By RON PRESTON
Abilene High School has been blessed with some great coaches over the years, all you have to do is look at the banners hanging in the high school gymnasium. Sports enthusiast will recognize the names of Ken Russell in track, Paul Dennis in football and Bill Christner and James Stout in wrestling, Scott Stein in basketball, and Jeff Geist in power lifting.
Each of these coaches not only won state titles, numerous North Central Kansas League championships but also other state and national recognition for themselves and the Cowboy and Cowgirl nation.
The stable isn’t empty as there are many good coaches currently coaching the Cowboys, Cowgirls and the middle school Longhorns today.
One of those coaches has decided to retire after a long and illustrious career as tennis coach at Abilene High School.
AHS boy’s tennis Coach Garry Stredney has made the decision to retire following the just completed school year.
Stredney came to AHS 30 years ago and the math teacher took on the tennis program for both the Cowboys and Cowgirls.
“Coach Stred,” as he was affectionately called, coached girls’ State Championship teams in 1992 and 1993.
He also led the Cowboys to team titles in 1991, 1992, 2002 and 2009.
Jordan Canfield and Michael Willey won back-to-back state doubles championships in 1991 -1992.
Derek Berns and Kyle Regier captured the doubles championship under coach Stredney in 2002 and Logan Palenske and Nick Wehling brought home the doubles gold medal in 2009.
Coach Stredney touched many lives in his time as the AHS tennis coach, both on off the courts.
“Garry was my mentor teacher when I started my career in education 20 years ago. He has had a long and meritorious career as tennis coach at AHS. His teams were always competitive with several league and state titles in both girls’ and boys’ tennis,” AHS Athletic Director Will Burton said.
“He spent a lot of hours with my son, he is just an amazing coach,” Kim Palenkse, mother of Logan Palenske said.
“First off he was a great coach and not only that he really cared for you as a person,” Logan Palenske said.
“He has put in more time than any other coach that I ever had in tennis, working with kids, like you’ll always see him down at the courts and if you are working-out, he’ll always come by and help you out and the thing that I think was really cool. It didn’t matter if you were the best player or the worst player on the team, if you wanted to work and had the right attitude he was so willing to work with you and that was awesome,” Palenske added.
“It was really cool to win a state title under him. That was an awesome cap off to my high school career. That was in 2009 and I was a doubles partner with Nick Wehling and we won the Class 4A doubles title that year,” Palenske added.
“In terms of his influence on my tennis career, I didn’t start playing tennis until I was a sophomore in high school. He was the first coach that I really had and he taught me all of the basics. He really taught me everything there was to know about tennis, so I really owe him that. He has been my favorite and best tennis coach that I have had in my career,” Palenske concluded.
Palenske received a tennis scholarship from Barton County and now Bethel College where he is a junior on the Threshers tennis team.
“I probably came into the tennis program being a pretty good athlete but not a great tennis player,” Jordan Canfield said.
He had the same comments about “Coach Stred” spending one-on-one time beyond practice time with him.
“What coach Stred did for me was spent hours and hours with me, nights, weekends, outside of practice time, hitting balls with me and helping me develop my game and he really gave me an opportunity to play and then that helped win a state championship,” Canfield said.
“That’s the thing that most people don’t see, is the amount of time spent with players. I’d call him up on a Sunday afternoon and we’d go hit balls for two hours and he never once said no. I was kind of a willing and relatively coachable kid that wanted to get better and he was more than willing to spend time with me,” Canfield added.
“I just remember all the times we spent together, and Michael Willey, who is a great friend of mine, you know we played doubles together and those were some of the most fun times that I remember in high school,” Canfield said.
“We played all the sports and we were ultra competitive and we had some success and we had a lot of fun times and the friendships, I remember every bit of that as much as the state championships,” Canfield concluded.
Willey went onto be the assistant tennis coach at Fort Hays State while he was in College.
“Although I have not been in the high school for years it gives me such an honor to know that my name hangs in the gym on two women’s tennis state championship banners,” Lacey (Canfield) Miller said.
“I may not see them often but I feel so much pride in having them at my school! Playing four years of No. 1 singles taught me a lot. Many things I still think about in my own career and as I raise my family almost 20 years later,” she said.
“Mr. Stredney provided me four years of being one of my biggest fans, but I am sure that he has no idea the drive that he was able to put in me. I won many matches in my four years of playing No. 1 singles and many of those I literally felt that I was being willed to win by him,” she added.
“I hope Mr. Stredney will remember back to Salina South. I was down 7-0 in an eight game set. Stredney’s words were ‘You are too fast to lose this’. He knew I could win although I never thought I had a chance. I gave it a go. As I began to battle back, Mr. Stredney mentioned, one point at a time as he met at the fence each time we switched sides and the match went longer and longer.”
She forced the match to a 7-7 tie and she won the tiebreaker.
“I loved that moment and think of it often. I have told employees, bosses, and my kids this story. He paced the side of the tennis court as usual that day chewing that thumbnail of his never leaving my court. There were other matches he needed to watch that day, but he knew I needed him to be there until I finished – what he told me I could do,” Miller said.
“I can almost say with certainty that the six varsity girls that I played with have all been to a tennis court with their kids and without a doubt have talked about Mr. Stredney,” she concluded.
Finally, Matthew Barlow, class of 2013 state runner-up in No. 1 singles had this to say about coach Stredney,
“Without coach Stredney, I would not be near the tennis player I am today. Stred has impacted my tennis career and life in several ways,” he said.
“Stred always put tennis first, meaning he would always be at the courts whenever I wanted to hit, whether that be at six in the morning or eight at night. Stred also made practicing fun. Once he stepped on the court for high school practice, Stred meant business, but also created a fun relaxed atmosphere. Stred is the reason I am going to play college tennis next year, and I hope to one day be half the coach he is.”