Back in the 1970s, on the tennis hotbed street of 11th Ave. North, group of St. Edmond state champions were born.
Brothers Mike and Steve Huss started playing the sport at a young age. Their neighbor was St. Edmond’s first state tennis champion. Mike Conlon.
Living on a dead-end street a few blocks from Dodger Courts was a natural fit for tennis, as the Huss brothers, Conlon, Gary Wiedenfeld and a number of other area kids spent their time honing their skills and competing against each other.
“We grew up on 11th Avenue North on a dead end next to Mike,” Steve Huss said. “His brother, Pat, Gary and us would always play and go up to Dodger Courts.”
That group produced three state championships for the Gaels, as Conlon was the school’s first individual gold medalist in 1979. The Huss brothers then claimed a doubles title in 1983.
It was about the process for the Husses, as they grew up on the courts and were always traveling to play tennis.
When summertime came around, it was about the tourney trail. The Huss brothers both would compete in youth tournament all around the state of Iowa.
“Tennis was pretty prevalent in Fort Dodge back then,” Mike said. “We never played baseball in our family. It was tennis time. We didn’t have cellphones, and we lived outdoors. That’s how we started, and from there, we were playing in tournaments. They started coming out with rankings, and we’d go to sanctioned tournaments.
“Our parents (Denny and Elaine) would take us everywhere. We would play in 10U, 12U, 14U and so on for tournaments. My mom got so nervous that she would go to the station wagon and say a Rosary. By the time high school came around we had a pretty good foundation, which was a huge plus.”
Mike, who graduated from SEHS in 1983, and Steve, who graduated in 1984, were separated by only 10.5 months at birth. They had a natural gift together on the court, and eventually, qualified for two state tournaments. Their state journey started when Mike was a junior and Steve a sophomore.
“We laid an egg the first time we where at state,” Mike said. “We lost in the first round. We just weren’t mentally prepared.
“Our coach (Joe Mersch) came and told us that we weren’t out of it and that we could come back and finish fifth. We won four or five more matches and did finish fifth, which set us up for our the next season.”
The final year that the Huss brothers would compete together in high school tennis took on a life of its own.
“We nicknamed ourselves the Bad New Bears,” Mike said. “We showed up to the state tournament wearing our school musical shirts (Anything Goes), which were ringer shirts. We had on high-top basketball shoes with duct tape on the toes and short shorts. We looked like a comedy show.
“There were teams that came in with big bags and a number of rackets in them and new sweats, looking like club teams. We came in with one racket. We were a blue-collar team that didn’t care what we wore. We were there to win.”
Heading into the 1983 state tournament. Steve and Mike had a good feeling about the possibility of bringing home a title.
“Coming out of the seeding meeting at state, Coach Mersch said, ‘I got you guys the No. 1 seed,”’ Steve said. “We breezed through the first two rounds and had Oskaloosa in the finals and won it from there.”
The chemistry between brothers had its benefits.
“When it’s family opposed to someone from the outside, you know what they are going to do,” Steve said. “We would probably play 10 tournaments in a summer, jumping in the old station wagon together.
“It was gratifying to see it come (to fruition).”
Mike also enjoyed the time growing up playing on the courts with his brother.
“We knew each other’s moves and would anticipate a lot at the net. I wouldn’t trade ‘Stu’ for anyone,” Mike said of his brother. “We would chase and switch automatically and play aggressively.
“We are so close in age, you could just say that it was a natural deal. I was a grade older and we were the same age for six weeks. We were ultra-competitive and played basketball, football and tennis.”
Mike and Steve were the oldest of four boys. Joe was next, and B.J. was the youngest. With four brothers in the family, there was plenty of competitive blood working through the house.
“About five years ago, we all took a big family trip to Hilton Head,” Steve said. “None of us had (been on the tennis courts) in a while, but we started playing doubles. It was Mike and I against Joe and B.J. in a 10-game pro set.
“They beat us and earned the bragging rights that day. We’ve been hearing about it since. But we still have a state title.”