By Phil Anastasia
It wouldn't be true to say that Bill Kingston decided to coach tennis on a lark.
But he didn't pursue the position with passionate intensity, either.
"I was the basketball coach," Kingston said, referring to events in 1974 that changed his life as well as the course of South Jersey tennis history.
"I knew coaching tennis wouldn't require the same level of intensity, the same level of preparation.
"I was asked if I would coach the tennis team. I said, 'OK, I'll do it.'"
Thirty-nine years, 12 state championships and 36 South Jersey championships later, Kingston stands on the verge of a remarkable milestone. His next victory will be his 1,000th.
"It's a round number," said Kingston, whose team likely will notch the historic victory Saturday in a 12-team tournament at Delbarton School in Morristown.
Kingston, 70, will become the first coach in any sport in South Jersey history to record 1,000 victories. He's No. 1 in the nation in boys' tennis coaching victories with a record of 999-180. (SEE CHART BELOW)
Kingston played tennis as well as basketball at Moorestown, graduating in 1961. He played basketball at Princeton, where he was a roommate of former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley.
If Kingston wasn't exactly a reluctant tennis coach at first, he admits he wasn't fanatically about the job, either.
"I probably should have gone to some clinics and gotten some top-notch instruction in those early years," Kingston said. "But I kind of played it by ear."
His results were remarkable. With a quiet but steely competitiveness, Kingston turned Moorestown into a state power in tennis and raised South Jersey's stature in the sport.
His philosophy was simple: Play a lot of matches and play the best competition.
"I have always viewed the Moorestown tennis program as an exemplar of everything a high
school tennis program should be," said Haddonfield coach Jeff Holman, who has a 972-172 record in boys' tennis since taking over the Bulldogs' program in 1976 . "When I was beginning my coaching career, Bill had already established a tradition of excellence at Moorestown. I learned from him what it takes to put together a team that can compete successfully against the best teams in the state."
Kingston, who also has coached the Moorestown girls' program since 1982, has led the Quakers to state titles in boys' tennis in 1978, 1981, 2004, 2007 and 2008 in Group 3 and in 1985, 1987, 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 in Group 2.
His teams have won South Jersey titles in 1975 and in every season since 1977 except 2005. His best individual player was Mike Sell, a 1991 graduate who was a two-time state individual champion.
"Every once in a while I opened a can of balls and gave him a word of encouragement," Kingston said, downplaying his coaching impact on Sell's career. "He was a tremendous player and tremendous leader. I was the beneficiary, not the benefactor."
Although Sell was an all-time great, and Moorestown has featured several top individual players, Kingston's teams have been marked by their depth, balance and doubles play.
"I was amazed early on by how good the best teams in the state were in doubles," Kingston said. "I realized that to have a good team you have good doubles teams.
"That was the key for the first 20 years or so. The first time we won a state title (1978), we lost at first and second singles and won the bottom three positions."
Kingston retired two years ago after 40 years of teaching social studies at Moorestown. He said he likely won't coach the girls' tennis again but hopes to continue with the boys' program "as long as they'll have me."
Kingston said he still remembers his first win, which came at Rancocas Valley in the early spring of 1974. He credits assistant coaches such as Rick Wright and Steve Dickerson with playing a major role in the development of the program.
"What I think about is how many really great players and really great people I've been fortunate to be associated with," Kingston said of his coaching career. "That's really what this (1,000 wins) is all about.
"I never would have done it this long if I wasn't surrounded by such great people."
SOUTH JERSEY COACHING LEADERS
Here's a list of South Jersey's leaders in coaching wins in different sports:
* Joe Frappolli, Florence 275-116-5
Russ Spicer, Haddonfield/Moorestown/Paulsboro/Cinnaminson 603-287
* Paul Rodio, St. Augustine Prep 781-219
* Dave Troiano, Wildwood 603-295
Brian Gibney, Shawnee 665-138-58
*Jamie McGroarty, Delsea/Eastern 312-96-34
* Claudia McCarthy, Millville 522-181-113
*Bill Kingston, Moorestown 999-180
* Jeff Holman, Haddonfield, 994-122
Contact Phil Anastasia at email@example.com. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.