Doubles partnership among Grinnell grads serves to create tennis gift

Dec. 03, 2018 — Two decades after his tennis career at Grinnell College ended, Steve Warch ’88 was looking for a new player to join his United States Tennis Association (USTA) league team in the Twin Cities.

He turned to his former classmate and then Grinnell tennis coach, Andy Hamilton ’85 (now Grinnell’s athletics director), to see if he knew anyone who would fit the bill.

DJ Warden ’08 & Steve Warch ’88
   DJ Warden ’08 & Steve Warch ’88

“He connected me with DJ Warden ’08 and told me that DJ was one of the best doubles player Grinnell has ever had,” Warch says. “I was pretty psyched to get him on our team. We’ve been connected through tennis ever since.”

Warch and Warden will be connected in perpetuity thanks to a gift they have made to name a tennis court at the College. Each contributed $25,000 toward a recent project to refurbish and expand the tennis complex east of the Charles Benson Bear ’39 Recreation and Athletic Center. The official name of the court will be decided later.

Warch played on Grinnell’s tennis team from 1985 to 1988. Warden played from 2005 to 2008.

“DJ and I are a fun example of how Grinnell athletics can create connections among Grinnellians of different generations,” Warch says. “If part of your Grinnell experience involved athletics, you have an immediate connection with people who share that same experience, even if you were at Grinnell at different times. It’s always fun for me to meet people who played tennis at Grinnell, and it’s also a nice way of networking professionally.”

The duo also have become teammates in the legal world. Warch is a partner with the Minneapolis law firm Nilan Johnson Lewis, and serves as the firm’s president. Warden is an attorney with the firm, and will be up for partner in 2019. The firm focuses on complex products liability and business litigation, health care, and corporate and labor/employment.

While Warden’s initial plan was to go into medicine having studied biology at Grinnell, he realized shortly after graduation that a career in medicine was not the direction he wanted to go.

“After speaking with several Grinnell alums, including Steve, I felt that I had the analytical skill set to succeed in law school and the legal profession,” Warden says. “Fortunately, I went to law school, did pretty well, and once I started practicing, I really seemed to enjoy it.”

During Warch’s time at Grinnell, the Pioneers played their indoor matches on rubber courts in the Physical Education Complex (PEC).

“They were fun to play on if you had a big serve,” he says. “You were guaranteed to be in every match. But it’s great to see the investment Grinnell has made in tennis since then.”

In October of 2003, Grinnell opened an outdoor tennis complex of six courts. Warden says those courts were amazing to play on during his time at Grinnell. However, in subsequent years, he noticed the courts breaking down. In talking with Hamilton, it was clear something needed to be done to repair the courts.

“It was important to me that Grinnell continue to field strong teams and have a tennis program that connects student-athletes both while they are in school and after graduation,” Warden says.

A project to expand the courts from six to eight and refurbish the facility was wrapped up this fall. By utilizing engineering reports and consulting with different groups around campus, the College developed designs that should ensure the renovated facility can be used for 30-35 years, Hamilton says.

“The completed facility is the top small college tennis space in the state and Midwest Conference,” he says. “It is commensurate with the excellence of our outstanding tennis programs and our other athletic facilities.”

Overall, about 40 alumni, faculty, staff, families of current or former tennis players, and Grinnell community member households raised nearly $300,000 for the tennis complex expansion and renovation project. Five courts will be named for donors.

Warch says it was imperative to have a good facility to continue the success of the tennis program.

“With these new courts, Grinnell will be in position going forward as an attractive place for prospective students looking for a solid program,” he says. “Tennis was a really important part of my Grinnell experience. I still consider the guys I played with to be some of my best college friends. I have such great memories of the playing on those teams. When I met DJ, I realized he had a similar experience.”

Could we see the two together playing on the tennis court they named? It’s a definite maybe.

“We’ve played on USTA teams together for the past 10 years or so, and we had two teams go to nationals,” Warch says. “DJ broke his leg this year, and now that I’m 52, my knees always seem sore. But we’ll see if we can make it happen, perhaps during the 2019 Fall Athletic Weekend.”

—by Jeremy Shapiro

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