For over 30 years Bernis Duke led the Oral Roberts University men's and women's tennis teams. He's been retired now for 15 years, but the tennis program at ORU still has Coach Duke to thank for the legacy of success he left at the university.
Duke, who turns 85 in April, arrived at ORU in 1965, and was originally hired as an assistant basketball coach. He was asked to take over the tennis teams in 1969. He had some success coaching tennis at the high school level in Newport, Arkansas, so it didn't take much convincing to getting him switch to that sport. It proved to be a great move both for Duke and ORU.
Over the next 33 years, his men's teams compiled a 563-225 (.714) record, ranking Duke sixth in career wins among NCAA Division I coaches. His teams were so successful that he didn't experience a losing season until his 29th year, and the ORU tennis teams were ranked in the NCAA Top 10 several times over the years.
I remember when I was a student at ORU in the mid-1980s and was a student assistant to the Sports Information Director; tennis was one of the sports assigned to me. It was my job to stay on top of the tennis team results, write their press releases and write feature stories about the athletes for other publications. Coach Duke was always great to work with. Although sometimes he seemed a bit scatter brained, he had a mind for details and didn't forget anything. All these many years later he still remembers my name and the guys I worked with in the sports information office.
Duke is a true hall of famer as a kind and gentle person, but he's also been honored for his professional achievements.
He was inducted in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 2002, and was heralded by many as the innovator of foreign recruiting. He coached over 125 student-athletes from 20 countries during his tenure at ORU including ORU Hall of Fame candidates Peter Van Lingen and Pekka Saila.
Duke was a star basketball player at what was then known as Arkansas College (1950-53), in Batesville, Arkansas. The school later became Lyon College. He was selected in the inaugural class of inductees to the Lyon College Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983, and has been nominated for induction in the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
In 2010, Duke was honored with induction in the ORU Athletics Hall of Fame.
It's a new era at ORU, but regardless of what happens with the tennis program over the next 30 years, the current and future coaches and players will always have Coach Duke to thank for the ground work he laid and the legacy he has left at ORU.