Hunstad is ‘architect’ who designed Vermillion’s winning tennis program

Former Vermillion resident Ed Hunstad of Aberdeen was presented one of two achievement awards by the South Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame in ceremonies held Sunday, July 25 at McKennan Park in Sioux Falls. The Plain Talk is grateful to the tennis association for allowing the reprinting of this article about Hunstad, written by Doug Smith.

Ed Hunstad

Ed Hunstad played a lot of basketball throughout his youth, but he didn't take up tennis until he was 18. A group of his Aberdeen Central High chums were tennis players, and Ed decided right after graduation – summer of '62 – that he was going to learn the game too. As a good athlete he picked it up quickly, and with only a limited amount of experience made the Northern State tennis team. His game, of course, developed substantially further as he progressed through his college years, but his expertise came to fruition a decade later while teaching and coaching in Vermillion.

Upon graduating from Northern, Ed was preparing to accept an offer to teach at Patrick Henry Junior High in Sioux Falls when he was drafted by the Army. He served in the infantry in Vietnam and upon exiting the military returned to Aberdeen in early 1969. Resuming life as a civilian, he did a stint of substitute teaching at Aberdeen Roncalli until Vermillion High School hired him in August to teach math and coach multiple sports.

No sooner had Ed arrived in Vermillion than Superintendant Harold Ashbaugh informed him that one of his duties would be to start a tennis team, for boys and for girls. Although the sole line item for tennis funds in the school's budget was for one gross of tennis balls, Ed was determined to build a successful program.

Fully aware of how Aberdeen's junior program of the late 60's had evolved from a grass-roots start among 12-year-olds which culminated in three straight State Championships for Central, Ed promptly jump-started his own program by recruiting 90 young boys and girls to learn the game. He divided them by ability level into three groups of 30 each and began instructing them in the school gymnasium at 6:30 a.m. Anticipating that the greatest progress would come from the youngest ones because they would have more years during which to develop, he ushered them into summer tournament play as soon as he deemed them ready.

Four years later, as Ed's charges were entering high school, Ed moved back to Aberdeen and turned the coaching duties over to Darrell Mueller who inherited the stable of fine players Ed had produced. But the years that Ed had spent building the Vermillion tennis program bore the fruit of his labor: the youngsters whom he had started from scratch had become accomplished players, ready to challenge all corners statewide.

Because it was their lot to have "blossomed" during Aberdeen Central's reign, Ed's boys never won a State Team Championship, yet for three straight years his protégés finished a strong second and were the only team in the state to pose a serious challenge to the Golden Eagles. In 1975 the duo of Scott Hackler and Jon Knutson won a State Doubles title; and they, along with teammates Byron Miller and Rich Raab, all went on to play college tennis for the Coyotes of USD.

Meanwhile, in 1974 – only the second year that the SDHSAA even held a State Championship for girls – the Vermillion girls team "one-upped" their male counterparts by winning the State Team Championship which had eluded the boys. That squad was led by Karen Bernard who also went to win the State Doubles title three years in a row.

Probably never before those years in the mid-70's, and certainly never after that, have so many formidable players emerged from Vermillion – and the architect behind the movement was Ed Hunstad. The legacy he built is one which South Dakota should never forget and Vermillion should ever revere.

Now a general contractor in his mid-60s, Ed has spent the last several decades in Aberdeen, building houses. Tennis programs or houses – little did he know when he signed that contract in Vermillion how much of his life he would spend as a builder.

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