In Rowden family, tennis aces abound

“As he got better and better, coaching was a problem because I couldn’t afford it,” Rowden said. “So about two years after that, I quit my job and got certified.”

He gives private lessons, with 80 percent of his clientele being junior players. He offers six camps during the summer, mostly for juniors, and also offers group and individual lessons for women. Most of his work is at the University of Central Arkansas courts with some additional time at Red Apple Inn at Heber Springs.

“God has really blessed us,” he said. “I made a really good living selling cars, but we don’t struggle at all.”
And you can’t argue with success.

Despite the fact that Greenbrier doesn’t have a tennis court, Jon Mark Rowden reached the semifinals of the Class 5A boys singles last fall for the second straight season. His sisters, Gabrielle and Ali, are the reigning Class 5A girls state doubles champions, surrendering not a set through their championship run. Their only loss came in the semifinals of the Girls Overall Championships to the eventual champions from Class 7A Little Rock Central in three sets.
Greenbrier Athletic Director Stephen Wood said the family had been instrumental in adding tennis to the Panther athletic program.

“From Jon Mark, Gabrielle and Ali playing to Mark helping us with coaching and organization, they are a huge reason that the program is where it is today,” Wood said.

The kids’ success can only help their father’s coaching reputation.

“I’m sure as soon as anybody sees my kids play, they think, ‘I wish I could play that way,’” Mark Rowden said. “Shoot, I wish I could play that way.”

An early start

Mark Rowden grew up in Greenbrier, graduating from high school in 1988. His father was the school principal. Although there wasn’t a Panther tennis team then, Mark played individually. He won the district singles title as a senior and reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament.

But he never played competitive tennis again.

His wife, Danielle, played on Ozark’s tennis team, also reaching the state tournament.

Their children — Gabrielle, a senior; Jon Mark, a junior; and Ali, a sophomore — all started playing about the same time. Jon Mark was the most serious of the three at first.

He and Ali play national tournaments in addition to high school. Gabrielle is the least serious about the sport of the siblings, but she wanted a state championship before she graduated, so she talked her sister — who is much more competitive than she is — into teaming with her in doubles.

“It took a while to convince her sister to play with her, but as their coach, I told them they could win a state championship if they played doubles,” Mark Rowden said. “They finally agreed. The work we had to go through was painful but worth it.”

He said Ali probably had the most talent of the three.

“The other two have to work hard, but for her, it comes very natural,” Mark Rowden said. “She’s been No. 1 in the state for her age division every year. She’s got ‘it.’ And her big brother is her practice partner, and she’s very thankful for that.”

The Rowdens play year-round except for basketball season. Ali also plays that sport for the Lady Panthers.

“I miss tennis all the time, but the break, I think, is good for me, so I don’t get too overloaded with it,” Ali said. “As soon as basketball is over, I pick up a tennis racquet the next day.

“When I’m off, I’m really off. I’m not picking up a racquet. I’m rusty for about a week and a half or two weeks. It doesn’t take much to get us back in the swing.”

Gabrielle said she and her sister had to compromise during their championship doubles partnership.

“We both had to give a little bit,” she said. “I had to decide I was going to practice harder, and she had to be more lenient and not so serious.”

Mark Rowden said it was hard to put a number on his client list because he conducts so many camps. His children work under him at some of them, including those at Red Apple Inn.

Besides novices, he also works with more advanced students.