A friend asked me over the weekend how often siblings had won state championships in Kansas high school tennis history. This came in light of the remarkable accomplishment of Jill Harkin, who won Manhattan High’s first girls’ title in 21 years, last week in Wichita.
Jill’s brother Dan won his own title last spring, so the reigning 6A champs in both boys’ and girls’ singles are Harkins from Manhattan. It’s a really impressive accomplishment; all the credit goes to those young people and their parents, Ken and Katie Harkin.
Let me note here that Ken trained both his kids from a young age, which is very rare. Most kids who compete at that level take lessons from a teaching pro year-round.
Sibling success at the level the Harkins achieved is unusual, but not as rare as you might think. The Hunters — Tommy and Brooklyn — each won four straight 4A titles at Hayden in the middle of the last decade. The Stevens at Bishop Carroll in Wichita have won several 5A titles over a couple of generations, including the most recent two in a row by Rodney Steven in 2016 and 2017. Brynn Steven was the top seed this spring in 5A but lost a three-setter in the finals.
Kip and Kara Brady of Lawrence each won a 6A title in consecutive years in the mid-1980s.
The Fotopolous family also has won titles over three generations. John won one at Hutchinson in the 1940s. Sam won two and Carrie won three, all in 6A, in the late 1970s at Shawnee Mission East; Chris won one in doubles and Mimi won two in singles, all at SME, in the next generation.
If you’re talking about Kansas high school tennis, the conversation always quickly gets to Shawnee Mission East. Always.
The Butt siblings in Clay Center also won both boys’ and girls’ titles in 4A; Tariq Butt also won a 6A boys’ title at Lawrence High when he moved there to train, prior to signing to play for at KU. Tariq went 116-0 over four years, the best career record ever compiled. (Jack Sock, the best American professional male tennis player in recent years, went 76-0 in four years at Blue Valley North. As an aside to that aside, Jack’s brother Eric won a state title in doubles one of the years Jack won a singles title.)
The best single-season record: Mark Willey of Abilene, who went 37-0 in 1988 in 4A. No sibling issue; just thought that would be of regional interest. Willey won multiple state titles, but took one year off because he decided to play golf — and won the state title.
It should be noted that Jill Harkin could win a second state championship next fall, and of course Dan had his junior season taken away by the pandemic.
He certainly would have been in contention that year; he finished third at state as a sophomore.
The Snyder brothers from Winfield also won titles in the 50s and 60s. As another aside, David Snyder went on to become the longtime head coach at the University of Texas; he recruited Sam Fotopolous to play there. Snyder’s successor as head coach at Texas? Michael Center of Manhattan. (Center had been the head coach at KU, where he recruited Tariq Butt.)
Tennis is a small world. Michael’s niece, Olivia Center, was in Manhattan this summer for the memorial service for her grandfather, Melvin Center. Olivia now is a top-ranked junior in California. While she was in town, she wanted a practice session. She hit with...Dan Harkin.
I could keep going down these rabbit holes for hours. But since we’ve come full circle, it’s a good place to stop.