Before home matches at Fort Boise, every player on the Boise High tennis team is introduced with a nickname invented on the fly by head coach Greg Patton.
There are laughs and smiles all around.
It is clear that Patton loves tennis, and his energy is contagious. But Patton would argue it’s the students who are changing him.
“It’s like I tripped and fell into the fountain of youth again,” Patton said. “… High school tennis epitomizes everything that’s beautiful about the game of tennis.”
After 22 years on the job, Patton retired as Boise State University’s tennis coach in 2018. But the veteran coach was lured out of retirement by a determined group of teenagers who wouldn’t take no for an answer.
With his wife, Christa Patton, and former player Tristian Bounds serving as assistant coaches, the Brave have been a nearly unstoppable force this season.
The Boise girls remain unbeaten and are coming off a victory over previously unbeaten powerhouse Mercer Island of Washington, while the boys own a 13-1 mark in competition this season.
“Coach Patton brings a lot of expertise and a lot of enthusiasm to the court,” Boise senior Sophia Copple said. “He’s trained with a lot of the greats and it’s obvious that he’s very passionate, and he knows what he’s doing. He knows how to run a tennis team.”
Patton’s name isn’t just synonymous with tennis in Idaho. In addition to leading Boise State to 16 NCAA Tournament appearances and 14 conference tournament titles in four different leagues, he’s served as a coach for the US Collegiate Master’s University National team and the US Junior National team program.
At the junior level, Patton helped coach some of the best players America has had to offer, including the likes of Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and MaliVai Washington.
Now he’s corralling busy teenagers — and loving every minute of it.
“It’s been pretty sweet having him as a coach, to be honest,” Boise senior Luke Neely said. “Patton’s done a great job of making us have the goal to be champions, and that’s what we try to do every single day, practice or match, doesn’t matter. … He helps us envision our success. He’s taught us how to set good goals and how to accomplish them.”
Aside from all the winning, the Pattons provide a welcoming environment for everyone, from the first-timer on junior varsity to the top-ranked player chasing down a state championship.
“He really, truly, deeply cares about the kids as a whole person, but also he wants to get the best out of them as athletes,” Christa Patton said. “He just has a way of corralling a group of people to make it feel cohesive and give everybody a sense of belonging. That’s what I love best about him, too. I think it’s a really special trait and he’s great at it.”
The Boise High parents have been drawn into the action, too. They provide a spread of food and drinks to keep players nourished throughout matches, and everyone stays until the final match is finished.
“His big thing is success without celebration is not success,” Copple said. “So we’re a very celebratory team.”
Patton, who will turn 70 this year, takes the time to write the lineups in calligraphy on a white board, and their pregame hype circle gets the entire team pumped. Patton has one player read — well, shout, actually — from the ancient Chinese text “The Art of War,” as the rest of the team encircles them.
The Pattons hope the foundation and fun they provide for players now will keep them involved in the sport throughout their lives.
“I’m the type of person, you look at these young people, and you just see the whole world’s ahead of them,” Greg Patton said. “How can I make this silly sport — hitting a tennis ball over a net — how can I use it to accelerate this whole adventure in their lives? And hopefully they’ll have it the rest of their life, have this game.”