Mark E. Guilbeau – Graduate Assistant, Health and Physical Education, Spring 1989
Mark E. Guilbeau
Graduate Assistant – HPE
Spring, 1989 Semester
Endless decisions. When I think of how my path has led me to the University of Kentucky, I always recall many decisions made along the way. I remember how difficult many of these decisions were at the time and give thanks that each has resulted in a positive experience.
High School was fairly “mapped out.” Attending a small Catholic high school (Our Lady of Fatima) in Lafayette, LA was extremely enjoyable and easy. Having an older brother and sister at the same school provided me with many great opportunities and made any problems much easier to solve. Things changed before my junior year. Fatima consolidated with Cathedral High School to become St. Thomas Moore High School. I suddenly found myself in a much “larger” environment and with many new people with which to become familiar. The two years were more difficult, but very valuable. The most important decisions centered around the type of friends to have; the type of behaviors in which to engage or not engage; the sports to play; and the amount of effort to apply toward academics. The friends kept me out of trouble and choosing good behaviors; the sports were narrowed down to tennis and running; and academics became very important.
I was greatly inspired by the cross-country coach (Doug Stewart), my older brother, and all of the members of the team. I was also influenced in a different way by the basketball coach (Rickey Broussard) even though I sat on the end of the bench my freshman and sophomore years. Other than my father, Coach Broussard was the first person I spent time around who had higher expectations and demanded more from his team than the members demanded from themselves. This is a concept I have come to know very well. I now realize how important making good choices was during high school. These habits and philosophies stay with you forever.
I started college without really knowing if I had chosen the correct school–I attended Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL and was fortunate enough to earn academic and tennis scholarships. Although I stayed at Spring Hill for only one year, the year “on my own” was good for growing as a person. The tennis was extremely enjoyable and the tennis coach (Jimmy Weinacker) was a great influence. Unfortunately, the need to begin working for financial support led me to leave Spring Hill.
Returning to Lafayette to attend USL was one of the many decisions that has turned out for the extreme best. Giving up competitive tennis was tough, but the passion was replaced with teaching tennis and working as a teaching professional at a local club (Lafayette Town House). During my three years as an undergraduate at USL, the pride associated with being at the local university in my hometown and the uniqueness of the Cajun culture really began to sink in. It’s amazing how only one year away made this very easy to realize.
Working very early and very late hours at the tennis club was also a great experience. I learned more about appreciating the simple things in life from the tennis director (Don Fontenot) than from anyone with whom I had ever associated with. I was fortunate to be in tennis and was always in a work environment that was fun. After hearing so many times over the years how important it is to enjoy your career/work, I realized that this was always the case for me. I was very blessed to have tennis as a part of my life.
At USL, I earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Finance from USL. The initial plan was to pursue an MBA and Doctorate and become a finance professor. This changed when I realized that I could continue to make a living in tennis and combine it with the university/teaching environment. What a great idea now more decisions to make. How do you pursue a Masters Degree in Health Education with little or no undergraduate experience in this area of study?
Sometimes you need people who trust in your ability and the commitments you are willing to make. For me, Dr. Ed Dugas at USL was this person. With Dr. Dugas’ help, I was granted a Physical Education assistantship at USL and was given a chance to begin studying toward a Health Education Masters Degree. I was assigned (three days before the start of the semester!) to teach intermediate and advanced tennis, fitness/weights, and badminton. Thank goodness for the experience I had gained as a student in Dr. Dugas’ badminton class three years earlier…still my favorite college course.
It’s a long story, but the semester I spent teaching and studying in the graduate program at USL was the most influential time of my life. It became 100% clear to me that teaching and/or coaching would be my career choice. I also realized how enjoyable working with people that share the same “healthy” interests can be. During this same period of time, I was training for the Boston Marathon (and used as a human guinea pig for Dr. Gatch’s Exercise Physiology class. It was perfect timing for attempting to pass his class). The total experience–teaching, studying, and working at the tennis club had me surrounded with health education. I was fortunate to pass all of my courses (even managed the highest grade in Exercise Physiology), run well in the Boston Marathon, and successfully teach my three Physical Education classes.
As enjoyable as the experience was, the master’s program for which I was initially searching was not available at USL. Dr. Dugas helped me select a number of universities with a masters in Health Promotion and Behavior–a broad health education program which would give me the flexibility to move into several health and fitness related careers. The first choice was the University of Georgia in Athens. I had always followed the tennis programs at UGA (men and women always top 10 in the nation). Although I was applying for a teaching assistantship, the tennis interest in Athens was also of special importance to me. Fortunately (and thanks to USL and Dr. Dugas), I was accepted as a teaching assistant in the Health Promotion and Behavior Masters Program at UGA.
After teaching Physical Education courses for one year, I was hired as the assistant coach for the women’s tennis team at UGA. This was a graduate assistant position which allowed me to continue working on my master’s degree (although it slowed the process dramatically). After the second year at UGA, I was hired as the Head Tennis Professional at Jennings Mill Country Club in Athens. This, combined with the assistant coaching position and the masters studies made for consistent 90 hours plus work weeks.
It’s great to be young and naive in this situation. This lifestyle continued for four years. I finished the masters in a total of four and a half years (thanks to patient professors); managed to save a great deal of money from work; and helped the UGA women’s tennis team win one A Championship and two National Indoor Team Championships. I stayed sane thanks to a few great friends and the inspiration of people like Dr. Dugas, my parents, and several former coaches; running lots of miles; and drawing on the pride I had gained from working hard at a young age.
I was finally offered my first Head Coaching position at the University of Kentucky in the Spring of 1996 ( I was actually offered the job at UK and the University of Oregon on the same day!). It was another tough decision which has worked out for the best. In two years, our team has gone from #56 in the A to #23. We are currently striving to reach the final 16 at this year’s A Tournament and are on the way there (I hope)!
The most important things I have learned on this path? #1: Hard work is very important and makes you strong and proud. #2: Make decisions with confidence. I now realize why all decisions turn out so well. You make your situation work out for the best by committing all your energy to it. Even the wrong decision will turn out well. #3: Work, play, and surround yourself with good, positive, hard working people. They inspire you and teach you more than you may realize. #4: Have great pride in your culture and native area. The thoughts and memories you have from home carry you through tough times. Always try (I must do better) to be in contact with the people and places from where you came. #5: No one can ever fault you for having great enthusiasm and for giving your best. “To love what you do and feel that it matters – how could anything be more fun?” – K. Graham
Head Coach – Women’s Tennis
University of Kentucky