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Legacy

SERENITY • COURAGE • WISDOM

Steve and Barbara Wilkinson

48 years ago, TLC co-founder Steve Wilkinson believed there was a better way for superior tennis and sportsmanship to go hand-in-hand using the Three Crowns℠. This philosophy was thanks to two people in his life: Karen Gibbs and Arthur Ashe. Karen, a 19-year-old tennis champion, lost her battle to cancer but won the hearts of everyone she met by never giving up, keeping a positive attitude through brutal chemo regimens, and treating her opponents with the utmost respect, (read her story here) win or lose. Steve’s friend, Arthur Ashe, encountered racism and prejudice but did not give in or respond in kind. Instead, he upheld the highest standards of sportsmanship while championing human rights throughout his storied career. Steve practiced these Three Crowns until his own passing in January 2015. We seek to continue that legacy in our campers and staff.

Dave Aasen

Dave Aasen grew up in St. Peter, MN. He was there in 1982, the first year that St. Peter had a National Junior Tennis League (NJTL) program. Quickly he developed from student to teacher and then director of the NJTL program. Under his leadership the attendance nearly doubled, reaching about 200 students. Dave took the St. Peter teams to the Regional Rally several different years. He took great pride when one of his players won the sportsmanship award. 

Dave embodied the spirit of sportsmanship. As a teacher in the local NJTL program and next at Tennis & Life Camps, he used his acting ability and sense of humor to make various sportsmanship situations be entertaining as well as teachable opportunities. As a player in both high school and college, he demonstrated the highest standards of sportsmanship, causing his St. Olaf coach to nominate Dave for the Arthur Ashe Award. 

Dave became one of the best instructors and supervisors to ever teach at Tennis & Life Camps. The sportsmanship themes gave meaning to his teaching. Dave had boundless enthusiasm and energy, a wonderful sense of humor, a love for teaching and learning, the ability to make people feel good about themselves, a genuine concern for others, patience, and an optimistic outlook on life. 

On Thanksgiving Day 1994 the world grew dark for everyone who loved him. Dave and his brother Erik were killed in a tragic automobile accident. Their car hit black ice on a curve just west of Rochester, MN and slid in front of an oncoming semi truck. Dave was well into his third year of teaching mathematics and coaching tennis at Blue Earth High School. He had just led their girl's team to a third place finish in the state high school tournament. 

More than 1200 people left work or school to attend a special memorial service. His students were devastated by the loss. When they talked about him everyone mentioned the lessons of life they had learned from him. "No matter what, keep on trying. Never give up. Whether you win or lose is not important. Let winning take care of itself. Focus on the things  within your control. Let go of the things outside of your control. Focus on the positive. Always be polite and courteous to others. Never question an opponent's line call. Be a good sport always. And remember to say thank you."

An award in Dave's name was created to honor a TLC staff member at the end of each summer. Each summer season the Tennis & Life staff select and instructor who has best embodied the teaching characteristics that we associate with Dave Aasen. He continues to be the example for all staff members to strive for. 

Karen Gibbs

Karen Gibbs, known affectionately as "Gibber", entered Gustavus Adolphus in the fall of 1974. During her freshman year she was one of the top tennis players in the Upper Midwest... until cancer ended her season. Part of her right arm was amputated and her struggle for life began. Immediately, Gibber decided that she was going to play tennis left-handed. Surprisingly she again made the team during her sophomore year and even won her match against the University of Minnesota. 

As the cancer spread, radiation and chemotherapy treatments caused Karen to lose her hair and almost fifty pounds. In her weakened condition, Gibber had a shoulder separation that ended her tennis competition. Even so, she was there at most practices, leading the women through conditioning drills and assisting in every way possible. She planned to resume her captains responsibilities during her senior year, but that goal proved impossible. She died on August 8th, 1977, at the age of 21. 

Karen's legacy has not been forgotten. She is still remembered for her ability to find the bright side of everything, no matter what happened to her. Losing the use of Gibber's right arm brought her the challenge of playing left handed. Frequent stays in the hospital were fun, because of all of the visitors. Losing weight fit into her diet plans, and being bald made Halloween disguises easier. She felt comfortable sharing her feelings and ideas on cancer and the prospect of an early death. However, if anybody started feeling sorry for her, she quickly changed the subject to a more pleasant topic. 

Karen demonstrated good sportsmanship. She genuinely cared about her opponents as well as her teammates. She seldom made excuses or lost her temper. "Excuses", she claimed, "detract from the accomplishments of my opponents. So does losing my temper. In effect, I'm blaming a loss or poor performance on my own mistakes rather than giving credit to my opponent. I don't want to do that."

Gibber is a model of the mature approach to tennis competition and life. She strove for excellence through daily discipline and an undaunted spirit that saw each new setback as a creative opportunity to accomplish more. She wanted to win, but was not afraid to lose. She wanted to improve, but starting over again left-handed did no discourage her. Gibber continued to try, in spite of everything, thereby revealing a key to both tennis and life. 

Carl Walz

Carl Walz loved to practice tennis almost as much as playing matches. He would never end a practice session without begging to be fed "just a few more" tennis balls to work on his stroke of the day. Often it was his overhead. He knew to make it as a singles player it would have to be a reliable shot. Overheads were just plain fun to hit. You were supposed to go all out.. pure power and a sure winner. Sometimes another 30 to 60 minutes would go by while he was taking his "last few shots." Even then he was usually forced off the court by a waiting parent taking him home to supper or homework, or because of darkness. 

 

Carl credited Tennis & Life Camps for helping his tennis skills, court etiquette and personal growth. TLC enriched the pleasure he derived from sport, aided new friendships, and provided guidance as the role tennis might have on his life. He had hopes of becoming a TLC instructor. 

 

A tragic accident on May 28th, 1999 changed everything. Carl was killed instantly and the world lost a fine young man. He lived 16 beautiful years. He had just won his high school subsection tennis tournament. Life was good and then it was over. 

 

Tennis brought Carl many happy memories. At twelve he played a tournament match against Peter Spreitzer of Duluth. After three hours and two tiebreakers, it all came down to the last point. Peter won the match, but Carl rushed ot the net and enthusiastically shook Peter's hand, exclaiming that it was the most fun he'd ever had playing tennis. This began a friendship that included playing doubles together, going to TLC, and just getting together to bike, rollerblade, swim, and have fun. 

 

There was no boy's tennis team in Carl's hometown of Aitkin, MN until Carl made it happen. He developed the sport at a club level for several years and finally convinced the school board to allow it to become a varsity sport with his dad as the volunteer coach. Carl often functioned as the "unofficial" assistant coach, encouraging and helping his less experienced teammates. Carl became Aitkin's first "franchise" player. 

 

Off the tennis court Carl also helped others. He organized a fundraiser for a homeless shelter, served in soup kitchens, helped with Operation Christmas, became a peer helper, and sand in his high school choir.

 

His enthusiasm for tennis and life, the importance he placed on friendships and service, and his contagious smile will keep Carl's spirit alive in our hearts. An excerpt from one of Carl's favorite books, "Simple Paths" by Mother Theresa now adorns the headstone at Carl's grave and is as follows: "We only surrender our body in death; our heart and soul live forever."  .

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