It began innocently enough.

Fresh out of college, Dave Steinmeyer was asked for his interest in coaching a high school tennis team. Not that he had been around the sport in high school or college.

“The guy at Webster Groves (High School) didn’t want to coach tennis anymore,” Steinmeyer recalled. “They asked if I’d be interested. I said, ‘I don’t have much experience.’ And that’s how it all started.’”

Call it the quiet seed to planting what became one of the most successful coaching careers in the Show-Me State. Put it this way, he eventually earned the nickname of “Mr. Tennis” in mid-Missouri, and his success is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is proud to induct Steinmeyer with the Class of 2021.

Steinmeyer coached tennis for 52 years (1956 to 2017), including 31 years at the high school level. Much of his success played out at Jefferson City High School from 1976 to 1998, with his teams earning a 447-107-2 record – a nearly 81 percent win percentage.

Two of his Jefferson City girls teams won state championships (1987, 1993), and five others earned top three finishes (state runner-up in 1990 & 1992; third place in 1986, 1991, 1994). Additionally, he coached Kristen Jordan as she won three singles state titles (1992, 1994, 1995), and two doubles state championship teams: Debbie Massengale and Laura Steinmeyer in 1987, and Massengale and Julie Pemberton in 1988.

Along the way, five Jefferson City boys teams earned top four finishes, including a state runner-up in 1991.  Matt Scott and Jake Easter won a doubles title.

The secret to his success?

“The secret was having a lot of quality kids,” Steinmeyer said. “It was pretty enjoyable to coach. The Lord blessed me with a lot of people around me who helped me to be successful.”

A Webster Groves and Westminster graduate, Steinmeyer may have initially taken on the role to help out his alma maters. But he found himself truly enjoying the sport.

His Webster Groves teams (1956-1966) enjoyed some successes, partly because Steinmeyer threw his energy into learning everything he could about tennis.

Early on, he signed up for a clinic run by Butch Bucholz, with makeshift tennis courts set up in a St. Louis gym.

“I enjoyed the game so much that I became interested in it,” Steinmeyer said.

A few years later, one of his doubles teams qualified for state. On the way there, they stopped by Westminster College to see the campus, and Steinmeyer ran into the college president.

That chance meeting led Steinmeyer spending the next decade coaching tennis, basketball and handling numerous other coaching duties there.

Down the highway, Jefferson City school officials were paying attention.

“My son John improved his level of tennis so much that, when he was 12, I took him to play in an 18-year-old tournament in Jefferson City,” said Steinmeyer, who heard the high school was seeking a tennis coach.

“They were,” Steinmeyer laughed, “probably looking more at John than they were at me.”

Steinmeyer never had a full-time assistant but was grateful for Steve Shockley volunteering for several years.

“The real gift I had was the idea of dedication,” Steinmeyer said. “I zeroed in on making sure we were disciplined and dedicated to being as good as we could possibly be.”

Steinmeyer kept a book recording each day players hit tennis balls. With two-hour practices, he avoided time spent on doubles, preferring instead to enhance skills with one-on-one drills.

He also built youth participation numbers by working summers at the Park Board and later the YMCA. His teams also took advantage of the four courts at the high school, the six at a racquet club (now YMCA) and 11 at Washington Park.

Additionally, Steinmeyer enhanced Jefferson City’s chances at state by making certain the Jays fielded a quality doubles team. Until 1987, doubles wins counted for 2.5 points while singles wins counted for 2 points to determine state team championships.

After retiring as a teacher, he then spent two decades teaching tennis at the local YMCA.

Best of all, Steinmeyer had overwhelming support from his wife, Martha, who understood all those trips to the courts with John and daughters Robyn and Laura.

“She’s really the backbone of all this,” Steinmeyer said.

Which is why he beams about the career he got to enjoy.

“For me, it was just a wonderful experience, and that includes all of the kids who played,” Steinmeyer said. “I didn’t have to work a day in my life.”