GOSHEN — Ever since he was five years old, tennis has been in the life of Frank Hess.
Both of his parents played the game, and they instilled their love of it into their son. The Hess family even had a tennis court built in their backyard of the house Hess spent ages 6-10 living in.
All of this led to the career Hess would have as a member of the Goshen College men’s tennis team. His 100 career wins still remain the program record for most ever by a player, despite Hess graduating 31 years ago. His 55 individual wins are still the top mark as well, and his 45 wins in doubles are third all-time. He was also an all-conference player all four seasons he played.
Hess graduated from Goshen High School in 1984 and decided to stay in town for college, a decision that thrilled his parents.
“My parents were both Goshen College graduates, and they were very enthusiastic about the idea of me staying home and attending Goshen College,” Hess said. “And also growing up going to a Mennonite church, it felt like a very natural fit for me.”
In his freshman season of 1984, Hess tallied 16 wins as the No. 2 singles player, most in program history. He also won 14 matches at the No. 1 doubles position with teammate Paul Algate.
Hess followed that up with another stellar sophomore campaign. He was moved up to the No. 1 singles position and didn’t miss a beat, winning 14 matches in the top spot. He matched that with 14 wins at No. 1 doubles with teammate Dave Smucker.
By the time his junior year rolled around, Hess was more focused on his singles career. While he would still tally 17 more doubles wins during his time at Goshen College, his single-season tally in doubles didn’t come close to his first two seasons at the position.
In 1986, Hess won 12 matches at No. 1 singles, giving him 42 career singles victories. He was only 10 off the career singles record and was within striking distance of the all-time wins record holder, Jeff Stoltzfus, who graduated in 1984 with 97 career wins.
For Hess, records weren’t important to him.
“I was blissfully unaware of (the record) and was just taking the same approach that I would take for every match,” Hess said. “I tried to compete as hard as I could and do everything I can to win. I let the results be measured on a match-by-match basis, not the long-term career goals or anything like that.”
Instead of playing his senior season in 1987, though, Hess studied abroad in China during the season. It was during this time where Hess’s life would change forever.
While teaching English to Chinese students, Hess was often asked about American culture. Hess wasn’t sure how to answer the questions and became curious about the origins of his own culture. It led to him adding English as a major at Goshen College when he came back from the trip.
After college, Hess would go to grad school in English instead of following the pre-medicine route he was on prior to his trip to China.
“I had an amazing experience (in China) that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world,” Hess said.
Hess still had his 1988 season to finish, though. He won 13 matches at the No. 1 singles position, giving him 55 career wins and the record. Combine that with his doubles wins, and Hess finished with an even 100 victories. He also qualified for the NAIA national championships as a singles player in 1988.
“I don’t think about it that much, but it is something that I’m proud of,” said Hess of the career victories record. “I was a good competitor that showed up for every single match that I played and gave my all. It represents a commitment to hard work, to excellence and to being a competitor.”
After finishing at GC, Hess went on to the University of Iowa for graduate school. While there, he met his future wife, Vassiliki Tsitsopoulou, who’s from Greece. After visiting Greece with Tsitsopoulou, Hess became more interested in modern Greek culture. He wrote his dissertation on the influence of American television on Greek culture.
Hess has used that as a way to enter the world of academia. Since 2007, Hess has been the Director at the Institute for European Studies at Indiana University. He also is the coordinator of the Modern Greek Program at IU, along with being a senior instructor.
Hess has stayed involved with tennis throughout his life. He’s been a volunteer assistant coach for both Iowa and Indiana’s men’s tennis teams at different points and currently works with junior players at a club in the Bloomington area.
While he’s appreciative of the academic success Goshen College led him towards, Hess is also proud of the lessons tennis has taught him.
“Tennis taught me the value of competition; it taught me the value of hard work and preparation and diligence,” Hess said. “It’s been invaluable to me.”