The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

June 11, 2014

Simpson, as always, deflects credit directed toward him

Dave Simpson is like a mirror. When praise is sent in his direction, he is quick to deflect in every direction but his own.

Immediately following an unbeaten season by his Conneaut tennis team, Simpson pointed out that it wasn’t he had done. He praised his players for their offseason work. He praised his younger more inexperienced group for learning from his older players. He even credited the other coaches in the area for working with his boys. Not once, did he accept that he had a hand in the run.

Despite his best efforts to pass acclaim to everyone around him, Simpson is the Star Beacon Ashtabula County Coach of the Year after the Spartans’ 14-0 campaign.

“I appreciate that,” Simpson said after a laugh hearty enough you could see his ear-to-ear grin from through the telephone lines.

That was really all the acknowledgement he would offer of being praised for a job well done. As he did in the days following the end of the regular season, Simpson turned the spotlight on everyone else.

“One of the things, when you receive an honor like that, it’s because of the kids you have,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the kids embracing tennis…

“We had four kids who played a lot of tennis. Adam Laitinen, Jacob Edwards, Rashad Al-Arabi and Scott Gerdes played a lot of tennis. Those guys led in the number matches played in (St. John coach) Todd Nassief’s ladder program. The other kids are phenomenal athletes. Alex Gerdes is a phenomenal athlete who played third singles last year. He (along with Edwards) was undefeated at first dubs this year. It was fun to watch.

“We also had Sean O’Meara, Tyee Stewart and Adam Bissett. They’re all good athletes and decent tennis players. A few times, we won 3-2 matches because we won at second dubs. The kids deserve the recognition. They pulled it out. They came to play.”

Simpson, again, credited his peers for the work they did with his team.

“(Jefferson coach) Lou Murphy deserves credit,” he said. “Todd Nassief deserves credit. Even George Anderson in Painesville deserves credit. They all talked to my kids. They like to see good tennis in their programs, but they like to see good tennis overall. They encouraged my kids, they gave them tips and advice, they told them about camps. They told them to get out and play.

“The other coaches really contributed to the success we had this year.”

Simpson didn’t stop there, however.

“Any of those guys deserve to be Coach of the Year at any time,” Simpson said. “They’re all working hard to keep their programs moving forward.

“(Geneva coach) Phil Dubsky with his camps and the tennis culture at Geneva, that’s the benchmark to be so consistent year in and year out. Lou Murphy was busy all summer with camps and encouraged the kids to play. Todd Nassief with his ladder program is a phenomenal thing for Ashtabula County.

“They all try and grow the sport in their own ways.”

When asked why it was that the county’s tennis coaches take such an interest in each helping each other’s players, Simpson was very open.

“The fact most of us have been coaching for more than a decade, we all have an interest in playing good tennis. We all go through the same things. We commiserate at the fences as our events are happening.

“We’ve stood in snowstorms and rainstorms together. We’ve cleared courts of water together as we try and get matches in. There isn’t a real strong tennis culture in Ashtabula County. We have a unified mind to encourage our kids to keep tennis going.”

Simpson grows almost sheepish when the attention is turned back on the Spartans’ undefeated season.

“We were 14-0 against other teams and we were 0-6 against against Mother Nature,” he said in calling attention to the fact his team lost a bunch of matches to weather.

There were times that perfect record was in peril. At least, in Simpson’s mind. The Spartans, being in the middle of the fray rather than on the outside of the fence looking in, felt no uncertainty.

“I had four players at four different times during the season, approach the fence after a set when they were having a rough time or had dropped a set or two, and as they walked up to the fence toward me, they all said, ‘I got this. It’s OK.’

“That was four different kids at four different times during the season.”

When Simpson questioned himself and his players about whether they would have gone unbeaten had they played a full slate, they had the exact same response.

“I ask the guys if we’d have ended up 20-0 at the end of the season at our ceremony,” Simpson said. “In unison they said, ‘It’s OK, Coach. We would have got it.’”

It was that belief in themselves and in the team that had Simpson along for the ride.

“It was neat they built that confidence,” he said. “They knew what they could or couldn’t do. Would we have beat Jefferson again? I don’t know. Murphy always has something up his sleeve. He knows how to change his lineup around. Would we have beaten Geneva? That’s a tough call. (Brent McFarland, who missed the first match with Conneaut) was a difference maker.”

What Simpson also points out is something that didn’t go unnoticed when people watched the Spartans play.

“We came to play every day,” he said. “We were playing well at the end of the season. Everybody did their jobs. I feel blessed that we had such a great year.”

As much as he’d want you to believe it, Simpson was not just along for the ride. He was the man who brought it all together. He was the one who not only put the right pieces in the right places, but made the picture look like a masterpiece.

Ettinger is a freelance writer from Ashtabula. Reach him at bettinger@starbeacon.com.

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