Pioneer Tennis Honors Its Own

New No. 1 singles court named for beloved teammate, mentor, and friend — DLaf
Denton Ketels

Distinctive for a tradition of lifelong connections among alumni, Grinnell’s athletic teams instill an abiding sense of community that Ishan Bhadkamkar ’13 understood before he even enrolled.

The Bay Area native was a high school senior when he first visited campus. He had been attracted to Grinnell because of the strength of its academics, its small liberal arts setting, and the tennis program. But it was the weekend he spent talking with senior all-American tennis captain Dan LaFountaine ’09 that had a life-changing effect.

“Dan talked about the tennis program, the College, and about life in general. It left a big impression on me. I remember thinking that if there are people like Dan LaFountaine at this school, then this is definitely the place I want to be,” Bhadkamkar says. 

LaFountaine graduated and began a career in New Mexico before Bhadkamkar arrived as a first-year student, but the two exchanged contact information and stayed in touch. Over the next four years they developed an enduring friendship, connecting in person at alumni tennis matches and on the team’s annual spring trip to Florida. 

Lifelong family

“Dan became someone I considered to be a mentor and even a ‘big brother,’” Bhadkamkar says. “You wouldn’t think that kind of thing would be possible between two people who didn’t actually go to school at the same time, but it is really a testament to him as an individual, as well as to Coach [Andy] Hamilton ’85 and the Grinnell tennis program. 

“I grew to appreciate that when you play tennis at Grinnell you’re entering a lifelong family,” Bhadkamkar says. “I feel that even more so now that I’ve graduated and kept in touch with those who are both older and younger than me. Dan cared so much about the Grinnell tennis program. It’s fair to say he is the best representation of that type of connection.”

Honor his legacy

When LaFountaine died in February of 2013 of a health complication while traveling for business, the shock rippled through the Grinnell tennis community. Last summer, that community had a collective epiphany: It resolved to combine the effort to upgrade the Grinnell tennis facilities with a commemoration of the player who had inspired and unified consecutive four-year cohorts of Pioneer tennis players through his passion for the game and for the College.  

“We all knew the College needed to upgrade the old courts built in 2003. I immediately thought about the impact Dan had on the tennis program as an all-American and team captain,” Bhadkamkar says. “Rallying alumni to fundraise for the new facility seemed like a great opportunity to honor his legacy.”

Outpouring of support

With the help of Grinnell’s development team and a gift from the LaFountaine family, Bhadkamkar and Hamilton, now athletic director, spearheaded a campaign that drew an outpouring of support from tennis alums and their families. A silent donor added an exclamation mark. In four weeks, $50,000 was raised to commemorate the No. 1 singles court at Grinnell in the name of Dan LaFountaine, the teammate and mentor his closest friends and colleagues knew as DLaf.  

The court was dedicated in a private ceremony in September with more than 30 tennis alumni in attendance. Technology made it possible for the LaFountaine family to be present in real time. 

“It was fortuitous timing because our tennis alumni reunion is on Labor Day weekend,” Bhadkamkar says. “Dan’s teammate, Juan Carlos Pérez Borja ’11, was being inducted into the [Athletic] Hall of Fame, so we had an unusually large number of tennis alums on campus. Being able to commemorate the court and pay our respects to Dan really meant a lot to everybody.” 

Make others shine

Indeed, Pérez Borja says, “It’s incredible that I got into the Hall of Fame, but I wouldn’t have done it without Dan’s help throughout my Grinnell career. 

“Dan was a very special person in my life,” says Pérez Borja. “One of the things I cherish about him was his willingness to put others before his own personal interests. He was always willing to give up his star position to make others shine. He allowed me to play as the No. 1 singles player at Grinnell, he helped me find a job, and he was supportive of my foundation [Teach for Ecuador].

“Today, in the work that I do, it is crucial to serve others and be guided by that effort. That is something I developed chiefly because of my relationship with Dan and seeing how he handled himself in front of the world.

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If you are interested in court named recognition opportunities, please contact Dinah Zebot at zebotdin[at]grinnell[dot]edu.

     

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