Life Lessons: Delta Girls Tennis head coach Tim Cleland along with players and assistant coaches reflect ahead of their State Finals appearance

June 1, 2022 Delta Girls Tennis practiced at Delta High School for their June 3-4, 2022 State Finals matches. 

Delta Girl’s Tennis is scheduled to face Oldenberg High School in the State Finals Tournament Quarterfinals at noon June 3, 2022 at Center Grove High School. If victorious, they will face the winner of Fishers High School V. Evansville Memorial High School in the State Finals Tournament Semifinals June 4 at 10 a.m. at Center Grove High School. The State Championship is scheduled for 2 p.m. June 4 at Center Grove High School. 

Over 1,100 career wins. 

32 seasons as Delta Boys’ Tennis and 26 seasons as Delta Girls’ Tennis head coach. 

25 straight Sectional Championships and seven straight Regional Championships in Girls’ Tennis. 

Five Semi-State Championships. 

All-State Tennis player at Hauser High School in Hope, Indiana his senior year. 

Indiana Tennis Hall of Famer. 

Delta Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis head coach Tim Cleland has accomplished more than any other active coach in the state of Indiana in any sport, and very few coaches have approached his accolades throughout Indiana High School sports history. As he and the Lady Eagles embark on yet another trip to the Indiana Girls’ Tennis State Finals, Cleland reflected on his time spent on a paper route in Columbus, Indiana as a young boy leading him to study journalism at Ball State University (1981-1987) and write for the Ball State Daily News. 

Once he was with the former Muncie Evening Press after graduating from Ball State, Cleland said he remembered going to cover Delta High School’s Tennis Sectional in 1989, something that would indirectly redirect the course of his life. 

“I remember their [Delta’s] No. 1 Singles player was a very good freshman and I was a good player, and I was looking for someone to practice against at the YMCA in the evenings, so I approached his parents during the match and said, ‘hey, if he's ever looking for anybody to hit with, I'm happy to hit with him,’” Cleland said. “If you offer that to a bunch of people, most would turn you down because they don't know you and they already have their people that they regularly hit with, but in this case, it worked out and I started hitting with this player during the offseason, and just a few months after that he tells me that his coach was on going on maternity leave at high school and wanted to know if I would be interested in coaching the team for one year and that one year turned into about 32 now. It was just a fluke.”

Cleland said he remembered when the Muncie Evening Press merged with The Star Press in 1995 and he became the first sports editor of the publication. However, after a year of trying to balance sports journalism with coaching, he said he knew he had to choose between the two. 

“If you've played athletics and you're competitive and you get into coaching and getting the right situation, I think it really does get in your blood,” Cleland said. “It really gives you that fix of the competitiveness and the best thing I like about it is just trying to see where you can go from day one to the last day of the season. How can you help an individual player, how can you help the whole team grow significantly over the course of a season and then you get to do it all over again the next season, and the next season, and the next season. Kids graduate but coaches don't.” 

It was done. The initial fluke turned into a career. 

Cleland returned to Ball State to earn his teaching license so he could still stay connected to journalism and have time to coach. Since 1998, he has taught journalism at Delta High School, as well as picking up yearbook, newspaper and Eagle Zone News over time. 

He said coaching and journalism go hand-in-hand because both involve watching something evolve over time result in physically seeing a successful product. Not only does journalism and coaching relate, but coaching and teaching does too, Cleland said.

With experience, Cleland has shifted from making his first priority creating great players to creating great people. It’s about teaching life lessons to his athletes as they move on from athletics and into the rest of their lives, he said.

“I'm not going into every day’s practice saying, ‘what life lesson can I teach today,’ what I'm doing is giving a lifetime of experience in various situations and trying to think how in any given moment, how is this going to help this person gain some skill or grow up in some way that's going to help them, because in the end what we're trying to do with our tennis team is we're trying to raise adults that are going to be good, productive adults who have great families and be a good part of their community,” Cleland said. “We're not trying to raise professional tennis players…we're trying to raise professional adults.” 

Delta Girls and Boys Tennis head coach Tim Cleland begins a new drill at practice June 1, 2022 at Delta High School by gathering the Eagles around to instruct them. Delta Girls Tennis is set to compete in the State Finals June 3-4, 2022. (Kyle Smedley/DN)

Cleland said he tries to write down life lessons every season for both the Boys’ and Girls’ team, because he believes this method helps him follow through on teaching them. In his scorer’s book for the 2022 Girls’ season, he wrote down six.

  1. You get out of life what you put into it. 

  2. Hard work and enthusiasm are the cornerstones to success. (from John Wooden) 

  3. He who is good at making excuses is seldom good for anything else. (from Benjamin Franklin) 

  4. Integrity is vital in tennis and in life.

  5. Team success requires individual sacrifice and selflessness.

  6. First class costs a little bit more, but it's worth it.

Delta Tennis assistant coach Tate Dishman played tennis at Delta from 2007-2010, where he graduated in 2011. Since 2018, he has helped his former coach as an assistant, however, he said the tennis court isn’t the only place he applies the knowledge he’s gained from Cleland. 

“He's been around for every bit of half of my life,” Dishman said. “So I look up to him and the role model he is is very much like a father figure, [and] yes, it's been the last five years as a coach, but our relationship when I was in high school and his mentoring has always played a big part in my life.” 

