It took three tries over five years for Adam Baez to get hired as the Highland tennis coach.
"I was an unpaid volunteer back in the early 90's" Baez reminisced. "Then I finally became an assistant. Every time the opening was there for the top job, I applied and hoped."
The story of quiet perseverance is a perfect analogy for the top tennis Trojan. Back then, Highland tennis was considered second-tier at best.
"The truth was, we were terrible back then," Baez said with a smile. "But we were a close-knit group, and we were determined to turn it around."
Fast forward to 2012 -- Baez has helped the Trojans garner 267 wins, including 15 sectional titles. They have been ranked in the top 15 in the state, and last year the girls No. 1 doubles tandem of Liz Quinn and Aby Madrigal brought home the first state tennis title in the school's history. They are at the pinnacle of their success.
But at the end of the girls season, they will say goodbye to their longtime coach.
Baez has officially announced that he will step down as both girls and boys tennis coach, effective the end of this school year. His two daughters, both good tennis players in their own right, attend Whiting Middle School. As they prepare to join the high school team, Baez wants to be a dad, a part of their experience.
"They will only pass this way once," Baez said, "and I want to be there for the journey."
The journey through Highland has included many successes along the way. But the one that came to mind for Baez was a girls dual meet in 2003 against Andrean.
"Andrean was one of the top tennis programs in the region at that time," Baez said. "We came in and beat them on their home court. That was the beginning of the turnaround for us. We went from being a bad team that couldn't win to a competitive team that could win."
Win they did. The boys won seven consecutive sectional titles from 2004-10, while the girls reeled off eight straight from 2004-11. The Trojans became known as a local tennis powerhouse.
According to Baez, the winning was a by-product of the "close-knit group" he referred to during the salad days.
"It sounds so cliché to say we are family," Baez said, "but here that has really been true."
Seven different sets of siblings have played for Baez since he took the helm. The family names – Kristy, Quinn, Kitchell, Madrigal, Garcia, Burgeson, Hojnicki – read like a Who's Who for Highland's success over the last ten years.
To Baez, they read like a walk down memory lane.
"I can remember when each one came out to their first practice, when they played their first match, all sorts of memories," Baez said. "One of the keys to our success is how we were able to work together like a family to overcome adversity."
Much of the adversity came in the form of the Munster Mustangs. The two schools are arch rivals in many sports, tennis one of the biggest. Highland got that monkey off their back on the girls side the last two years, defeating the Mustangs to win regional.
"I have great respect for Adam and the program he has established," Munster coach Bill Heuer said in a phone interview. "It has always been a tough challenge to play against his teams. He's a great coach, and he is a great guy. Local high school tennis will miss him."
It is fitting that the swan song will end with Munster and Highland paired in the same sectional. Motivation will not be an issue.
"No matter how it ends, I'll be damn proud of the way the Trojans play," Baez said. "That has never gotten old."