I joined Bill Budke in the middle of a sunny day in June, surrounded by fifth and sixth graders intent on their Track and Field Day performances. “The time has gone by so quickly,” Bill said. Two little girls interrupted, asking if this were an interview. When they heard that it was, they told me that Bill had taught them a lot about tennis.
One of the keys to his success, according to Bill Budke, is that he has known the students and their families through Middle and Upper Schools. He knew which players were prone to migraines and which ones would show up in the rain.
Bill Budke was a graduate student in finance at George Washington University in 1973 when he assisted Pauline Betz, giving tennis lessons at Sidwell Friends School. That fall, the new Athetic Director, Fred Froelicher, coached tennis, and Bill offered to help. For little pay, but with great gusto, Bill Budke took on more responsibility for tennis classes, and when Libby Barton took over as Athletic Director, she formalized Bill’s relationship with the school, giving him a respectable salary.
At that time, around 1981, Lee McVaugh was Varsity Tennis Coach for both the boys and Jane Sisco for the girls. The boys had a JV team, which Bill coached from 1974 until he became varsity coach in 1982. Under Bill Budke’s guidance, the girls’ tennis season shifted to the fall and included a JV squad. When Anne Renninger came to Sidwell Friends to coach girls’ basketball, track, and tennis, the teams started to play in the ISL. After Bill Budke’s young varsity girls’ tennis team lost one of their first matches, they gave up any idea of a championship. But they began to win their games, and in those less competitive days, the girls and their families were not paying attention to rankings and statistics. When the girls won their last match against Holy Child, winning the ISL tennis championship, they were shocked to hear the news from Coach Budke.
Sidwell Friends athletics is a program that is built up over time, with a firm foundation of skills work in Lower School. Many student athletes have strengths developed in several sports, giving the teams depth. “My boys’ tennis team was the last IAC championship in any sport – around 1996.”
Contributing to the education of Sidwell Friends tennis players is the summer program of camps headed by Bill Budke – ten weeks in June, July, and August. Bill rarely has a day off, and has not taken even one day of sick leave (he does have an occasional dentist appointment). Sidwell Friends families and the neighborhood also know Bill Budke through the Sidwell Friends tennis club. Drive by the campus almost every day of the year, and you will see a tennis game in progress!
Bill summed up his experience at Sidwell Friends as a Clint Eastwood movie – “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” (Who else thinks he looks a lot like Clint?) His conversation focused on the good – his colleagues, the students and their families. Bill also appreciates the part he plays in the long history of an institution, his years linking and overlapping with some of the great names like Alice Dater and the young people at the school today.
When he is not playing tennis, Bill enjoys dogs – he recently lost his Golden Retreiver, but boards animals at his home and plans to adopt another Golden soon. He collects wines, enjoys special wine dinners, and a select champagne club. He plays golf, watches DVDs, and has traveled a great deal. In fact, Bill told me that he was one of the first “regular” Americans to go to China in February of 1978. He had been spending time in Hong Kong when the travel ban was lifted. On his tour, he met a woman who was also from the DC area – “I teach your grandchild tennis,” he said to the mother of Senator Joe Tydings!
Bill Budke has been at Sidwell Friends through seven Athletic Directors, five heads of school, and a multitude of division heads. He will be around the school this summer, and probably after that. Sidwell Friends has been his home. Although not a Quaker, Bill appreciates and supports Quaker values. “I would never work at a place or play tennis at a place that had exclusionary policies,” he told me.
“Will you miss him?” I asked Ann Monahan, who was rounding up Middle School kids. “He’s a lot of fun,” she replied.
Talking with Bill Budke reminded me how much fun it is to share time with the faculty and staff, the children and families of Sidwell Friends School. I hope that he enjoys the next chapter almost as much! And I hope that the school is successful in finding a successor for this living legend.