by TERRY KONKLE
President, Rockford Area Historical Society
This column is about a player I coached at Rockford High School. His name is Arlo Elkins, and he left a lasting impression on my life. Recently he passed away and memories of him keep popping up in my mind.
Arlo’s best sport was tennis and, after graduation from Rockford High School in 1967, he went on to play in college and then on the pro tour. He was also a club pro and then the head girls’ tennis coach at the University of South Carolina where his teams were nationally ranked almost every year. He resigned earlier this year because of his health. He had coached there since 1984. Often, when he came back to Rockford, he would stop by to visit. I enjoyed seeing him, yet my best memories go back to his high school days when I coached him in junior varsity football, varsity and JV basketball, and varsity tennis.
His father Ardie and mother Norrine both worked for the school and his older brothers Larry and Dan were both athletes, so Arlo often could be found “hanging around” the athletic areas when he was growing up. Was he a pest? No! He was a “gym rat.” He was a team manager. He helped with our summer swim program. He liked to be busy, and he usually was fun to be around.
He was an average football player, an excellent basketball player, and a tremendous tennis participant. Often I am asked which athlete I think was Rockford High School’s greatest, and I cannot make that selection. I do know who was our greatest tennis player though. ARLO ELKINS! In his four-year high school career, he won 72 regular season matches and lost two (both in his freshman year). In his senior year he won the MHSAA Class B number one singles title. That season he only lost one set all year. By chance, I was the tennis coach because our coach left and no one wanted the job. Arlo actually coached the team while I tried to supervise the squad. I also kept him in line when he got a bit “cocky.” He was one of those “rare” athletes who did what he said he would do. Is that “cocky” or confidence?
I was his only high school coach in basketball. As a ninth grader he was on the JV team and I coached him. The next year I became the varsity coach, and he played at that level where he was the third leading scorer on the squad. As a junior he scored 66 points after two games and ended the year with 68 points. His appendix burst after game two, and he missed all of the rest of the year until the last minute of a district game, where he hit a shot in the last minute after begging to get in for a few seconds. He had lost a lot of weight and couldn’t do much. As a senior he was back in shape and averaged 18 points per contest, including a then school record 40 points against Cedar Springs.
As a senior he came out for basketball with his hair quite long, and I suggested he might get it cut if he wanted to practice (in those days coaches often demanded short haircuts). He went to the barber and returned with a cut that was still too long. I sent him again and it was perfect when he came back. We often joked about it later. I was glad he was willing to have his hair shorter because he was a key part of our squad.
This Friday, May 18, 2012, I know that many memories will be shared and discussed when a memorial service for Arlo is held at 11:00 a.m. at First Congregational Church in Rockford. He made his positive mark on his town and on many people that he knew and coached. He will be missed but not forgotten. Memories are great, aren’t they!