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Doug Robinson: It's more than just the tennis

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12 2014 8:53 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 12 2014 8:53 p.m. MDT

Ray Bachiller gives instruction to Angeline Monson as he teaches tennis in Sandy on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Through a friend I heard about a man who teaches tennis lessons to kids and asks for nothing in return, except good grades and a lot of other things that don’t seem to have much to do with tennis. He’s on the court most mornings with dozens of kids, teaching them tennis, with a little math, civics and history mixed in.

Curious, I showed up at Bell Canyon Park early one morning and there he was, sitting in a chair watching over his students on a court that was salted with tennis balls. Rayfel Bachiller (as in bachelor), a thick-set man who teaches about 30 kids four mornings a week from 7-9, put the kids through drills while peppering them with questions.

“Who was the second president of the United States?”

“What is a hypotenuse?”

“What are the three branches of government?”

He also grills them in etiquette, and when I show up he insists they practice making introductions. One of them stepped forward and gave me a firm handshake, looked me in the eye and introduced himself. Judith Martin couldn’t do it better.

Bachiller will teach all comers as long as they meet certain requirements: They must not pay him, for one thing. They must have A’s and B’s in school. They must be punctual – practice starts at 7 a.m., not 7:01 – or they get to run laps. They must have good manners and sportsmanship. They must exert effort. They must be willing to learn anything he throws at them, whether it’s topspin or American history or memory teasers — long, lengthy passages he requires them to recite to develop memory.

For all of this, kids rise all summer long at 6:30 a.m.

“He never gets mad,” says Diane, one of the students.

“He takes us to breakfast,” says Sammy, “and if we try to pay we are off the team.”

“He remembers what each player needs to work on, even with all the kids he works with,” says Hannah.

I visited with Bachiller at his home later in the day and as soon as I stepped into his home, I knew that none of the above begins to scratch the surface of his story. There are 20 guitars hanging on the walls and a grand piano and drum set in the corner. There are military swords and artwork and a Marine insignia on the front porch.

The CliffsNotes of his life: raised in a slum; a retired colonel with 32 years in the Marine Corps; assignments in the White House and Olympic security; a self-taught musician, artist and tennis player; a tennis coach at Corner Canyon High; and a semi-private coach.

So many people helped him along the way during his 66 years to enable him leave a gang-infested neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and rise in the world that he wanted to help others. He teaches guitar lessons, woodworking, framing and matting, and of course tennis, and refuses all offers of pay for any of it. He and his wife, Lisa, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, have their pensions and that’s enough, he says. He also does charity work in the community, largely for veterans’ causes, and sings in a church choir.

He began teaching tennis in Utah a few years ago when a neighbor complained that his granddaughter was not enjoying her tennis lessons with a professional instructor. Bachiller watched a lesson and was convinced he could do better — and he’d do it for nothing. He started working with the girl at a local park and soon passers-by noticed and asked for lessons. It grew from there. Bachiller convinced reps at the Wilson sporting company to provide supplies, and he opened the doors for his tennis “school.”

“Tennis is just a vehicle to get the kids to do something in life, rather than sit around and do nothing,” he explains. “We get them out of bed early — that shows commitment.”

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