July 31, 2018
DEFINITION: Not proud or arrogant; modest.
Ron Selkirk is a humble guy.
If you ask him about his career playing and coaching tennis, he’ll tell you he just hopes that people try the sport. He will tell you that he hopes more doors will continue to open for tennis across the community, and he may not mention a Hall of Fame award he received or the dozens of college scholarships and awards he has led his students to achieve. Instead, he’ll just say he wants students of all ages to learn the fundamentals and enjoy the game for a lifetime.
Selkirk, a known name in tennis across St. Joseph, the state and the region, has spent five decades inspiring youth and adults do just that: play the game, play it well, and enjoy it. His personal love of tennis started years before he ever helped a student pick up a racket. Selkirk started turning heads in the sport while he was a college student at what is now Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo. By the time he graduated in 1969, he had lettered all four years and made a name for himself on the most successful campus men’s tennis team to date. He earned the No. 1 MIAA singles flight for the Bulldogs not once, but on three occasions. Selkirk was a core player on the 1969 team, who was just one point away from capturing the NCAA College Division tennis title.
While awards and perceptions may make it sound like tennis is an individual sport, Selkirk explains that it’s a tough sport to learn alone, and that it’s really about “needing people to help other people.” It’s a philosophy he’s continued to put into action across the past 50 years of teaching and sharing the game.
“What I’ve always tried to do is go through the fundamentals, step by step. This is what I love most. I want to help people get on the right track with how to play the game, and then spending the time to improve is really up to them.”
During this career phase he coached two years at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, leading his players to high honors in the conference and saw two of his students qualify for the NCAA Division II championships.
Selkirk’s accolades for both high school and collegiate-level coaching were continuing to line up, but in 1980, he chose to come to St. Joseph to become tennis pro and manager at the St. Joseph Tennis and Swim Club. “It made sense for us to be closer to my wife’s family in St. Joseph and closer in the state to mine, near St. Louis,” says Selkirk. “We felt it was a really good place to raise our family.”
As a testament to Selkirk’s impact, some students have gone on to continue the tradition he started. Former student Eric Thacker calls Selkirk “a great coach and mentor” and has opened his own indoor tennis practice and teaching facility in the north region of St. Joseph. “Ron took me under his wing, and I was able to learn the nuances of not only playing, but coaching as well. By the time I was 21 I was a PTR certified teaching pro,” says Thacker.
“I’d like to keep doing this until I’m no longer effective,” says Selkirk. “I can still get out there and play, but maybe it’s more talking now than so much of the physical kind of play. As long as I’m able to teach people how to play the game, and help them enjoy it, that’s what matters.”
(Note: In 1991, Selkirk was inducted into the Truman State University Athletic Hall of Fame for Men’s Tennis, a reflection of the overall impact he had, and continues to have, on the sport of tennis. But he isn’t likely to mention this when talking about the sport. You’ll have to ask if you want the specific details.)
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