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Wayne's Wacky Racquet

Among the Nation's Top Junior Tennis Coaches Is Bryan, an Eternally Youthful Man of 49 Who Refuses to Grow Up

June 28, 1996|DANA HADDAD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SOMIS — It is an overcast, sleepy morning at the Cabrillo Racquet Club, a tennis facility not likely to be found without a map and a magnifying glass.

School is out and June gloom is in. But from behind a grove of eucalyptus trees that buffer Cabrillo from an endless expanse of vegetable fields along Highway 118 comes a deep, booming voice that could wake a grizzly in the dead of winter.

Wayne Bryan breaks the silence with a barrage of jive, signaling the 10 a.m. start of his daily junior tennis clinic.

Welcome to Wayne's world, a day full of frayed tennis balls, dimply smiles and the squeal of a hundred kids' squeaky sneakers.

Bryan, co-owner of Cabrillo, is among the nation's top junior tennis coaches. He is also among the nation's most prominent tennis ambassadors, promoting the sport with a traveling stage show that includes his rock 'n roll band.

As part of a new youth outreach project, Bryan conducts mini-clinics during several stops on the Assn. of Tennis Professionals tour, sharing a stage with players such as Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi.

Like most top performers, Bryan is always "on"--even on this relatively drab morning at his rural club, which is located just east of Camarillo.

Leading a group of about 50 8-to-18 year olds through a crisp series of drills, Bryan launches into a running commentary as he feeds balls and keeps score.

"Bush league on the 4-2. . . . Who's got the guts? . . . Man versus woman. Woman wins, 4-1."

He avoids using their real names, opting instead for sobriquets such as "Little Stevie Wonder" and "Hootchy, Cootchy Man."

Some of his students call him "Wayno." The atmosphere is rollicking.

Atop an ivy embankment overlooking the courts, Bob Burk, a tall Texan whose blue eyes glow like Christmas lights, watches. Burk scrapped a successful career in the hotel business nearly two years ago to become Cabrillo's membership director.

"Working with Wayne Bryan . . . shoot. One of the best things that ever happened to me," Berk said.

Berk has discovered a kindred spirit in Bryan, who also shelved a more conventional career. Bryan graduated from Loyola Law School and passed the bar exam several years ago, but unlike two of his brothers, he never took up the practice.

"I'm 49 and I've never worked a day in my life," Bryan said. "How could I not be happy?"

Bryan has produced three national champions. His twin sons, Mike and Bob, are the reigning boys' 18-and-under doubles champs. Mark Ellis, representing Cal Lutheran, captured the NCAA Division III singles title last month.

Bryan's drilling routine, perfected for the past 25 years at quiet Cabrillo, has garnered three prestigious awards. The Southern California Tennis Assn. chose Cabrillo as its organization of the year in 1994 and Bryan was selected Pro of the Year by Wilson Sporting Goods in '95 and Coach of the Year by the United States Professional Tennis Assn. this year.

More accolades are sure to follow, because Bryan is more than a good coach. He also is an entertainer who can please the most-passive spectator and coax enthusiasm out of the most-aloof superstar.

His knowledge and his showmanship was the combination the ATP Tour was looking for. The ATP tabbed the racket-swinging, guitar-playing, joke-telling Bryan to serve as master of ceremonies when it launched two grass-roots programs last year: Kids' Day and Smash Tennis.

Bryan takes a condensed version of his two-hour Cabrillo clinic on about a dozen ATP tour stops a year, playing tennis' Pied Piper while entertaining thousands of children of all backgrounds.

"I'd like to bottle Wayne and bring him back East," said Seena Hamilton, a former entertainment executive living in New York City, who is the founder and promoter of the Easter Bowl, a national junior tournament.

"He is the closest thing to a show-business personality in the tennis world. He has great stand-up charisma."

Bryan, who dreamed of being a rock star as a teenager, tasted a similar lifestyle while sharing the stage with Agassi last summer in Central Park.

His clinics this year will feature Sampras, Stefan Edberg and Thomas Muster, among others.

Bryan has been known to bring out the best from the most hesitant of pros.

Richard Krajicek and Shuzo Matsuoka performed air guitar during a two-day Smash Tennis fete on the Santa Monica Pier as Bryan's band--which occasionally includes Mike on drums and Bob on keyboards--belted out a '60s standard.

"Their expectations were to come in and hit a few tennis balls," said Victor Taylor, the tour's manager of marketing services. "Wayne was able to take these million-dollar superstars and make them relax."

Rock 'n' roll and tennis have always been among Bryan's foremost passions.

Bryan graduated from Hawthorne High in 1965, one class behind Carl Wilson, the youngest of the Beach Boys.

"It was a great era," he said. "It was surfing and sports and rock 'n' roll. It was American Graffiti."

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