When you think of the top sports at St. Joseph high schools, what comes to mind? Football and basketball, right? Both played by guys? In the old days you could add track and field as the top spring sport, but in recent years baseball has eclipsed track in many instances.

So you may find it odd that someone would write a column on female tennis players. In this case, though, the achievements are rather remarkable.

We’re talking about the five daughters of Dan and Carol Heckman: Mary Ann, Kathleen, Patty, Janet and Joan. All played tennis for either LeBlond or Central, all were good enough to make it to the state tournament. Some did more than just make it; They won their events — during multiple years, in fact.

Let’s take a quick look at a Gazette story from October 1978:

“LeBlond protected its unbeaten tennis string Tuesday, scoring a 9-0 victory over Benton at Hyde Park. Mary Ann Heckman blitzed Sherry Clark 10-3, and sister Kathleen demolished Karen Mollus 10-2, as the Golden Eagles swept the No. 1 and 2 singles matches.”

Now, you could take that paragraph, change out the names of the opponents and their schools, run it regularly during the tennis seasons of 1978, ’79 and ’80, and you’d be pretty much on track. Mary Ann and Kathleen were that good.

Let’s jump ahead five years. From the Gazette, October 1983: “Patty Heckman, the sensational LeBlond junior with an unbeaten record, begins her quest for girls’ state tennis tournament success today.”

Hmm. But we’re not done yet. The Gazette, September 1986: “LeBlond’s No. 1 netter, Janet Heckman, downed Julie Koziell, 10-4, and Julie Hunt clipped Jackie Nosek, 10-8, before they joined forces to post a 10-3 doubles victory and extend their unbeaten string.”

And one more for good measure. News-Press, October 1990: “Central’s Joan Heckman is making her fourth straight trip to the state tennis tournament this weekend. Heckman, 20-2 in her senior season, also will make a bid for her second individual state title; she won the championship as a sophomore.”

Just for the record, Mary Ann and Kathleen took the state doubles title three years in a row, while Kathleen, Patty and Joan won singles titles.

Kathleen Heckman Winegardner, now a realtor in Boulder, Colorado, says the sisters’ inspiration came from their parents; their grandparents, Josephine and Edwin Meyer; and their tennis coach, Ron Selkirk.

“We also felt we received a lot of support from the St. Joseph community,” she adds. “We grew up across the street from the Noyes courts, and were playing tennis before we even hit double-digits. We were taught to value faith, family, community and hard work.”

Their achievements in the classroom were just as impressive:

Mary Ann won a tennis scholarship to St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana.

Kathleen was student body president at LeBlond and had a 4.0 GPA. She won a tennis scholarship to the University of Minnesota, later transferring to the University of Colorado.

Patty was salutatorian at LeBlond and received a tennis scholarship to the University of Colorado.

Janet, the valedictorian of her graduating class at LeBlond, was a Curators Scholar at the University of Missouri.

Joan scored a 3.9 GPA at Central and won a $1,000 Scholar-Athlete Award from St. Joseph Sports Inc., to attend and play at Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State).

Talk about hard work paying off! I can’t think of a better example.

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