BERLIN - For Bristol Eastern boys tennis coach Logan Bourke, culture is everything.
It’s something the sixth-year head coach has preached since he arrived in 2014, when the Lancers won just three matches all season. The following year, the win total didn’t budge, but Bourke’s culture-building initiative was moving in full force.
It showed the following season, 2016, when Eastern won 10 matches, and the Lancers have yet to win less than seven ever since.
Tuesday was another landmark in Bourke’s tenure, as the Lancers took down Berlin for the first time since 2012 with a 4-3 win.
For Bourke, the victory was a byproduct of the more important goal.
“I just try to create an environment where the kids can say ‘this is the team that has the most fun,’” Bourke said. “I’ve had kids leave other sports to come play, and now we’re winning.”
Bourke’s drive to build up tennis as a fun and desirable sport for a high schooler stems from the realization that the game isn’t always atop a student-athlete’s list of sports they want to try. The game itself may not be enough to sway a student at Eastern. Bourke wants to sell them on the experience.
“Tennis is generally near the bottom of the totem pole in terms of what kids want to play,” Bourke explained. “So I have to work with word of mouth. Kids have often never picked up a racket, which is why I really want the culture and environment to be there so kids say, ‘hey, you should come out and play tennis.’”
For the past six seasons, Bourke’s plan has been working, as the Lancers’ roster has grown with interest around the school. The more kids that have shown up, the more wins the team has piled up, which makes building a culture of enjoyment even easier. After all, it’s always more fun when you’re winning.
“You can definitely learn more when you’re having fun,” junior Jason Libscomb said. “[Bourke] teaches what we need to do and then allows us to express ourselves on the court in our own way.”
Libscomb’s assessment isn’t hard to see on match day, when the Lancers bounce from court to court after their own match is over, joking with their teammates still in competition to keep things loose. Instead of hampering a player’s focus, the loose atmosphere seems to relax those battling for a win, allowing the team to enjoy the process of building a winner.
“I feel like it’s been getting better,” junior Kurt Miskell said of the culture at Eastern. “I definitely have gotten mad in past experiences in matches, but it’s been a lot better for me. (Bourke) keeps it really mellow.”
Six seasons into his coaching tenure, Bourke has helped change the landscape of Eastern boys tennis, even luring kids away from other sports to pick up a racket.
Those kids who came from other forms of competition were rewarded on Tuesday with the program’s first win over the Redcoats in seven years, helping avenge last season’s loss that spoiled the Lancers’ bid for a conference championship.
The team looks to put itself in position to finish what they started last year and Tuesday was a big step in that direction. Still, regardless of how the season plays out, Bourke seems to have accomplished his ultimate goal, judging by the demeanor of his players and the atmosphere that now follows the Lancers around.
“The goal is always just to improve,” Bourke said. “If everyone comes off [the court] and says they tried their best, that’s ultimately it. Better results are great, but as long as we improved, that’s my overall goal.”
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org