Paul Kopac didn't start playing tennis until he was 35 years old, but he took to the sport quickly.
So quickly, in fact, that he became the "yardstick" for high school-age and older tennis players. If you were good at the sport, you wanted to play Paul Kopac to see how you measured up against the area's best.
Respected on and off the court, Kopac "is a true legend," said David Andrews, who plays tennis with Kopac every Sunday.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Paul Kopac of Hollidaysburg was ranked No. 1 in the Middle States (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland) in singles and doubles tennis for many years.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski) Paul Kopac gets ready to play a game of tennis at ProCare Health and Fitness center in Altoona.
"He's really a promoter, the glue of the tennis community young and old," Andrews said.
Kopac of Hollidaysburg was ranked No. 1 in the Middle States (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland) in singles and doubles for years.
Perhaps the highlight of his career came in 2005 when he won the bronze medal in singles for players 60 and older at the National Senior Olympics in Pittsburgh.
"I've always looked at him as Mr. Tennis around here," said Steve Parsons, Kopac's longtime doubles partner.
Steve Parsons comes from perhaps the most famous tennis family Blair County has ever produced.
His dad, Tom, and his uncle, Bill, dominated the local tennis scene for many years. Bill was ranked nationally in several age groups and was instrumental in the construction of the Blair Racquet Club (now ProCare).
"My uncle, Bill, started things around here, and then Paul became the tennis yardstick," Steve Parsons said.
Denny Posteraro, who promotes tennis tournaments in St. Marys, has competed with and against Kopac.
In fact, Kopac has won Posteraro's Memorial Day Tournament more times than anyone can remember.
"He's a tennis ambassador not only to Altoona but to a lot of places," Posteraro said. "He reaches out to other people and has touched a lot of people everywhere.
"He's certainly a special guy."
Kopac graduated from Hollidaysburg High School in 1961 and was an outstanding basketball player for the Golden Tigers.
Few area high schools sponsored tennis programs at the time, and Kopac considered himself "a basketball junkie" for a long time.
"I used to go to Mansion Park a lot to play pickup basketball," Kopac said. "One day I went there, and Herb Faris, Altoona High's late tennis coach, Dick Hankinson and another guy, who I can't recall, were looking for a fourth [tennis] player.
"They coaxed me into playing," Kopac said. "I picked up the game quickly, and it just kind of took off from there."
A graduate of Slippery Rock State College, Kopac was a teacher and coach in Blair County schools for more than 30 years. While teaching in the Hollidaysburg Area School District, he coached junior high basketball. He also was the junior varsity coach under Don Hosterman at Bishop Guilfoyle.
He became a principal in the Altoona Area School District in 1972 and was a principal for 13 years before becoming the coordinator of the AASD's gifted program.
Now 67 years old, Kopac is in his 14th year of retirement.
And he's maintained his love for the game of tennis all the while.
"The best thing I ever did was to get into tennis," Kopac said. "I've met guys from all over the country. If I go to Cape May, I can call 20 different guys for a game. The same thing in Pittsburgh and Lancaster, too. I go to Hilton Head every January and February and can get a game there every day.
"Tennis is such a great sport to meet and make social contacts," he said. "I loved basketball, but tennis is better yet. I can't say enough about how it keeps you in shape. It's a lifetime sport."
Perhaps nobody knows Kopac's game better than Parsons, his doubles partner.
"He's played mostly Middle States [events] over the years because there's a lot of traveling in USTA," Parsons said. "We played doubles for over 25 years and were ranked in Middle States several times - 35 [and older], 45, 55, and 60.
"He's such a good player because he has a great drop shot and good lob," Parsons said. "He's very steady and keeps the ball in play. He has a very good defensive game, and he's got a strong desire to win.
"He's done it all. He has nothing to prove."
Andrews said Kopac continues to promote the game locally, noting that players from Clearfield and Huntingdon often come to town on Tuesdays, and there's a local contingent that plays at ProCare on Wednesday nights.
"Paul really promotes the game to young kids, too," Andrews said. "He's always encouraging and is a true ambassador for tennis in the county. Tennis certainly wouldn't be the same without him. He's a real credit to the tennis community."
Kopac, who also wrote a biweekly tennis column for the Mirror for a couple of years, has a minor heart ailment but still plays three or four times a week.
"I don't play tournaments anymore," he said, "but I still play singles twice a week and doubles twice a week as well.
"I used to love playing the young guys like Brian and Eric Irwin, but not anymore," Kopac said.
He said tennis enthusiasm at the local senior level is a little slow now.
"Team tennis is taking over across the country, and this area hasn't taken to it yet," he said.
Kopac's passion and love for the sport hasn't diminished, though.
"I love to watch tennis on TV," he said. "I follow the local high school matches that are covered by the Mirror and I constantly check the computer for national tennis news.
"I'm addicted to the sport."