By Rob Kiser
Piqua Daily Call
Lehman Catholic boys tennis coach Tim Ungericht can remember it like it was yesterday —- just the first of many life-changing events that have occurred during his lifetime of tennis.
It started the day after his 11th birthday.
“I had just watched Mats Wilander and John McEnroe play a six-and-a half hour match in the Davis Cup,” Ungericht said. “Mac (John McEnroe) beat him to give the U.S. a tie in the Davis Cup. My parents bought me two wood Macgregor racquets for $10 at K-Mart in Piqua. That’s how I got started.”
Thirty-six years later, Ungericht is still playing the game at a high level and has coached the Lehman Catholic boys and girls teams for the last four years.
“I won the Frydell at the age of 12, that was my first tournament win,” Ungericht said. “I have won seven Shelby County Opens and three Piqua City Opens. You know sports like football, basketball and baseball, people aren’t playing that at my age.”
That tennis was an individual game is one of the things that drew Ungericht to the sport.
“As a young boy playing sports, a lot of the team sports could be pretty political,” Ungericht said. “So, I thought I would give tennis a try.”
After transferring to Lehman as a sophomore, Ungericht went on to qualify for the state tournament.
Another fateful moment came after Ungeright signed a letter of intent to play at Tri-State University (now known as Trine University). Ungericht still is in the top ten list in a lot of the record categories at Trine, but coach Louie Bal would change the way Ungericht looked at tennis.
“Other than my parents, he had the biggest influence on my in tennis,” Ungericht said about Bal. “I never was friendly with anyone I played. I just wanted to beat them. He told me, ‘Tim, you always be friendly with your opponent.’ That man taught me so much.”
Ungericht overcame bullying throughout his young career in tennis, then faced an even bigger challenge at the age of 24 when he blacked out driving, hit a pole and was thrown through the windshield.
He has never shied away from talking about his experiences.
“I get emotional when I talk about it,” Ungericht said. “I am so lucky to be here. I haven’t had a drop of alcohol since. It is one in a million that I am here.”
And he believes he knows why —- and it all came full circle when he became Lehman coach four years ago.
“I believe that is why God kept me here,” Ungericht said. “That was his plan for me. I really believe that.”
There was another big moment when Ungericht met his wife Sandy at Emerson, where he is a long-time employee.
“I wouldn’t be here without her,” Ungericht said. “How many coaches are going to have wife that makes all the sacrifices that she does. She always has a hot meal waiting for me when I get home. And during the season, a lot of times, that is at 9 p.m. I don’t know where I would be without her.”
And as Ungericht has increased his numbers from his first with the both the boys and girls programs, he has always felt it was important to share the adversity he went through in his life with his players.
“If I can save one person’s life, than it is worth it,” Ungericht said about sharing his bullying and alcohol experiences. “My boys players have all heard the full story. I don’t think I have share the full story with my girls, but some of then know it.”
He understands now is even a more difficult time than for teenagers than when he was one.
“There is so much peer pressure, especially with social media,” Ungericht said. “We didn’t have that when I was in high school. I tell all my players, if you see someone sitting alone, go up and talk to them. You never know what a difference that could make in their lives. I tell my players before prom, don’t drink and drive. I am example to what can happen.”
And while he was driven as a young player, he sees the full picture now as a coach.
“When I got this job, I thought about what do I want my legacy to be,” he said. “Do I want to be remembered for being 300-50 or whatever some coaches records are and all my district and state qualifiers or do I want to teach them to be responsible adults and be proud of what they go on to do in life.”
Ungericht feels like he has been able to do that for several reasons.
“We have great parents here at Lehman,” he said. “I know a lot of coaches say they don’t want the parents involved. I want the parents involved. It is their kids. I am probably different from a lot of coaches in that aspect.”
There are his assistant coaches John Brunner and Mike Ritze.
“I have been very blessed to have them as my assistants,” Ungericht said. “I am the bad guy —- that’s my job as head coach. They get to be the good guys. They have taught me so much about being patient and how to talk to the kids.”
And then there is Ungericht’s team approach.
“I have always believed the 13th person is just as important as the first person,” Ungericht said. “I try to spend an equal amount of time with all of them. I think that is why I have been able to build up the numbers.”
And Ungericht has learned at a school Lehman’s size how important sharining athletes is.
“At a school this size, you are not going to get that many kids that play year round and just play tennis,” Ungericht said. “That is all I did. Actually, that is one of my regrets. That I wasn’t involved in more things. I encourage my kids to play other sports and be involved in other activities.”
Ungericht looks back at the day of car accident as a blessing now, setting him on the right path.
“I see the two scars on my face in the mirror,” Ungericht said. “I would never even think about taking another drink. Look at all I have (pointing to his team and his wife). It is not worth losing that. I am so blessed.”
And for Ungericht, the tennis players at Lehman are his family.
“For me, they are my kids,” Ungericht said. “I don’t have any kids of my own. I know I am not their parents, but they are my kids to me. The girls first practice usually falls on my birthday. They will bring me a card and cake. Things like that. It means a lot.”
And it is not lost on him the life his parents, Phil and Sue Ungericht made possible.
“They were great tennis parents,” Ungericht said. “They made so many sacrifices for me, a lot of private lessons. And they always encouraged me, they never got down on me when there was a loss. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.”
And he can only smile and get a little emotional when he thinks back to that fateful day as an 11-year old.
“Who could have thought two wood racquets could lead to all this?,” Ungericht said. “It meant so much to me to come back to Lehman and coach. I have had 46 kids go through the program, 23 boys and 23 girls.”
And they all leave better prepared to be a success in life —- which is all that really matters to Ungericht.
Piqua Daily Call Sports Editor Rob Kiser can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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