Steve Gantz used to emulate to the best of his ability the high leg kick made famous by former San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal.
A left-handed pitcher for Butler University from 1966-68, Gantz, who specialized more in drop curves than mitt-blistering fastballs, once pitched a win against Indiana University and tossed a pair of one-hitters against Evansville.
At 67, it’s safe to assume Gantz retired the leg kick decades ago. However, his desire to compete still is strong as girls tennis coach at Greenwood Community High School, his alma mater.
This season is Gantz’s 20th with the Woodmen, one which in an ideal world culminates in the program’s third consecutive trip to the State Finals.
Greenwood opens the season April 9 when it hosts Warren Central.
“The last few years I’ve told everybody (coaching) is a year-to-year proposition,” said Gantz, employed at Center Grove for 44 years before retiring as a teacher and guidance counselor at the conclusion of the 2011-2011 school year.
“But I still enjoy it. I’ve always enjoyed being around young people, and I still like to compete.”
Led by the virtually unparalleled 1-2-3 singles punch of twins Jackie and Jade Kawamoto and Makenzie Estrem, Greenwood against most competition is a 3-0 advantage waiting to happen.
The reassuring voice through the fence during breaks belongs to Gantz.
“You can tell he loves the sport and really cares about the girls on the team,” said Estrem, a senior who last week signed to play collegiately at Indiana Wesleyan University.
“He tries to encourage you to keep moving, to keep moving your feet and to have a positive attitude. He’s pretty calm no matter what,” Estrem said.
Gantz grew up participating in cross-country, basketball and baseball for Greenwood in the early-1960s. He was a 5-11 starting point guard for coach Jack Nay’s 1963 sectional champions in boys hoops.
Recruited by then-Butler University basketball coach Tony Hinkle, Gantz performed as sixth man for the Bulldogs’ freshmen team in 1964-65; he used the final three years of his athletic scholarship to focus on baseball.
Gantz came to Center Grove in the fall of 1968 and wore plenty of coaching hats — seventh-grade football, seventh-grade baseball, freshman football and baseball, varsity baseball and boys cross-country and assistant boys tennis coach.
The last included three decades spent working with longtime Center Grove boys tennis coach Ivan Smith.
“I have a lot of experience in the game and have been around a lot of good tennis people, so I know what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable,” Gantz said. “When I got out of college I didn’t have a clue how to run a program. I’ve been fortunate to have great assistants at Greenwood, and that’s a credit to them.”
Gantz focuses on singles players in practices and matches, while Woodmen assistant and boys tennis coach John Hannah develops doubles talent.
“To maximize your practices it just makes so much sense to do it that way. That’s the model Ivan and I used at Center Grove,” Gantz said.
“Tennis talent goes in cycles. Greenwood has always had a long tradition of tennis. Recently you have the Kawamoto girls, and that’s just a different level, which elevates everything and makes you so much more competitive as a team.”
Gantz’s career as Greenwood coach has brought numerous honors, including being named districts coach of the year twice (2001, 2013) and state coach of the year in 2001.
Furthermore, his program is responsible for 12 Mid-State Conference, eight sectional and seven Johnson County titles. The Indiana tennis coaches Hall of Fame inducted Gantz in 2009.
“I never had played tennis before my sophomore year. I felt it would be fun and had lessons from Steve and really liked it,” said Claire Gallman, a University of Indianapolis freshman who competed in doubles for the Woodmen from 2011 to 2013.
“I was awful at the start, but it was nice because he would have me do drills so that I could get better.”
Gantz also had the unique experience of coaching all three of his children.
Amy, a 1997 graduate, factored into the Woodmen success as did Annie (2000) and youngest daughter Ali (2005). Amy would later play one season at Indiana State University, while Annie and Ali played four seasons each at Butler and Hanover College, respectively.
“I was really happy to be able to coach them,” Gantz said. “I really enjoyed that time tremendously. It was just a good experience.”
THE GANTZ FILE
Name: Steve Gantz
Family: Wife, Joann; daughters, Amy, Annie and Ali; three grandchildren
High school: Greenwood (1964)
College: Butler University (1969)
Major: Physical education
Favorite TV show: “Justified”
Favorite foods: Steak and potatoes
Favorite movie: “Papillon”
Favorite team: Cincinnati Reds