by Marc and Julie Anderson
TOPEKA — Tommy Hunter is not your typical high school graduate.
In fact, he’s just accomplished something that no other Topeka athlete has ever achieved.
Just one day before his graduation from Hayden Catholic High School, Hunter capped off his extraordinary high school athletic career by capturing his fourth consecutive state championship singles title in Class 4A boys tennis. It was a day he had been planning for and dreaming of for at least four years, if not longer.
“It’s definitely a dream come true,” said Hunter. “I definitely wanted to get all four when I came in as a freshman in high school. That was one of my biggest goals, actually, just in my childhood.”
As early as age four, when some of his classmates were playing tee-ball or soccer, Hunter picked up a tennis racket. It was “love” at first sight. And he’s been racking up points and titles ever since.
Take, for example, his extraordinary high school career.
Throughout his four years at the city’s only Catholic high school, Hunter posted a win-loss record of 132-6 in Class 4A singles, claimed four Centennial League titles and enjoyed a perfect senior season of 34-0.
He capped off his high school career with his fourth straight championship on May 14 by defeating Wichita Collegiate team member Lakelin Conrad 6-0, 6-1.
Making the moment perhaps even more special was winning the final state championship in front of a hometown crowd.
This year, the state tournament was hosted by Hayden at Topeka’s Kossover Tennis Center, and dozens of teammates, students, faculty and family were there to cheer for Hunter.
When it was all over, several Hayden students hoisted him on their shoulders after family members and coach James Sandstrom congratulated him with a hug.
Sandstrom had high praise for Hunter both on and off the court.
“As good a tennis player as Tommy is, he’s also a great person,” said Sandstrom. “He’s just an all-around great kid.”
Over the past four years, Sandstrom recalled, he’s had other coaches come up and compliment him on what a good sport Hunter has always been to the other players.
Given Hunter’s abilities, said Sandstrom, Hunter could easily have become a different type of player — one with perhaps a little bit more of an ego, or one not necessarily interested in his teammates.
“That’s just not Tommy,” Sandstrom said. “He’s very humble.”
Some of that humility, perhaps, is the product of the nine years spent at Christ the King Grade School in Topeka, where he remains a parishioner today. Hunter said his faith is absolutely essential in his life.
“I pray to God right before matches,” Hunter said. “And it helps me to realize that no matter what happens — win or lose — it’s going to be OK.”
Hunter said Hayden’s entire tennis team prays together before every meet.
“It makes you realize what’s really important,” he said.