After a lifelong commitment to tennis and a dedication to Trinity University, Clarence Mabry, “Father of Trinity Tennis,” passed away Saturday, Jan. 26, at the age of 87.
Mabry earned his legendary status at Trinity after he started the tennis program from scratch and raised it to nationally-recognized levels. He served as head coach of the men’s tennis team from 1956-1974, leading his teams to a 319-36 record as evidence of his coaching abilities, Mabry led his 1972 team to the NCAA Division I Championship after two years of finishing second. He coached and developed 10 All-Americans, including a Wimbledon champion and a NCAA Division I singles champion who went on to become a professional tennis player.
“None of us would be the way we are without him,” said Russell McMindes, head coach of men’s tennis. “He started Trinity tennis, and the only reason we have it was because he had the vision, so, very obviously, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing without his footprint. I’m very fortunate he was able to start it.”
Something that Mabry was able to do as a coach was to form unique ties with each of his players. One of these ties was with the director of tennis, Butch Newman. Newman also became an All-American under Mabry.
“My connection with Mr. Mabry started when I was 12,” Newman said. “He took me under his wing at that early age and we formed a very special bond. Kind of like a father-son. He had been the only coach I had ever had, so when it came time for me to come to college, I knew where I was going to go and that’s where Clarence was.”
Perhaps Mabry’s success came from understanding that as a coach, winning isn’t everything, but that it is a byproduct of many other elements. Newman believes that he valued certain qualities in life that he hoped would resonate with his athletes.
“One of the things he did was he cared about his players, not just what they could do to make the team better, but as people,” Newman said. “It made you have a very close relationship with him and therefore he was the richest man I knew because he invested and taught me what the most important investment was in the whole world – people. He had a multitude of genuine, close, deep relationships.”
Widely respected by his peers and by his athletes, Mabry had a certain wisdom and authority that stimulated elite performance. He knew what it took to get his teams to be in the top four nationally, and he accomplished just that.
“He was very insightful, not a man of many words, but when you heard him say something, you knew you had to pay attention,” Newman said. “He was really going to help you to improve your play, and that spilled over to off the court as well. He was not only someone to teach you how to be a better player; he led by example and he was going to make you a better person as well.”
Mabry was and is still very much a presence in Trinity tennis after his 18 years as head coach, and his philosophy lives on.
“What I tell our guys: he was our version of John Wooden,” McMindes said. “He had a great record, but also a great character and he was able to get the best out of his players. He was very demanding, but at the same time very approachable and very lovable. The underlying philosophy in our program, that Clarence started, is the basic one. He always had an ‘SAT’ philosophy: Spiritual, Academic, Tennis – in that order. We want to make sure our players are following that.”
Though current Trinity athletes only have stories and a few encounters with the man who made their present opportunities possible, they have the highest degree of respect for him and follow closely the foundation that he set.
“Coach Mabry’s path is one of the most inspirational and awesome stories I’ve ever heard,” said senior Erick de la Fuente. “Being a part of his tradition is an honor and a blessing. I can’t say I’d be the same person I am today without the lessons he has taught me, even if indirectly. I’ve only personally met him a handful of times, but the amount I know about him is a testament to his presence nonetheless. The idea of SAT was his priority in life and his criteria for being successful. Only then can we optimize our training and competition by having these priorities set beforehand.”
Clarence Mabry will no longer visit Trinity, but he still lives on within the program, and his contributions and philosophy remain a part of the team today. He is represented by every Trinity tennis coach and player, past and present, and Mabry Pavilion will remain, just as his passions for both Trinity and tennis do.
A memorial service will be held for Clarence Mabry at 1 p.m. Monday, Feb. 11 at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, 600 Oblate Dr San Antonio, Texas.