As Randy Barker sees it, he can lay the entire blame at his doctor's feet.

For the past seven years, Barker has volunteered with the Grove High School tennis team.

It's an unpaid position, though - as Barker explains - it has benefits beyond monetary value.

But it all began, because of a request made by Dr. Richard Tidwell, to become more physically active.

"He said, go out to the tennis courts at 230 p.m., the tennis team needs help," Barker recalled.

So he did, approaching GHS Tennis Coach Todd Kerr with his own request.

"I said give me two weeks, it won't hurt my feelings if you can't use me," Barker said. "Seven years later, I'm still here."

As the lay coach, Barker assists Kerr with both the girls and boys tennis teams. During practice this includes helping students with their drills.

"I feed a lot of balls," Barker said with a smile. "I work on form, and make sure they are staying with form. We try to catch the kids before they have a lot of bad habits."

During matches, Barker stays on the sidelines, monitoring a portion of the team and providing coaching tips and water as needed.

"We have some really good kids on the tennis team," Barker said. "Most are responsible, pay attention to you and what you tell them to do.

"They try their best, which renews my hope in the coming generation."

Life after retirement

Barker said he worked hard during his career and saved money, so he could "have a very good lifestyle after retirement."

"The reason it was so important, is so we could work with kids and give back," Barker said. "I worked hard for 35 years, so I could make more of a difference."

My wife [Eddisu] and I wanted to have that [volunteering] as an interest. It would be easy to retire, and get all caught up in ourselves."

Helping with the team, he said, as well as other volunteer efforts, has helped the couple stay plugged into the community.

"It's broadened my aspect of what retirement is like," Barker said. "It's not inward focused, but outward focused."

Barker thinks, while his wife works with younger students, his niche is working with high school students - on the cusp of adulthood.

Spanning the generations

For Barker, serving as a lay tennis coach has brought rewards beyond the courts.

For several students, he has become both coach and mentor, helping them as they prepare for graduation and transition to college.

For Taylor Vazquez, Barker's lessons not only helped her learn the sport, but about volunteering as well.

"Randy and his wife Eddisu, showed me how retired life can be the most giving and rewarding time of your life," Vazquez said. 

Barker also helped Vazquez, as she began to determine her career path, while still at Grove High School.

"He was the first person to get me interested in engineering as a possible career," Vazquez said. "He encouraged me, answered all of my questions, checked up on me to make sure classes were going alright."

Vazquez, now pursuing an engineering career, said Barker's help also extended into with writing recommendation letters as she applied for scholarships, and later, internship advice.  

"I am currently interning with ExxonMobil in Beaumont, Texas - which is an incredible opportunity, made much easier to obtain in some small part by his help," Vazquez said. "With any good friend, I know that if I should ever need anything, he's only a phone call away."

Braden Wadley, who was part of the tennis team to advance to state competition, said Barker has taught him many things.

"One important [lesson] is that there's more to tennis than the skill," Wadley said. "You have to have the right mindset to be successful. 

"Your attitude on court directly impacts your game."

Wadley said he's learned a lot, by observing Barker's actions as well. 

"How he's impacted my life is not from what he says, it's from watching what he does," Wadley said. "He does so much for the tennis [team] as far as time, and expenses.

"But that's not the only thing he's involved with. Watching and admiring what he does makes me really want to give back and help better the world."

His tennis colleague, Mason Allen agreed.

"He has been a really big role model for me and others," Allen said. "I've learned a lot about tennis, but more importantly, I've learned a lot of life lessons and different ways to look at things.

"A lot have to do with tennis, but also how to apply [the lessons] to life. The stuff we use on court can be applied anywhere. Everything he says is universal."

Allen said he respects Barker for serving as a volunteer, saying it means a lot to him as a student.

"[He's taught me] to definitely do it," Mason said. "Knowing what he's done for us, makes me want to [volunteer] and pass it on." 

Lending a hand

It's also given him a fellow coach, to share in a sport he's loved since the age of 9.

"Coach Kerr, the best I can describe him, he's a man of faith, and his faith is everything to him," Barker said. "It's so great to work with someone like that. He has high standards. For him, it's all about character on [and off] the court."

As Kerr sees it, he's the beneficiary of Barker's efforts.

"He and his wife, Eddisu, help our program so much," Kerr said, saying the pair are always there to lend a hand, be it in a fundraising effort, team event off court, or at a summer camp for younger players.

"He is a great example on how to serve other people and put others first," Kerr said. "He doesn't just talk about it, he does it. He lives it.

"Personally, he's helped me, [because] I couldn't do boys and girls by myself. He allows me to coach both."

Barker said he hopes both he and Kerr help their students build character skills, that help them not only on the courts, but in life.

"I think they know what we would tolerate or reinforce [in] conduct on the court," Barker said. "I hope we teach them to be good examples and teach them responsibility."