ITA Mourns the Passing of Steve Wilkinson
Gustavus Adolphus College release
Update: Jan. 28, 2015
Steve’s funeral will be held on Saturday, January 31, at 11 AM at Christ Chapel on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN. (Visitation will take place from 4-7 PM Friday, January 30, at First Lutheran Church in St. Peter). For those who cannot attend physically, the service will be streamed live at gustavus.edu. Click on the Gustavus Live Streaming button on the left hand side of the home page.
The Wilkinson family has requested memorials be directed to:
First Lutheran Church: http://www.flcstp.org/
Gustavus Men’s Tennis: https://gustavus.edu/give/Men'
Tennis & Life Camps Endowed Scholarships Fund: https://gustavus.edu/give/
Jan. 22, 2015
The ITA mourns the loss of men’s tennis coaching legend and generous contributor to the world of college tennis, Steve Wilkinson, who passed away on Wednesday, January 21 at the age of 73.
Steve took over as the head coach of the Gustavus Adolphus College men’s tennis program in 1971. He spent 39 years at the helm in St. Peter, compiling a total of 929 wins during his career, which currently stands as the most wins of any head coach in the history of collegiate men’s tennis.During his tenure, the Gusties dominated the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC), winning 35 conference titles and posting a staggering 334-1 record against conference opponents. Overall, Steve finished with a record of 922-278 (.769), which included winning the NCAA Division III Team Championship in 1980 and 1982. He also earned coach of the year honors five times in his career, twice as the NAIA Coach of the Year and three times as ITA Division III National Coach of the Year in 1982, 2001, and 2003.
Numerous individual players also experienced great success under the guidance of Wilkinson. The program produced 46 players who claimed a combined 87 ITA All-America honors in his 39 years. His players won a combined 10 national titles as well, six in doubles and four in singles. The list of standout former players includes Eric Butorac, who has been as high as No. 17 in the world in doubles on the ATP Tour and is currently the President of the ATP Player Council.
While Steve’s on-court accomplishments are extensive, it is his dedication and contributions to growing the sport of tennis for which he will be most remembered.
In 1977, Steve and his wife Barbara founded Tennis and Life Camps. These camps, held each summer on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus, help tennis players of all ages and abilities develop improved tennis skills and an enriched approach to life. Steve and Barbara gifted Tennis and Life Camps to the school in 2010 so that the legacy of the camp can continue on for decades.
In 2007, Steve was named the national winner of the USTA/ITA Campus Recreation Award. This award was created to honor an ITA coach who did an outstanding job of implementing the USTA’s Tennis on Campus program and similar recreational tennis programs in an effort to grow tennis participation within the campus community.
An award-winning coach, Wilkinson played a key role in the development of ITA programs and functions throughout his coaching tenure. “I remember most vividly the early years of the ITA when Steve and I worked together, over three decades ago, building the ITA into a dynamic coaches association with programs and activities for all levels of college tennis,” said ITA Executive Director David A Benjamin. “It is safe to say that without Steve’s encouragement and positive influence, the ITA would not have reached out as effectively to all the different collegiate divisions, nor have been accepted as readily by coaches representing so many different types of varsity tennis programs.”
Steve was also a driving force in the fundraising and construction of the Gustavus tennis facilities. These facilities, considered among the nation’s elite, have hosted numerous USTA/ITA Division III Men’s and Women’s Midwest Region Championships along with serving as the host site for the ITA Division III National Men’s Team Indoor Championship for 10 of the event’s 14-year history.
A member of the ITA Men’s Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame Class of 2010, Steve played an instrumental role in forming the ITA Small College Operating Committee. This committee, composed of members of the ITA Board of Directors and divisional representatives, oversees compliance with rules and regulations which pertain to various ITA tournaments, dual match play and rankings.
He was also inducted into the United States Professional Tennis Association’s Hall of Fame, the Gustavus Adolphus Athletics Hall of Fame, the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame, the Northern Tennis Association Hall of Fame and the Iowa Tennis Hall of Fame. Additionally, he received the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s Tennis Educational Merit Award and The Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Iowa.
As a collegian, Steve was a member of the University of Iowa men’s tennis team and played first singles and doubles during his Hawkeye career. He continued to play competitively after college, earning the No. 1 ranking in the United States in the 45, 50, 55, and 60-and-over divisions. He also represented the U.S. in the Dubler Cup, Perry Cup and Austria Cup competitions, and contributed to a team that won the world championship in Uruguay in 1989 and finished second in Germany in 1992.
His memoir, Let Love Serve, was recently published. The book is a celebration of tennis and life. Steve also contributed a chapter, entitled “Sportsmanship Training for Tennis,” to the ITA Guide to Coaching Winning Tennis, published in 1989.
“Even more important than his coaching accomplishments is the extraordinary role model that he provided his players and fellow coaches,” Benjamin added. “He was an outstanding coach with the highest ethical standards and a relentless focus on community service. I express my deepest thanks for all of the contributions he made over so many years to our world of college tennis. He will truly be missed.”