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                                               Jim Sorrell

                                                       By Terry Nielsen

South Dakota has crowned a state boys high school singles champion since 1928.  Nine players, and just one from Sioux Falls O’Gorman, have won three or more singles titles.  That would be power hitting Jim Sorrell, the champion for O’Gorman who won titles from  1981-1983.

Now a medical doctor with a practice as a gastroenterologist for the past 20 years and living in Lincoln, NE, Jim remembers his mother Becky signing him up as a 10 year old for lessons at Westward Ho Country Club with Don Grebin the instructor.  Growing up just four blocks from the McKennan Park courts made for an easy bike ride to the courts for Jim most nights, hitting on the big backboard and taking his turn with other budding players. 

“We weren’t good enough to rally with each other on the courts yet, so the backboard got us off to a good start.  The atmosphere on those summer evenings at the McKennan courts was electric and alive with legendary local players, many of whom are now in the SD Tennis Hall of Fame.  When the lights came on those massive slabs of white concrete, the environment was even more charged for me,” said Jim. “As a grade schooler, I wanted even more.”

His parents Rod and Becky enrolled him in tennis lessons with Ron Selkirk at Woodlake Racquet Club and his game really took off.  By age 11, he started playing junior tournaments in the Northwestern Section and at age 12 was ranked #2 and qualified for his first national tournament. Over his seven year junior USTA career he was ranked in the top three of the Northwestern Section five times and qualified for the nationals each of those years.  As a 16 year old in 1981, he won matches at the Fiesta Bowl, the Western Open in Ohio and the Nationals at Kalamazoo, MI, achieving a national ranking in the 16’s of 139.

“I was lucky to be surrounded by other great junior tennis players in Sioux Falls;  Nancy, Steve and Pat Rost, Jessie Daw and Angie and Tonya Breitag,  who were all consistently playing national tournaments.  And the adults of local tennis were really instrumental in my development. They’d hit with me and when Ron Selkirk moved back to MO after my freshman year, I was really at a crossroads in my career.”

“Luckily for me, Jim Van Gerpen took me under his wing at that time and was largely responsible for the further development of my tennis career.  We played and practiced for hours nearly every day on his backyard court for the next three years.  In bad weather, we moved indoors to Woodlake.”

“I can’t thank my parents enough for all the costs associated with my development: club dues, private lessons, court time, and travel expenses to tournaments all over the region and nationally. “

“When I started at O’Gorman as a 9th grader, Coach Don Barnes had the team rolling, and Pat Rost was a senior.  He won #1 singles at state and I won #2, and teamed with Pat to win #1 doubles.”  That was the first of four doubles titles for Jim.  The others were with Steve Rost in ’81 and ’82 and Tom Grocott in 1983.

After winning his third singles  title as a senior, John Egan of the Argus Leader interviewed  Jim, who attributed his success also to his football days at OG as a linebacker at 5-10, 180 lbs. “It really helped me to give 100 percent every time out there.  I think the intensity of football made me even more competitive,” said Jim.  When Jim was a senior, Greg Talcott coached the Knights after Barnes , and it was their fourth  straight team title.

Jim recalls one great learning experience as a youngster, spending two weeks at Largo, FL at a Harry Hopman run tennis camp.  Jim said he never worked harder on tennis in his life and “absolutely loved it. We’d work every morning and afternoon, four to a court, on drills-ground strokes, net play and serve, then after four in the afternoon, we’d play matches.  Mr.  Hopman would drive around in a golf cart and watch and talk to us individually at times.”  Jim returned to SD as a 5-6, 120 lb 8th grader at St Mary’s, with big ground strokes.

Tennis teaching pro Selkirk was quoted in another Egan story in April of 1979 this way: “Jim’s at the age when boys learn serve and volley, but he’ll be age 15 perhaps before he really puts it into his game.  It’s common to move into the new style at about that age.”    Selkirk said Jim’s biggest hurdle was finding good local competition his age, so Ron lined up players like Jamie Breit, Bill Roberts, Dick Hahn and Brian Balcer  amongst  others  to practice with Jim.  “They have different styles than what he faces in his age group,” said Ron.    

Jim had dreamed of a career in medicine and knew the time commitment required to play Division I tennis.  So his competitive career ended after high school in 1983.  He enrolled at Creighton University in premed.  After getting accepted to medical school at the University of Nebraska/Omaha, he was able to relax his academics and played at Creighton as a senior.  He played #2 singles and #1 doubles and was awarded the honor athlete award.

Jim and his wife of 19 years, Sarah, have two children; daughter Morgan (15) and son Matthew (13).  Jim  stays active physically with martial arts and yoga and with the kids likes to occasionally attend  UNL tennis matches. 

Jim attacks his current hobbies the same way he went after tennis as a youngster.  He has achieved the rank of 2nd degree level 2 black belt in TaeKwondo and the rank of blue belt in Han Mu Do (a Korean martial art).   His last six years with the discipline of yoga has increased his flexibility for martial arts.

Jim is very proud of his three state singles titles.  His three straight wins stands with these record breaking  SD tennis players:  Jolly Carlson of Watertown (1939-41), John Simko of Washington High (with four, 1954-1957), Jeff Clark of Washington High (1961-1963), Mike Trautner of Pierre (1974-1976), Ripper Hatch of Brookings (1984-1986),  Tyler Steinle  (with four, 1997-2000), Billy Paluch of Rapid City Stevens (2007-2009)  and Kaleb Dobbs of SF Lincoln (2014-2017).