Jasper’s Yarbrough reflects on tennis hall call

Herald file photo


JASPER — Scott Yarbrough immediately thought of his father, Ed, when he received the news that he would join him in the Indiana High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2020.

The 1989 Jasper graduate spent five years at Southridge, coaching basketball and golf, before taking over the Jasper boys tennis program from his father in 2003. He also has coached the Jasper girls since Ed’s passing in 2010. Scott has racked up 289 wins with the boys team and 164 with the girls. He’s won 25 Big 8 Conference championships between the two teams, and equally as many sectional crowns. Scott’s teams have gone to the Indiana High School Athletic Association state finals 11 times, and three of his doubles teams have finished as state runners-up.

Scott thought of Ed, not out of asking if his father was proud of him, but because of the shape the Jasper tennis program is in. Scott would never take credit for it. He thinks there are times when it’s easier to continue a great program than to begin one.

“It’s been a humbling experience to come back and run the same program that your dad established and has done, taken care of and nurtured,” Scott said.

He thought it was “a little ironic” that he’s receiving the honor after the Jasper boys tennis program just completed its 50th season of play — with every season coached by a Yarbrough. Ed established the program in 1969-70, and was the boys coach for 33 years. He was Scott’s only tennis coach in high school, and Scott went 113-4 in the four years he played under his father. He was a state finalist three years. The team was state runner-up in 1985 and 1987. Scott was a singles state runner-up in 1988.

Scott doesn’t ask what could have been on the three state runner-up finishes he was a part of. If anything, he asks “what if” in regard to the 1986 team that didn’t make it. Scott thought that team could have competed better at the state finals, but ran into Evansville Day that year.

“I have never looked back at my high school career as a regret whatsoever,” he said.

When Scott took over the boys tennis program, he inherited it from a state-championship-winning father. Ed guided the Wildcats to the promised land as the boys team went all the way in 1999. He also coached a girls doubles pairing to a state title in 2000.

“I was extremely happy at Southridge, but one of the reasons I came back was I knew that, eventually, Dad would want to kind of pass this on to somebody else,” Scott said.

It meant the world to him that his father got to be an assistant and coach alongside him in his first season. Being able to talk about the game, practice together or plan for the next day is what Scott misses the most about Ed. Scott understands the game, but Ed taught him what it meant to be a coach and a mentor to the younger players.

Scott is asked by his students and tennis players when he wanted to be a coach, but he always wanted to do what his father did. Ed could do no wrong in Scott’s eyes, and those eyes saw his father succeed. He relishes that he’ll be sharing the spotlight with his dad when he takes his place in the hall of fame.

He thinks Ed would be proud of his hall of fame honor, but would be so happy that Jasper has the Ed Yarbrough Indoor Tennis Center, which he was working on prior to his death. Scott thought Ed would also be happy the tennis program has continued in the same fashion and that it was built on the same constructs he started. He made a promise to Ed in the days leading up to his passing that the program would be taken care of, something Jasper has managed to do.

“We wanted kids to go through a program that they could be proud of,” Scott said. “We wanted them to go through a program that they took pride in. We refer to ourselves now as the ‘Jasper Tennis Family.’ We’ve kind of established that — the J Tennis Family. That’s something that’s important to me.”

Scott said players who graduate from the program always talk about the experience. He could not recall one of his players only talking about going to the state finals. They talk about the family and the things they do as a group.

He’d been playing tennis himself since he began competing in tournaments when he was around 6 or 7 years old, and that’s been a big part of what he’s done for the last 40 years. Scott has always believed tennis challenges somebody mentally more than any other sport does. Players have to play the sport, keep score and be their own referee. He likened it to somebody being on an island by themselves, with no parents sitting in the stands and not being able to blame another person. Players are either doing well or they’re failing, and they know that when they leave the court.

“The one thing about tennis that’s tough to explain is, from a coaching standpoint, because of that island, you get more one-on-one with kids at times and you get to see kids do things individually,” he said. “I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in other sports, because it does, but with tennis, you could see them grow mentally and physically, and get better. That has always been something that’s been just mind blowing to me.”

One example Scott cited was Eli Franks, who signed his letter of intent to play tennis at Bellarmine University (Ky.) in March 2019. Scott told Franks that he needed to get into shape if he wanted to play college tennis. Franks physically grew, and that was just one instance of dedication Scott said the program gets from a lot of its players.

His induction into the hall of fame is Feb. 7 at the Prairie View Country Club in Carmel. Scott didn’t have a speech ready when he spoke to The Herald Dec. 19, the day after he learned of his induction. He usually wings things, talking from the heart at the end of the season what that year’s group of seniors have meant to him and how the team did. The bad part of winging it, though, is he might leave somebody out. He’ll have to write something down, but he has no intention to make the speech lengthy.

Scott plans to start talking about his mother, Judy, and appreciates the sacrifices she has made. He thought back to his wife, Heather, who has done the same thing. He’ll talk about his daughters, Emma and Olivia, who are both in college, Jasper junior Josie and seventh-grader Kate, and the events their father has missed because he was coaching. Discussing what they mean to him is emotional in its own right.

Getting to coach his three eldest daughters to a state final has meant so much to him. Emma and Olivia played doubles together while with the Wildcats. The Yarbrough daughters didn’t need to go all the way. Kate doesn’t need to be a state finalist. The memories of coaching his daughters are irreplaceable to him.

Scott also hopes other former players will show up to the induction with the hopes of thanking them.

“I’ve not thought about my accolades and what I’ve accomplished,” Scott said. “I really haven’t. That speech will be 90% thanking the people that have allowed me to be on this way.”

A state championship has eluded Scott, but he doesn't need to be a state championship-winning coach in his career. He thinks a state championship was a driving force for his father when he coached. His driving force is putting his players first and the program first, something his father did, too. He imagines there would be a lot of hugging and crying if a state championship ever did come to Jasper, but he doesn’t think about it that much. There’s no pressure to get the monkey off his back, so to speak. It’d be more of a celebration than a sigh of relief.

What he does spend a lot of time thinking about is the future of the tennis program when he decides to move on. Scott said the mantle doesn’t have to be taken up by one of his daughters, or even a Yarbrough. What scares him the most is who’s going to take over the program. That person would have to care about the program and want to be in charge. Passing the program onto the next person in better shape than when Ed passed it onto him is more important to him than winning a state championship is.

“Let’s say I’m done in 10 years,” he said. “In 10 years, I need somebody that comes in that can take this program, and it is so strong that the program itself could sustain a young coach that’s still learning the ways like I was 17 to 18 years ago.”

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