Until now, there has never been a Coahulla Creek High School tennis program without the leadership of Laura Jager.
The head tennis coach has been with the program since the school's founding in 2011, leading the program in its first nine years of existence. When she announced she would be leaving to move to Kansas City, Kansas, her former players knew they needed to honor her.
With the organization of Coahulla Creek booster club president Shawn Mulkey and local tennis professional Fred Burdick, a group of well-wishers formed. With social distancing guidelines in place because of the outbreak of the new coronavirus (COVID-19), they couldn't get together with Jager, so they decided to create a parade right there in her Varnell neighborhood Tuesday night.
"We just formed a line and drove into her neighborhood," Mulkey said. "We were honking horns and had the balloons out and posters out and yelling at her. She came out the front door and was just absolutely blown away. She was fighting back tears at that point."
A group of about 30 current and former Coahulla Creek tennis players joined the drive-by group. Several members of the 2016 squad, which reached the Elite Eight in the Class 3A state playoffs, attended. That team made the deepest playoff run that any has yet at the school.
"I was definitely surprised," Jager said. "I first started seeing the kids, I thought it was just my current team. Then I started seeing team members from the past, too. It was probably the most unexpected and thoughtful thing anyone could do."
A thoughtful gesture to Jager is a returned favor, Mulkey said, for a coach that did so much for so many students.
"She is the type of coach who relates to her players on and off the court," Mulkey said. "She wants them to be good tennis players, but she wants them to be good people too. It's all about the kids with Laura."
"Our slogan was 'Anything for Jager,'" Mulkey said. "I must have heard that 10 times."
Jager was also a registrar, counselor and secretary at the high school.
"I wanted to help out with tennis, and I ended up loving it and loving the kids," Jager said. "They made a difference."
The tennis team played just two matches in Jager's final season due to the COVID-19 outbreak, finishing undefeated.
Jager said she's sad to be leaving her time at Coahulla Creek behind her, but excited to start her new opportunity in Kansas, where her husband has a job.
"I didn't quit because I didn't love it," Jager said.