Dishman is the oldest of five children, with the youngest of which going into his freshman year of high school where he will play tennis, just like his four older siblings. Delta Tennis has become a staple of the Dishman siblings, Tate said. 

Although Cleland said he hasn’t always approached coaching this way, Dishman said as long as he has been around Delta Tennis, Cleland has always made life lessons a focal point.

“At the end of the day, it's always been, ‘do things the right way and the end results kind of come,’ I think that's kind of been his motto, so, we look at it from the life lessons perspective,” Dishman said. “If we're doing everything the right way, there are results around the corner, and it happens from the hard work and the work ethic that the girls and boys put in, and that just that helps alter tennis success.” 

Senior Gwendolyn Clark is the No. 1 Singles player for Delta Girls’ Tennis and has 18 wins on the season, an impressive mark Cleland said. Clark said she moved to Delta in sixth grade and has been entrenched in Delta Tennis since, as her friends were involved and she loves the sport. 

Through her time with Delta Girls’ Tennis, Clark agreed with Dishman in that she believes Cleland is most concerned with creating athletes of high character and talked about what she has learned most during her four years with Cleland. 

“I think the big thing is dedication to something and following through,” Clark said. “He always says, ‘follow through with what you've put your mind to and what you've said and what you pledged that you'll do.’ I think he's just taught me to hold myself to a high standard and to know that I can and everybody who does this can achieve what you can set your mind to and your thoughts determine your reality.”

Clark plans on going to college at the University of Miami (Ohio) to study political science in hopes of one day becoming a lawyer. She was top 15 in her class academically and was an All-State Choir member as well as a part of Muncie Central’s State Championship winning Marching Band in 2021, as Delta has no such program. 

She said in her high school career and in her future, Clark thinks about something Cleland told her that stuck with her and motivates her.

“[Cleland] said one time, ‘when people go and see a movie they're not going to say, ‘oh let's go see an average movie,’ right? They're gonna say, 'let's go see a really good movie,’ so people don't seek mediocrity and I don't want to seek mediocrity in my life either,” Clark said. “I really really want to be the best that I can be in whatever I try and do.” 

Freshman No. 3 Singles player Brylee Beckley didn’t know if she would be able to make the varsity team at the beginning of the season and when she did, she got off to a 1-5 start. Now, Beckley is 13-8 and will compete in the State Finals. 

Beckley said although she is a two-sport athlete, a State Champion Delta Cheerleader, and put in tennis workouts during cheerleading season, her turn around was all about her buying  into what Cleland and Dishman were telling her. During practice, Cleland often plays against the Eagles to help the athletes understand his messages better, something Beckley said has helped her.

“I think it's really beneficial because after the point is over he can give me a correction on what I should do differently with that ball and it's just easier to be able to visually learn with him out there hitting,” Beckley said. 

Both Clark and Beckley lost in Delta Girls’ Tennis’ Semi-State Championship victory and look to rebound from said losses to help the Eagles win the first State Championship in program history. 

Delta Girls Tennis senior Gwendolyn Clark practices June 1, 2022 at Delta High School for the Eagles' upcoming State Finals matches June 3-4, 2022. Clark is the No. 1 Singles player for the Eagles and has earned 18 wins on the season. (Kyle Smedley/DN)

For Clark, she has been playing every match since Sectionals like it’s her last, because it is. She said a State Championship victory would mean everything.

“It was kind of sad, Saturday I was like, ‘oh no, this could literally be my last match,’ as I got done, but all these matches, potentially, could be my last,” Clark said. “I could have one more tennis match in my high school career, so for sure, I want to play to the best of my ability and I am rooting for my team to play to the best of their ability. I think we're all well prepared and I think we're ready to finish the fight in a sense.” 

For Beckley, she said a State Championship victory would mean her hard work has paid off not only for her, but for her teammates.

“Even though I did lose [in Semi-State], I felt like I was playing really well,” Beckley said. “So, I just want to come out again this weekend and play as well as I did and just hope the last set switches from 4-6 to 6-4.”

For Cleland, he said he’s approaching the State Finals like any other match, an approach he takes for every match the Eagles participate in. However, Clark and two other seniors on Delta Girls’ Tennis, made it to the State Finals their freshman year before their sophomore season was taken away due to COVID-19, resulting in this trip carrying a little more meaning. 

“That's different than anything I've experienced before and I'm just proud of them [for] having that grit to regroup, stick with it and get back, to bookend what they did as freshmen,” Cleland said. “So, that's exciting, and we've done it this year. In the top seven, we've got three seniors, two juniors, one sophomore and one freshman, so it's kids from all different grades kind of chipping in [so] that's kind of fun too.” 

At the end of the day, Delta Boys’ and Girls’ Tennis head coach Tim Cleland knows he has earned his accomplishments, however, he credits his former (and current) players, as well as his over 20 former (and current) assistant coaches with putting it all together. Beyond winning titles and tennis matches, Cleland said he’s proud of making a Teacher Appreciation Night possible every season, as well as SmashCancer, an annual (since 2012) charity event that takes place during the Yorktown High School V. Delta Girls’ Tennis match.

In 2022, Delta and Yorktown raised a record $15,500.

With all these accomplishments in mind, Cleland is still looking for his first State Championship with Delta Girls’ Tennis. Cleland said as much as a State Championship would mean for the Eagles and himself, he will still head to the State Finals striving to teach life lessons. 

Contact Kyle Smedley with comments via email at or on Twitter @smedley1932.


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