He was brand new to the game.
He was a late arrival to tryouts.
He was unnerved.
He was ranked 35th in a 35-person tennis program at Columbia River High School.
That was his freshman year.
As a junior, Chris Perez and his doubles partner finished seventh at the Class 3A state tournament.
Heim fills in for Chapman at River
The new Columbia River tennis coach said he is enjoying his job.
And while he one day wants the position permanently, he hopes his first chance as the head coach is only temporary.
“I love the responsibility, and I love the challenge,” John Heim said. “I’m very happy to be holding down the fort until Jim comes back.”
That would be longtime coach Jim Chapman, who took this fall season off after a medical procedure this summer.
Heim, a 1979 graduate of Columbia River, had Chapman as a teacher. Back then, Chapman was the school’s wrestling coach.
Heim said eventually he would love to be the long-term head coach for the Chieftains tennis program. But he has too much respect for Chapman to say he is doing anything more than just filling in for now.
“I fully anticipate Jim coming back and I’m looking forward to having Jim back in the spring,” Heim said.
Chapman began teaching at Columbia River in 1969. He took over the head coaching duties for tennis in 1990.
-- Paul Valencia
Now a senior, Perez has moved up 34 spots from his original ranking, playing No. 1 singles for the Chieftains.
“I didn’t know how to play tennis until I came out to these courts,” he said Monday at practice, referring to his school’s tennis facility. “I didn’t know how to hold the racquet. But after that first day, I just fell in love with the game.”
So Perez started playing, practicing, all the time. Seriously, as much as he could.
The summer between his freshman and sophomore campaign gave him his breakthrough. That work ethic, hitting thousands of balls, started a meteoric rise, and the next fall Perez was the No. 4 player on the varsity.
As a junior, he and then-senior Alex Morawski formed a doubles team that would take them to the final tournament of the year in high school tennis, where they placed seventh.
First, they had to get there.
In the final match of regionals, Perez and Morawski were in a winner-to-state, loser-go-home battle. They won the first set. They lost the second set. They missed on an early match point in the third set, only to eventually win a tiebreaker 7-1 for a 6-4, 4-6, 7-6 victory.
“It was the most emotional win for me. I had state on my mind,” Perez said. “I kind of cried a little because I accomplished my mission.”
Perez also was thinking of all those who had helped him get to state. Including his older sister, Daniela, who insisted he go to tennis practice as a freshman even though practice had begun three days earlier. Perez was worried that he would not be accepted, because he did not know the season had started already.
“My sister was on my case,” he recalled. “She said, ‘You have to do it.’ ”
Memories of that first day flood his mind.
“I was really shy, kind of scared. Then I was just really intimidated because they were so good,” he said.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Kent Andreasen, sr., Skyview; Andrew Bagherpour, jr., Union;
Mark Bright, sr., Union; Jacob Buckley, so., Union; Tim Escue, sr., Battle Ground; Matt Fleischauer, sr., Skyview; Connor Horne, sr., Union; Ian Jones, sr., Columbia River; Trevor Jones, jr., Mountain View; Zac Jones, sr., Columbia River; Sam Lin, sr., Camas; Trong Nguyen, so., Fort Vancouver.
Union is loaded with returning players, which makes the Titans the favorites in the Class 4A Greater St. Helens League. Skyview has state-placer Kent Andreasen back, but lost a lot to graduation last year. Camas, Columbia River and Mountain View are expected to battle it out for top honors in the 3A GSHL.
He thanked his coaches — longtime Columbia River coach and teacher Jim Chapman, new coach John Heim, and his coach at Club Green Meadows, Sarah Ansburry. And, of course, his parents, Enriqueta and Silverio Perez, who have been paying for his tennis lessons outside of high school competition.
“When I play the game, I want to show my parents that whatever they invest in me, I’m going to take advantage,” he said.
Heim said Chris Perez also needs to give himself some credit, too.
“The notion of him being our No. 1 player is quite a testimony to an unbelievable work ethic he has,” Heim said. “It’s very inspirational. Typically, those kids have been playing since they were 5, 6 years old and taking tons of lessons.
“Thousands and thousands of balls he hit, and he asked thousands and thousands of questions, too,” Heim said.
Heim’s only criticism of Perez is that sometimes he is too enthusiastic. Perez simply loves matches, the coach said, and that can affect his performances early in competition.
“When he starts a match, he is so excited. He has a lot of adrenaline,” Heim said. “It’s as if he just downed a pot of coffee. Almost like a hummingbird. We’re working so that he settles down.”
Regardless, Perez said he will always have a smile on his face. That is his way of showing appreciation for the game, and for all that he has worked for through the years.
“I’m trying to have as much fun as I can on the tennis court, and I’m trying to show as much sportsmanship and respect on the tennis court,” Perez said. “I’m trying to show the best of what the sport has to offer. The sport is mainly about sportsmanship. There are no line judges (in high school), no officials. Be respectful of the players you’re playing against. And I try not to show negative emotion.”
It has been all positive for Chris Perez, this tennis experience of his.
From a no-show to the bottom of the ranking, all the way to seventh in state and now at No. 1 singles for his team.
“I think about tennis every day of my life,” Perez said. “I try to go one day without thinking about it, but it just doesn’t happen.”