By Patty Hullett
Daily Light contributor
ENNIS — The Lions varsity tennis team, led by veteran head coach Keith Howard, states, "We are primed and ready to compete in the fall ‘team tennis’ season-opener on Sept. 8 against arch-rivals – Midlothian High School Panthers."
"The Lions are currently at 68 consecutive ‘wins’ in a row for district," Howard said. "If we are able to stay unbeaten this year, we will be at 74 total wins. It’s a lofty goal, but I think our program has shown over the years how dedicated and determined our students really are."
For the 2020 fall season, Howard lists his following competitors in his 14-5A grouping as Cleburne, Corsicana, Joshua, Midlothian, Red Oak, and Waco University.
"Historically, our toughest team battles in our district are against Midlothian High and Coriscana High, but you can’t overlook anybody these days," he said. "It seems we have had the bullseye on our back for quite some time now. Every opposing team wants to ruin our winning streak."
Last year, the Lions only lost three seniors due to graduation, and they have nine seniors returning to the team. They have 12 total returning letter winners, and they didn’t have any girls graduate from the program in the Class of 2020.
"Even with the COVID-19 event surrounding our area and impacting lots of sports activities," Howard said, "we were still able to have our 7th grade through 12th grade players hit basically all summer long. An added plus is that EHS has more than half of our 36 players that our on the varsity team, spend a lot of their spare time competing in U.S.T.A. and U.T.R. tournaments all over the state of Texas. On a sad note, the coronavirus did affect our summer programs that we usually provide as a service to the community children.
"The only way COVID has hampered us is that we have not been allowed to play preseason matches this year, (per the U.I.L. rules and restrictions in place) – so that is very different, and it can certainly make a coach anxious."
Howard, born and bred in Ennis, is a 1991 graduate of EHS. He played two years of college tennis at Navarro Jr. College, before transferring to Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. for his two final years of collegiate competition. He has been the head tennis coach for EHS 25 years now, where his teams have won 18 "Team Tennis" District Titles. His wife of 24 years is Jennifer Chapman Howard, who is also employed by the Ennis I.S.D. The Howard family has three children. Emma, the oldest, is a junior at Stephen F. Austin University and is a member of the SFA Dance Team. Zoe is a senior on the EHS varsity tennis team, and Will (a/k/a "Ace") is a 5th grader at Lummus Intermediate School in Ennis.
Wyatt Johnson, Varsity Assistant and Junior Varsity Coach, was a member of the Class of 2000 at EHS. He graduated from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in 2004, with his bachelor’s degree in Business Management, and also with a Bachelor’s in Business Administration, along with a minor in Liberal Arts. He further continued his education by obtaining his Masters of Education in Administration in 2014 from Lamar University. Johnson has spent 15 years at EHS and enjoys coaching tennis immensely. He teaches "Outdoor Education" at the Junior High School. He is married to wife Melissa, and they have two children (Paige – 11, Luke – 6) and one animal – Mac the cat.
Junior high coach Heather Doslich graduated from EHS in 2006. She played college tennis at Cameron University in Oklahoma, and graduated in 2010 with a degree in mathematics. She teaches Geometry at the high school, and on paper, is the Junior High Coach. However, Howard admits that all 3 of the coaches for the tennis program help with all the teams – Junior High, Junior Varsity, and Varsity. Doslich has coached 7 years in Ennis, she is single, and has no children.
According to Coach Howard, "Ennis Tennis is really is a team effort. Some programs struggle to have one assistant, but I'm lucky enough to have two excellent assistant coaches. I actually coached both of them at Ennis High School, and they both were, and still are, extremely hard workers. They both excelled in collegiate tennis, so they bring a ton of experience and knowledge of the game of tennis."
Howard adds, "When you combine that with the support we get from the Ennis I.S.D., then your program is just set up to be successful. It's because of the school district that we have not one, but two great high school facilities. Next, one of the most important pieces of the puzzle in a winning program, is the unbelievable parental support. The tennis parents in Ennis allow our coaching staff to coach their kids hard. In return, we historically we have some great success through the years."
Howard concludes, "And last, but not least, a huge part of our program and its success is due to The Cody Memorial Scholarship Fund. This organization has helped send many Ennis tennis players to college for over 10 yrs now. Without the Cody Family having the vision of bringing tennis to the masses, this old Ennis boy (me – Coach Howard) would have never started playing tennis, but I did, and the rest is history."