Wendle’s backers stressed his community involvement, including holding clinics for high school coaches and serving as sectional tournament director.

From 1976-81, Wendle ran the Axe Factory Tennis Camp offering tennis lessons and life skills. One of his 1980 campers was Oliver Fernandez from Mexico, who achieved a world ranking of No. 141 and captained the Mexican Davis Cup team.

At the urging of a friend, Wendle took up tennis when he was a student at Warren Harding High School. He said Tony Marcello, the tennis coach, also was the football line coach.

“He didn’t know anything about tennis, but he was a good guy,” Wendle said.

After serving in the United States Marines Corps, Wendle earned degrees in mathematics and history from Kent State in 1959.

He began teaching at Chaney in 1962 and was encouraged to start the boys tennis program two years later. The girls program began in 1973.

“In 1964, how you played the game was important,” Wendle said. “I pursued it that way.”

He also pushed for summer clinics to help players throughout the Mahoning Valley. The sites included Avalon and Boardman. Valley players were encouraged to play each other in the summer.

In the City Series, Chaney’s tennis team went undefeated from 1965-81. The Cowboys had seven district qualifiers and one state qualifier. Several players earned college scholarships.

In 1981, Youngstown City Schools chose to no longer fund tennis teams.

Two years later, Wendle began coaching at Youngstown State and continued through 1996. He taught at Chaney until 1990.

Wendle has vision issues so he no longer plays tennis. But he continues to pitch for his slow-pitch softball team.

Today, Wendle and his wife, Karen, will set off for Ohio after a softball game. Three of their children — Abigail, Bud and Jackie — will attend the induction. Their other son, John, is a journalist working in Asia.

“Tennis has been a good part of my life, it went beyond Chaney,” Wendle said. “You can’t do that with some sports. In football, you can get beat up.

“With a good friend, you can play tennis forever.”

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