Fargo

When Fargo South split and Fargo Davies was created about a decade ago, Vic Youngs was worried about losing athletes for his tennis program at South. His wife recommended offering tennis lessons during PTA meetings, so parents could go to the library for the meeting and send their kids to the gym to hit some foam balls over a small net.

Alex Hetland got his first experiences with tennis around third or fourth grade during those PTA meetings at Clara Barton Elementary in Fargo. Fast forward to 2017 and Hetland was part of a doubles team that won in the state semifinals to help give the Bruins a 3-2 victory over Grand Forks Red River en route to a state championship.

Those are the stories Youngs, 55, loves from his more than three decades of coaching tennis in North Dakota. He was inducted into the North Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame on July 6.

"I know most of the people in the hall of fame and I think to myself, 'Well, of course they're in the hall of fame. What am I doing here?'" Youngs said. "It's humbling, and it's nice to be mentioned in the same breath as these other people."

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If anyone has attended a Fargo South tennis banquet with Youngs as a coach, they've heard him say the most rewarding thing about coaching is working with players and families.

"I often get to work with every child a family has," Youngs said. "You become lifelong friends. I just love seeing where they turn out and what careers they go into. It's all through this great game."

Youngs grew up in Madison, Wis., down the street from a couple tennis courts. He would hit tennis balls occasionally with his friends at a young age. One of them asked if he would like to go take some tennis lessons at the University of Wisconsin. A 12-year-old Youngs took those lessons, after getting the OK from his parents of course, and has been playing tennis ever since.

"It feels so good when you make good contact on the ball and you hit it by your opponent," Youngs said. "Honestly, the people involved in tennis, doesn't matter what state you're in, they're just really good people. I made some of my lifelong friends in high school and college tennis. Coaching, the number of families I've gotten to know, they all have something in common and they're great people with great priorities."

It was the day before school started at Fargo South when the Youngs family moved to the area. Youngs was headed into his junior year and immediately jumped into tennis to help make friends. He played through high school and at Concordia.

Coaching was originally a way to help him get a teaching job. He never imagined he'd be coaching boys tennis at Fargo South for 31 years, also serving as the girls tennis coach at South for seven years.

He certainly never imagined he'd meet his wife at an Eastern Dakota Conference tournament or coach on a state championship team with his son as a player and another as a coach.

"Once I got started coaching, I just really enjoyed teaching the game," Youngs said. "Tennis can be super cruel. You're on your own and you're making mistakes. It's easy to melt down. I try to help kids learn how to control their emotions."

Ryan McGuigan graduated from South in 2009 and was a captain on the tennis team. He's a tennis pro in Ohio. He uses what he learned from Youngs.

"The way he could manage a room," McGuigan said. "He did an excellent job with setting the tone and the culture. We had seniors and seventh-graders, but he was able to organize and structure things. It couldn't have been more of a welcoming environment."

Blake Hankey won two singles state championships and graduated from South in 1994. He's been an attorney for 15 years, doing mainly criminal defense. He uses what he learned from Youngs.

"It's a high-emotion, stressful job," Hankey said. "Some of those lessons I learned in high school and from Vic not letting the emotion get the best of you have carried over into life and careers."

Davis Lawley chose to play collegiate tennis at the University of Nebraska-Omaha because the coach had a similar style to Youngs. Lawley won two singles state championships at South, graduating in 2018.

"When I'm playing I sometimes think about him asking me how I'm doing and how I'm feeling and how I look good out there," Lawley said. "I check myself and make sure my thinking is level. That came from him."

In all, Youngs has coached four state championship teams, eight singles champions, five doubles championship teams and is 318-132 overall. He has received North Dakota coach of the year honors six times, EDC boys tennis coach of the year three times and has been a finalist six times for national coach of the year.

"Coach Youngs is a coach who kids are drawn to," South athletic director Mike Beaton said. "Every year he gets kids new to tennis out for the South team and kids stay with the team because of his encouragement and the positive manner in which he teaches the sport."

Youngs says he plans to do that for quite some time.

"There's always next year and who knows what else," Youngs said. "It's just fun. It's great memories. Winning state titles is terrific, but even more exciting to me is seeing where these kids end up. It is so much fun when I hear from former players of mine."