Rock Bridge tennis players attribute success to longtime instructor

Friday, July 20, 2012 | 10:53 p.m. CDT; updated 3:00 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 21, 2012
Aaron Skinner and Cody Kennedy play a men's tennis match at the Show-Me State Games on Friday.

The silence of the Cosmo-Bethel Park tennis courts breaks with the arrival of Jaime Vargas.

Players flock to the longtime tennis coach and organizer of the Show-Me State Games tennis competition.

Vargas, 59, has been involved in the Columbia tennis scene since 1981. During Friday's first day of competition, he watched Aaron Skinner and Jimmy Hunter, two former teammates from Rock Bridge High School, compete for a spot in the championship. Both players have taken private lessons from Vargas, as have many Bruins over the years.

Vargas was born in Colombia and moved to the United States when he was 13, and quickly got involved in sports.

“I couldn't speak English, so I went to the playground and played," Vargas said. "Reading was not a big thing in my schedule, but playing was, and that’s how I got along with people.”

At age 15, he started playing tennis. He moved to Columbia from Ohio in 1981 and has been teaching the sport ever since. He coaches Rock Bridge players privately year round.

The Rock Bridge boys tennis team has won the State Championship the past three seasons and the top four seeded men on the Show-Me State Games tennis bracket are Rock Bridge graduates. Skinner said these accomplishments are no coincidence, attributing some of that success to Vargas. He said Vargas adjusts his coaching style to suit the athletes he coaches.

“I’m a pretty laid back person and he never tried to change that,” Skinner said. Skinner was 11 when he started taking lessons from Vargas. “He has just accepted my personality and has tried to build off of it.”

In his freshman and sophomore year, Skinner won state in doubles. He now plays tennis for Trinity University in San Antonio. He still keeps in touch with Vargas, and they plan to play as teammates in the doubles tournament at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“He’s like a parent who is expecting something and you don’t want to let him down,” said Skinner.

Rock Bridge graduate Ford Zitsch won state in singles this past season and is the top seed in the Show-Me State Games tennis tournament. Zitsch said that when he was 10 or 11, he began taking lessons from Vargas.

“He loves the game and knows the game," said Zitsch, who will play tennis for the University of Nebraska this fall. "He knows us personally and cares about us on a level beyond tennis."

Vargas will continue to play a significant role in preparing Rock Bridge’s tennis team.

“My strong area is to develop the kids as much as I can during the offseason,” Vargas said. “They should win the state championship for the next few years.”

Supervising editor is Matt Veto.

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