When Peter Davidson took over the boys’ tennis team at Laguna Beach High, he had few goals other than to “clean up the mess” surrounding the school’s tennis program. Now, the first year coach, who had to hit the court running after succeeding Aaron Talarico just before the season began, has his team on the verge of its fourth CIF championship. They will play for the title against the winner of Westminster’s La Quinta and Calabasas’ Viewpoint on Wednesday, June 1, at the Claremont Club in Claremont.
Davidson took the Laguna position in part to spend more time with his son, Taylor, a freshman who went out for the team because his tennis-loving grandfather offered to buy him a car if he made varsity. “It was pure bribery,” said Taylor’s father and now coach, chuckling over his father’s lavish offer.
A long-time Laguna resident and member of the school’s 1980 CIF championship team, Davidson (Class of 81) has seen many changes, both good and bad, in the city’s tennis culture over the years. Solid community support and the addition of several new courts are among the good things. But an ongoing feud between local teaching pros, recreational players and the high school over the use of district courts has left a bad taste in his mouth.
One of those pros, former girls coach Alec Horton, became a casualty of that feud when he relinquished his position over what he felt was an inequitable court usage arrangement between he and city-sponsored tennis instructors. Horton claims school officials told him he would be able to use the courts to start a tennis clinic during the off-season.
“There were all these pros down there that were bad mouthing other pros,” said Davidson, who no longer gives private lessons and has no plans for a summer program.
Still, Davidson sees both sides of the argument. “[Instructors] need to make a living,” he said.
A laid back, life-long surfer, Davidson eschews controversy. He would much rather be riding waves than making them. It was his love of surfing that kept him from realizing his full potential on the courts. “You can check out Rock Pile as you walk across the street from class to class,” he said, recalling his high school days when his dedication to tennis often wavered at the sight of rising surf.
Although Davidson said his new position “turned out to be a little more time than I had bargained for,” he has enjoyed helping young players develop their skills and love for the game, like he did when he was the girls JV coach at Los Alamitos High and as an instructor at Balboa Bay Club. “It’s nice to be able to make an impact on somebody,” he said.
Still hoping to find his niche in the sport, Davidson tried to walk on at Arizona University. He left with a bruised ego and a degree. In his late 20s, he tried to make a comeback at Orange Coast College, where he enrolled in some classes just to compete for the school’s tennis team. “I sort of had this dream that I was going to get really good at tennis, so I was chasing it,” Davidson said, laughing in retrospect.
However unrealistic the dream, his son’s impending birth brought him back to reality. And though he began to express his love of the game by teaching it to his son, Davidson continued to play at a high level, maintaining solid USTA rankings among southern Californians in his age group.
Three years ago, however, severe pain forced him off the court and into surgery. He wound up with metal implants in both hips and a prognosis that would send most middle-aged athletes to the nearest recliner, TV remote in hand. “I thought I was done with tennis forever,” he said.
Six months later, Davidson won the Balboa Bay Club over 45 singles tournament and is currently ranked fourth among USTA over-45s in southern California. The unbearable pain that used to keep him up nights “seems like a distant memory now,” he said.
Davidson now draws on his storied tennis past when he instructs his guys never to give up their passion for the sport, taking it as far as they can while they can.
Just one win away from a CIF title, Davidson looks back on his first season, one that saw Laguna demolish its Orange Coast league competition and first four CIF opponents. “I’d like to get the team out of division IV and into division III,” he said. “The division we play in now is a joke.”
Whether Davidson will be around long enough to see Laguna move up will depend on life’s circumstances. “There are a couple of business things that have to work out for me to [continue coaching],” he said. “I’m not retired and have to feed my family.”