After 56 years of leading the way, Bob Walters realized it was time to retire.

The long-time Ashtabula and Lakeside tennis coach was honored with a plaque following the school’s 56-game tennis marathon at LHS on Thursday.

Walters, who was inducted into the Ohio Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame earlier this year, was humbled by the plaque, presented by Lakeside athletic director Jason Baxter.

“I realize how I blessed I was to have so many kids to work with,” Walters said.

Walters said he’d still be coaching, but has been dealing with shoulder and knee issues.

He will now watch long-time assistant coach Clark Hewitt lead the girls program in the fall — if there is a tennis season. Currently, it’s full-steam ahead with fall sports, but the situation can change due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ll support them,” Walters said. “Coach Hewitt is more than capable of handling it.”

The impact Walters had on his players in tennis and basketball over the years is long-lasting for the many athletes he’s coached.

“Coach helped get me going,” said Kayla Johnston, a tennis player and 2014 Lakeside graduate. “He has a love for the game and every point you’re able to get some type of life lesson. In junior high, I wasn’t sure I wanted to play, but he sure pepped me up. He helped with the mental game.”

Johnston went on to play for Mount Union, graduating in 2018. She’s currently going to graduate school at Youngstown State and assisting with the St. John tennis program.

Kait Toth, who is a senior this year for the Dragons tennis team, said Walters’ influence is used on and off the court.

“The cornerstone of his program is respect and being a family,” Toth said. “It shaped how we interract with other teams and players.”

Walters said he’s going to stay busy during retirement, visiting family in and out of the county.

Walters, a 1959 graduate of the former Ashtabula High School and a standout basketball player at Baldwin-Wallace College, returned to his alma mater in 1964 to begin a career as health/physical education teacher and coach. 

From Monday to Thursday, the 56-game marathon fundraiser took place on the LHS courts. 

It’s the tennis program’s main fundraiser for the year. Funds will be used to provide equipment and gear for the athletes.

Before the event, past and present athletes collected pledges from family, friends and anyone else interested in supporting the Dragon tennis team. During the marathon, each athlete were encouraged to play 56 games over a course of a few days.

The amount of the contribution was determined by the pledge and number of games played. There is also flat donation and online fundraising options as well. Pledges and contributions are to due by July 30.

“We know he’s put all that dedication in and wanted to celebrate the years and continue on with being able to help the program,” said Maureen Surbella, a former tennis player and organizer of the event. “We want to continue the love of the sport, the sportsmanship and commitment to high school athletics. Many other parents were instrumental in this.”

Hewitt said the number of participants ranged from 12 to 20 each day, with a high of 20 showing up on Thursday.

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