ORLANDO, Fla. -- As Ohio State’s club tennis team goes in search of a National Championship, the person who founded the club 40 years ago is on the sidelines cheering his alma mater to glory.
Jim Flath helped create the team in 1978 after narrowly missing the cut for the varsity team but still wanting to play competitively.
That club quickly grew to 100 members in the first year, traveling to play local varsity teams at smaller colleges since few schools had club teams. Today, Ohio State’s program is blossoming, highlighted by winning the Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational and reaching the 16-team gold bracket at Nationals at the USTA National Campus.
Tennis always played a big part in Flath’s life, and a chance meeting on the courts at Ohio State led to another long-lasting relationship.
Flath met his wife Kathleen, a former four-year varsity player at Muskingum College in New Concord, Ohio, when she came to try out for the club as a graduate student.
In August, the couple will celebrate their 39th wedding anniversary. That milestone led to Flath reaching out to the current club tennis team to share its own history.
“Some of them thought the club was only 12 years old,” Flath joked as he watched the Buckeyes beat Columbia University. “When they reached out later and told me they had made the finals, I said, ‘We have to come and watch.’ Coming [to the USTA National Campus] is a really nice bonus. We were dying to see this place, so this made for a nice excuse.”
Things have changed a lot over the past four decades, primarily in how many club teams there are across America today. Since its inception in 2000, Tennis On Campus has grown from a few thousand players to more than 42,000 participants at more than 700 colleges and universities nationwide.
Flath, who graduated in 1979 with an undergraduate degree in computer science and insurance, still finds plenty of time to play tennis. He tries to get on the court at least once a day, and he competes in the Super Seniors 60-and-over division and USTA Leagues.
Kathleen, who completed her masters in health and physical education in 1978 after one year of club tennis at Ohio State, does not play tournaments anymore, but she also enjoys playing league tennis.
“The big change is that there are so many other teams to play now,” said Flath, who lives in Scotch Plains, N.J., and spends the winters in Sterling Oaks, Fla. “There’s a Big 10 championship now. Ohio State itself has three club teams -- Scarlet, Green and Buckeye. In 1978, there were no club teams in existence at the time. Now there’s just more club tennis available.”