Decatur, AL—The National Federation of High School Coaches Association recently announced that former Tiger tennis great Kyle Justice has been selected to receive the 2016-17 Alabama Coach of the Year award for Girls Tennis. According to his nomination letter from Robert B. Gardner, Executive Director, National Federation of State High School Associations, and Richard G. Baker, Chair, NFHS Coaches Association Advisory Committee, "You were specifically nominated by your state association, the Alabama High School Athletic Association, as the most deserving recipient for this honor."
"I can't say I'm surprised by Kyle's success as a coach," said Marion Military Institute head tennis coach Charles Wright. "What I was surprised by was how Kyle transformed himself into such a fine player while he was here at MMI. When Kyle came to try out for a tennis scholarship, I was taken aback by how awkward he was on the court. Numerous teams passed on him because he didn't exhibit any signs of natural tennis ability. In fact, I thought he was a lost cause. After I hit him a few balls, I was ready to call it a day. But then I did something I typically don't do in a try-out situation. I began hitting balls into the corners of the court, making Kyle run for a lot of balls. I didn't think Kyle would last long and just give up. To my surprise, Kyle chased down each and every ball. He tried so doggone hard and was so tenacious that, by the time we were through hitting, I was so impressed by him that I offered him a tennis scholarship on the spot. You can teach a kid to hit a tennis ball, but you can't teach heart. And Kyle's heart, during his two years here from 2009-11, grew like the Grinch's—at least three sizes, probably four."
Justice graduated from MMI in 2011 with an Associate's degree in Science and claimed three Alabama Community College Conference tennis titles during his time at the school (Flight 6 Singles in 2010 and Flight 3 Singles and Flight 2 Doubles in 2011). In 2010, he led MMI to its best finish to date (13th) on the national stage.
Upon his graduation from MMI, Justice headed back home to northern Alabama to continue his education at Athens State University. He set his sights on getting a degree in history, and once his degree was in hand, he was going to teach history in high school and coach tennis.
"I remember the day Kyle came into my office to tell me about his future plans after Marion," Wright said. "He told me with a straight face that he was going to major in history at Athens State and then go on to teach and coach tennis. Now Kyle wasn't a big reader at the time, and I said to him, 'Do you really want to major in history? You realize, with that major, you'll be reading a lot. You love to be outdoors. You love to be active. Why don't you major in physical education? Become a P.E. teacher.' Well, you would have thought I had just uttered the most asinine advice ever. 'I'll never get a job with a P.E. degree,' he snapped. And then, that was that. Off he went to read. Less than a semester later I get a call from Kyle. 'Coach, guess what I'm majoring in now?' he asked. I didn't even need to answer his question."
Justice went on to receive his B.A. degree in Physical Education from Athens State University. And he was right about one thing, though: He was unable to get a job with a P.E. degree. Instead, he was able to get three jobs. He is currently a physical education teacher at Benjamin Davis Elementary School, the head boys' and girls' tennis coach at Decatur High School, and the assistant tennis pro at Point Mallard Tennis.
In 2017, Justice led Decatur High School to its first tennis title in school history. His girls' team was pronounced the 2017 Class 6A Girls Tennis State Champions.
"I'd like to congratulate Kyle on a job well done," Wright said. "I couldn't be happier for him. He's such a fine young man. The ugly duckling turned into a swan."