Jim Boykin remembers vividly arriving in Anderson after a long drive from Tyler, Texas, with his Anderson College tennis team in 1987.
“Welcome National Champions” read a Holiday Inn marquee on their way back to campus, he said, which marked a second National Junior College Athletic Association title in a row.
The hall of fame coach, who led the Anderson program for 13 seasons as a two-year college, said his teams in late 1980s were good enough to top most Division I programs.
“I’ve been blessed. I don’t know if I deserved them or not, but I didn’t ruin them,” Boykin said with a laugh. “We gave them an opportunity.”
Boykin was back in town over the weekend as a volunteer coach for Queens University of Charlotte. He coaches alongside his son, Billy, who was born and raised in Anderson and now leads the Royals.
Queens and Anderson University split men’s and women’s matches Saturday at Anderson’s second-year tennis complex, which the Boykins got their first look at.
“This is amazing here, this facility,” the elder Boykin said. “It’s a credit to the institution to take on an enterprise like this and build it for tennis.”
The 75-year-old first came to the area in the wake of tragedy.
On May 12, 1977, Anderson College athletic director and tennis coach Max Grubbs and four members of his team died in a van crash on the way to a tournament in Banner Elk, North Carolina.
At the time Boykin was working with the Charlotte Country Club and had applied for the tennis coaching position at Clemson University. His first Anderson College team included survivors of the accident, Dhiren Rathod and Scott Dickey.
“It was amazing that they survived it and played as good a tennis as they did,” Boykin said. “They were excited to get back on the court, and they wanted to play for their teammates, and they did a great job.”
Part of Boykin’s amazement at Anderson’s current facilities stems from comparisons to what he had.
The Trojans played on four courts on campus he described as not bad, but not good, either. At points in his AC tenure, he would hold practices inside the Abney Center with the use of volleyball nets.
“You have to improvise. That made me a better coach really — when you don’t have things,” said Boykin, who moved on to lead UNC-Charlotte for 17 years.
Boykin worked with the Belton Tennis Center and also started the Cardinal Racquet Club in Anderson, which stoked his son Billy’s love of the game.
“It was so much fun,” Billy said of dusk-to-dawn tennis game days. “Dad at that point had some really good tennis players. These were world-class players. To be able to watch such a high level up-close-and-personal was really cool.”
Another young tennis prospect at the time was Anderson native Joey Eskridge, who — along with T.L. Hanna teammates — took lessons from Boykin and was part of four consecutive state championship teams.
“He was a key person in getting tennis going in Anderson back in the ‘80s,” said Eskridge, who coaches Anderson University now. “Tennis was kind of hitting its pinnacle in the time he was here.”
Boykin built lifelong connections while in Anderson. He can rattle off name after name of former players and what they are doing now.
Former Anderson College coach Jim Boykin talks about returning to Anderson as a volunteer coach with Queens University.
After the visit Saturday, he and Billy are looking to make a return trip this summer to reconnect again with friends in the area.
“This is a great place to be with a family. This town is really unique,” Boykin said.
“The thing that makes any place is the people that you grow up with,” said Billy, who last attended school in the area at McCants Middle School. “That was the coolest thing about Anderson. I had so many great friendships in Anderson and so many great people on the tennis court and off the tennis court.”
Teaming up with his dad now, Billy says he values most what his father does in bridging generations.
“My dad has a different kind of experience, and it’s really neat to see them work together and problem solve together,” he said. “I’m never surprised, but I’m always pleasantly delighted when I see these younger kids and my father work in such strong relationships.”
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