Eagles' Draper relishes latest award

By Bill Althaus
Grain Valley tennis coach Randy Draper talks with senior Chelsea Gorden during a match this season. Draper was named the NFHS/MSHSAA Boys Tennis Coach of the Year for 2019-20. There was no boys season this spring but Draper was honored for his overall work.

Michelle Draper can keep a secret.

Ditto for Grain Valley High School activities director Brandon Hart.

That’s why tennis coach Randy Draper had such a stunned look on his face when he walked into a conference room at the high school and saw his wife, Hart and Kenny Seifert, the Missouri State High School Activities Association director of prep tennis.

“I had just talked to Michelle a few minutes before I walked into the conference room,” said Draper, who still coaches tennis and girls basketball after recently retiring as a physical education teacher at Grain Valley Middle School.

“I got a call from Brandon, who said he wanted me to run by the school, so I go up there, and there’s Michelle, Brandon and Kenny, and I’m wondering what on earth is going on.”

In a surprise move that caught the veteran coach off guard, he was named the National Federation of State High School Associations/MSHSAA Boys Tennis Coach of the Year for 2019-20.

“We worked to keep it a surprise, and we were able to pull it off,” Hart said. “The look on Drape’s face when he walked into the room was priceless.”

Although the award comes following a 2019-20 boys season that was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is more of a lifetime achievement award that honors him for his 10-year boys coaching career and 21-year tenure coaching the girls at Grain Valley.

“He takes kids who pick up tennis rackets as freshmen and turns them into champions – on and off the court,” Hart added. “There’s no one quite like Randy Draper.”

When he started the girls program back in 1999, he sent his players out to pull weeds from the cracks on the Armstrong Park courts – courts that are no longer there.

“I think we did as much weed pulling as playing that year,” cackled Draper, with his familiar laugh punctuating the comment. “We practiced there that year and didn’t play any matches at home.”

The high school is now the home to one of the premier tennis complexes in the state.

“Our school has been incredibly supportive of tennis,” Draper said. “We have tennis facilities that some small colleges would love to have. It’s unbelievable to see how far we’ve come, and we’ve been able to do it because of the support of our administration and the kids who decided they wanted to try a new sport.”

While he said he is not in the teaching/coaching profession to win awards, he said this one is special.

“When you get an award like this, especially an award that just catches you totally off guard, you get to reflect on your programs and all the kids and all the success they’ve had,” Draper said. “And that’s pretty cool.”