Coach helps tennis players ‘develop into young men’

Published 1:58 pm Tuesday, April 11, 2023

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Spend a little time talking with Shane Nixon about his time as the Davie boys tennis coach and you will inevitably hear him talk about how “his kids develop into young men” as something that makes him happiest. Nixon is a competitor and likes to win, and his teams have done plenty of winning (93-39 in nine years). But Nixon won’t talk nearly as much about the championships (regular-season and tournament titles in 2017 and the regular-season crown in 2021) as he will about the quality of the young men he’s had what he deems a “privilege” to coach. Ask him about it right now and he’ll tell you that this senior class maybe best personifies what he means by it.

This senior class of War Eagles on the tennis team is made up of three very different young men – not that they don’t have some similarities. Each has been a part of the program for four years.  Each is an excellent student. All three are captains of this year’s squad. Nixon would add that each is at least as good a person off the court as each is a player.

It is their differences that make this class so unique, however.  Nixon said: “I’ve had small senior classes like this before. A couple years back, my son was part of a senior class that was also three guys strong and is among the winningest in Davie tennis history.  But those guys had more in common than they had differences.  My three captains this year are just different guys.”

The conversation about Davie tennis, at least on the men’s side, has now started and ended for four years with one name, Burke Rosenbaum. Nixon seems to never have an end to the compliments he has for his best player.

“Burke is a wonderful tennis player,” he said. “His hands are remarkable, his fitness is amazing, there isn’t anything he can’t do on a tennis court. The way he thinks about the game, it is like he is playing chess when his opponent is usually playing checkers.”

Rosenbaum has been Davie’s No. 1 seed since the day he showed up on campus. He’s a two-time CPC Player of the Year, and would almost surely have been a three-timer if COVID had not robbed him of all but 6 matches his freshman campaign.

“Burke’s career … I mean … give us just a normal year that COVID year and you’d be talking about a guy who is a three- or four-time player of the year who helped win two CPC team championships, who won two singles and one doubles championship (at least) and who twice qualified for the state tournament. Burke came in with great expectations and has surpassed them, no question, as far as the tennis goes. But Burke is so far and away a better kid than he is a tennis player. And please go back and read those accolades again. I’m not suggesting, I am telling you outright, Burke is a better young man than he is a tennis player and that is a huge statement.”

It would be fair to say that Jack Williams did not come into tennis at Davie with a ton of fanfare.

“When Jack was a freshman, we had to have a really tough conversation,” Nixon said. “He just wasn’t a good enough player to make that team. But we asked him to stick around, a be a player/manager that year. He gladly accepted and our program won as a result.

“Jack has gotten so much better at tennis. While he has other extra-curricular interests, like band and clubs, he has spent some time every offseason making sure he got better on the court.”

By Williams’ junior season last year, it had paid off. He was a consistent starter in the top six most of last season. This year, an injury, some sickness and some bad timing has kept Williams off the court more than on, and Williams’ record over the two years he has gotten to play some has not been what he or his coach would have wanted. But Nixon’s smile is so big when he talks about Williams that you might think you were talking about a CPC champ.

“Some people will look at Jack and miss what I see,” Nixon said. “This is as smart and mature a young man as you’d want there to be at 18. Heck, I didn’t have things half as figured out when I was his age.”

Williams is in the top 10 percent of his class and has been accepted to college at places like Ohio State, NC State and more.

“Most schools have admitted him directly into the honors college,” Nixon said. “We are talking about smart at a level most people don’t get to be around.  Jack Williams is just so intelligent it is scary.”

And again, the thing that seems like Williams’ best quality fails to capture what his coach loves most. “And all that intelligence is not the best part,” he said. “We are talking about a kid who has applied and made it to the interview round at an Ivy League school.  Yet, Jack is a better young man than even his grades can show.”

When Bryce Bailey finishes playing tennis at Davie in May, he won’t ever have been a CPC Player of the Year – heck, he will never even have been the best player on his own team. When he graduates in June, he won’t be going the Ivy League route as a next step. But when Nixon talks about Bryce, the glint in his eye just might be a tear.

“Maybe I better just talk about tennis, that might keep my eyes dry,” he said. “I said it earlier this season, but it bears repeating. If there has been a kid who’s gotten better from his first day on a CPC tennis court to his last in the time I’ve coached in this conference than Bryce Bailey, I am unfamiliar with that young man’s work,” he said. “When Bryce came in, I wasn’t sure he’d ever move much above the five or six spot, if that, and now? Bailey will finish at Davie as an All-CPC player, probably twice. If things go as they almost surely will, he will have been a regional qualifier before he’s done and will have a real shot at being a CPC doubles champ.  What he will be doing next year is playing tennis in college, at Belmont Abbey. Yes, from a guy who was the eighth man his freshman year to a guy getting scholarship money to play in college, that is how much better Bryce Bailey has gotten. He’s not had the same doubles partner two year in a row, ever. He’s played every seed from 2-6. He is usually playing guys who look the part a lot more than he does if you just watch the tennis. His backhand is a little unorthodox, his toss on his serve isn’t high enough, he let’s himself get out of position.”

Nixon chuckles and then adds: “Then you look at the score and realize he is winning. He turns matches into slugfests and he throws haymakers.”

Nixon wants to make sure no one misunderstands: “Bryce is also a good student, his GPA will be near 4.0 when he graduates,” he said. “And again, we are talking now about a college athlete.”

Yet, as with the other two of his senior class, Nixon wants to make sure everyone knows it is the other stuff that makes him proudest of Bryce.

“Sometimes as a coach, you just mesh with a kid,” he said. “Maybe he reminds you of yourself when you played, or maybe you see mannerisms or certain things a certain kid does that just resonate. Maybe I can describe my relationship with Bryce this way. Since my son played for me, I’ve said consistently that I would always know who my favorite player I’ve coached would be. Let’s just say Bryce challenged that. This is an exceptional young man.”

Nixon speaks about this senior class in such glowing terms that you can almost feel his appreciation for these three young men.

“One of our goals every year, as a team, is to be better off the court than on, and these three don’t just personify it, they live it,” he said. “They are great in the classroom, each in his own way, but all just wonderful students. In Bailey, Rosenbaum and Willams, you are talking about a great, an excellent and a good high school tennis player, respectively.  But what matters most is that they are better out of the classroom than in and better off the court than on.”

Bailey, Rosenbaum and Williams are very different, but in meeting their coach’s high standards as young men, there they are the same.