Brookfield - The reminders are everywhere.
A couple of them rest on a shelf inside the tennis shed at Brookfield East High School. They're plaques carrying photos of the Spartans' state championship teams of 1980 and 1981.
A couple more are playing matches on adjacent courts at East. Those are the brothers, Brian and Ben Klein, a junior and a freshman who play second and third singles on the Spartans' varsity.
And then there's the biggest reminder of all, pacing about, proud but nervous, shouting out encouragement with the rest of the fans. That's Tim Klein, whose smile can be seen on those old championship plaques . . . and on his face today as he watches his sons try to make their own history.
After playing with his brother, Tom, on East's last state championship teams, Tim Klein went on to stardom at the University of Wisconsin. He was named an all-Big Ten Conference player in 1985 and '86, led the Badgers in victories for three years and was once named Big Ten athlete of the week after winning the conference doubles title in 1986.
And again, three decades after he left Brookfield East, the Spartans' storied program is once again better off for the presence of Tim Klein and his family.
And the Klein family - four generations deep into the game - is better off for the presence of Brookfield East's tennis team.
"Brian and Ben are very good brothers to each other, and very good members of our team," East coach Linda Lied said. "And Tim, as good a player has he was, he's a realistic and supportive parent. He sees the good in what his kids do and he's always there with encouragement and support.
"They're good kids and good players with a good father."
Brian and Ben both lost their singles matches on Monday in a 6-1 dual-meet loss to state top-ranked Brookfield Central. Jack Michael beat Brian, 6-2, 6-2; Ben's match was a three-set thriller won by Jordan Patt, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.
Tim Klein didn't fall victim to the trap that catches so many fathers who were standout athletes "back in the day." He never pushed his children into tennis.
"I showed them the basics and talked to them about how tennis is a lifetime sport, and they saw how a lot of my friends even today are my tennis friends," Tim said. "But they didn't really show a great interest in tennis until about four years ago."
Brian was an eighth-grader when he decided to switch from baseball and basketball to tennis, and his younger brother, the left-handed Ben, was right there with him.
"I played a little bit from age 7 to 10, but eighth grade is when I picked it up again," Brian said. "I liked it and I knew (Ben) enjoyed it, so we both decided to play."
Until that point, the kids just knew that their father was one of the better collegiate players in the Midwest.
"I have a couple of photo albums at home, and they'd look at those old pictures and laugh," Tim said.
Tim still plays a little tennis, and will go out and hit balls with his sons "a couple of times a month or so," Ben said. Other than that, Tim said he gets plenty of satisfaction watching his sons improve and mature as key members of East's varsity, ranked sixth in the area and ninth in the state.
"Playing tennis helps a kid mature. They're all alone on the tennis court and they have to handle everything that comes along," Tim said. "They have to learn how to play fair, to compromise and to stick up for themselves."
Added Brian: "It definitely builds your mental toughness. If I win, it feels good because I know it's all me."
The brothers are battlers on the court and that's especially true when they play each other, partly because they know just how to tick off their opponents.
"We're pretty even now," Ben said. "I know how to get his goat - I'll call a ball out if it's in, or I'll call him lucky after a really good shot - and he knows how to get to me, too."
Tim's third son, 12-year-old Jimmy, will be a freshman when Ben is a senior. And stepdaughter Lauren played as a freshman at East last fall.
Both brothers would like to play tennis in college, even though they understand they are unlikely to match the achievements of their father.
To the credit of everyone in the family, that doesn't seem to matter.
"They started a lot later than I did. I don't think they should feel any pressure at all to match what I did," Tim said. "All I want is for them to enjoy tennis and grow from it."
Said Ben: "It'd be great to play Division I tennis. We'll see."
Contact Art Kabelowsky at firstname.lastname@example.org
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