By Chris Dummermuth
As a kid, Tim Mulhair was INTO
basketball!! Growing up on the “North End” of Sioux Falls,
tennis, for him, was not a big activity. He knew that there was
a guy (South Dakota Tennis Hall of Famer, Dave Weber) on West 7th
street who had his own court in his yard, and he learned that
his babysitter (SD Tennis Hall of Famer, Joan Griffin) was a
big-time tennis player.
But the only reason he took to the tennis
courts that were located directly south of the Terrace Park
swimming pool, was to break the monotony of practicing
basketball all of the time. After a day of dribbling and
lay-ups, Tim and his buddies became nighttime “hackers” at the
Terrace tennis courts.
Tim played his prep basketball at Sioux
Falls O’Gorman, and then completed four years of varsity
basketball at Northern State where he graduated with a teaching
degree. He returned to O’Gorman to teach, and then branched out
to Highmore and Mission, South Dakota, before finally settling
in Yankton in 1983. In addition to his teaching assignment, Tim
coached 9th grade girls basketball for two years, and
in ’85 added the head boys basketball coaching duties.
To get a break from being in the gym all
fall and winter, Athletic Director Jack Richardson asked whether
Tim would consider leaving 9th grade girls basketball
and taking on the varsity girls head tennis coaching position.
It was a done deal when Tim found out he could be a head coach
of a sport with a shorter season, and he would be paid more—all
of a sudden tennis coaching looked very interesting! After all,
he had taken a tennis activity course in college, and his
teaching certificate stated he was “qualified” to coach tennis.
Tim is quick to admit there is a big difference between being
“qualified” and being “knowledgeable”. In the fall of ’85 Tim
took the helm of the Yankton Gazelles. He was then added as head
varsity boys tennis coach in ’92, and coached both teams through
their 2010 season.
Having no experience as a high school or
college tennis player admittedly made Tim feel he was at a bit
of a disadvantage in his new coaching role. Yankton
traditionally wasn’t a huge tennis community, so approaching it
like any interscholastic sport, he stressed competing hard,
doing your best, and representing your school first, and
When asked about his coaching style, Tim
said that he always felt that the kids were trying as hard as
they could, so getting after them, especially during matches,
was counterproductive. His way of instilling confidence was
reinforcing things that they could do, so that when he told them
to do it, they knew that he thought they could.
Dr. Tim Mitchell, a former Yankton tennis
coaching peer and currently the Rapid City Superintendent of
Schools shared these insights about Tim, “Coach Mulhair got kids
to take tennis more seriously outside of the season, and he did
this by modeling. By participating in leagues and tournaments
himself, he ramped up the kids’ interest. He was very
Under Tim’s guidance and leadership,
Yankton teams competed well at the conference and state
tournament levels. The Gazelles captured ESD Conference titles
in ’93 and ’03. Kyna Williams, ’93, Ryan Elwood, ’00, and
Gabbie Kachena, ’08, were Yankton seniors honored with the
Spirit of Max Award, which was born from a suggestion from Tim.
Tim served on the SDHSCA Tennis Advisory
Board for 13 years, and was the SDHSAA Tennis Representative
spanning eleven years. He was instrumental in helping initiate
a change in the scoring format for the state tournament, which
allowed kids more playing time, and created a true “team”
In 2002, Tim was awarded the South Dakota
High School Coaches Association Tennis Coach of the Year. He is
a two-time National High School Athletic Coaches Association
Tennis Coach of the Year finalist, and was honored with the
South Dakota High School Coaches Association Distinguished
Service Award in ’07 and ’10. Dr. Mulhair was inducted into the
O’Gorman High School Athletic Hall of Fame in 2010.
Over the years, Tim logged approximately
72,000 miles delivering players to matches and competitions.
He’s sure his girls will recall one favorite memory as the time
the county sheriff pulled Coach over for speeding “a little”
above the posted limit. As for Tim, he cherishes the friendships
that were made sitting on some bench in cold weather, or
watching a consolation match at the end of a long ESD or State
Tom and Leann Rockne had four girls and
two boys (with two more currently playing) who played tennis on
Tim’s teams. Leann reflected that, “Coach Mulhair was a man of
few words. He was very humble, he cared deeply, and the kids
knew that. He did a lot by just being who he was. He still
takes a deep interest in how the kids are doing.”
Clearly, basketball’s loss was a South
Dakota tennis gain.