Men's Tennis: Leaycraft, Bryan enter La. Tennis Hall of Fame
Bruce Brown, The Advertiser, Nov. 30, 2018
John Bryan and Donni Leaycraft have a lot in common.
Both found tennis to be an athletic outlet apart from mainstream sports, as well as a ticket to attend college when it might not have been otherwise available.
Both carried their playing success forward to the coaching level and remain active today in that role.
And, on Friday night, the two public courts products will join New Orleans' Diane Simpson as new members of the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame. The 7 p.m. Louisiana Tennis Association event is set for the City Club in River Ranch.
“From the time I was a little boy, I loved sports,” said Bryan, a south Texas native who played football, basketball and baseball in his youth before gravitating toward tennis. “When I was 7 years old, I decided I wanted to be a coach.
“At the time, I thought that would be in football or baseball. If you really want to do something, you can do it. I wanted to coach. And I really wanted to win. I really hated to lose.”
Bryan found that he had an eye for talent and movement, and that he could furnish athletes the right motivation.
“I had a natural ability, when I would see you play, to see what you were doing wrong,” he said. “I could spot it when I first started playing. Then I could develop that ability.
“You need to be real good, or it's not any fun.”
Bryan played for both the University of Houston and Pan American before embarking on a coaching career with successful stops in Houston, Beaumont, Lafayette, New Orleans and Lafayette again.
He had a key role in local pro Chanda Rubin's early development and currently assists oldest son Bill, a former UL Ragin' Cajun and UL Hall of Famer who is a local teaching pro. Sons Boyd, Vaughn and Mike all played collegiately.
Leaycraft made his mark on the City Park courts in New Orleans, using tenacity and a blue collar work ethic to become a Parade High School All-American, juniors standout and LSU All-American.
At LSU, he helped the Tigers to the 1989 NCAA runner-up spot and, in 1990, became the first Southern player in 35 years to win the NCAA singles crown.
“They already had nationally ranked players,” Leaycraft said. “I knew I had to step up my game to another level just to make the lineup. I figured if I could compete with them at practice, I could go against anybody in the country.
Donni Leaycraft, a New Orleans native who helped lead LSU's tennis team to the NCAA finals in 1988, will be inducted into the Louisiana Tennis Hall of Fame on Nov. 30. (Photo: Submitted photo)
“Practicing with the guys my freshman year, I said 'I can do this.' But I knew I had to go the extra mile.”
Leaycraft did just that, becoming LSU's all-time leader in victories while playing under Jerry Simmons.
Simmons himself was a product of Bryan's coaching in his formative years in Texas. He became the youngest coach ever named to the Collegiate Tennis Hall of Fame at 52 and is a 2018 inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame.
“Tim Brando said Donni was a blue collar player on a blue collar team,” Simmons said. “That's what we were. That's the way John was, the way I played and the way Donni played.
“John was a great influence on me,” said Simmons, who coached Bill, Boyd and Vaughn Bryan at UL. “I wouldn't have had the success I had without him.”
Leaycraft, meanwhile, had specil reason to cherish the LTA honor.
“I grew up in Louisiana, so this means so much to me, to be in the Hall with some of the greats in the state,” said Leaycraft, who was inducted into the LSU Sports Hall of Fame in 1998. “It's something I'll be able to look back on, and share with my kids.”
Simpson, a past president of the LTA and current Junior Team Tennis Coordinator, is a New Orleans product who also played for LSU. She has had a lifetime of service to the sport at all levels.