From teaching on an air force base to coaching for a unique high school athletic program to starting his own club, Ty Aki has had many unique ventures in his decades of teaching in Hawaii.
Aki is a USPTA professional who currently teaches women’s tennis at Chaminade University of Honolulu and is the tennis instructor at The Pacific Club in Honolulu. Aki has a long history as a tennis-teaching professional. Perhaps his most unique venture as a teacher is when he teaches at the Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu. Aki heads to the air force base to teach service members tennis either as a recreational activity or to just stay in shape.
“A lot of these clients were regular service military personnel who were getting back from Afghanistan. Some of them had post-traumatic stress disorder,” Aki said. “Some of them had minor injuries, but they were trying to get themselves physically back in shape so they could go back out and provide the service that they do to keep America going. It’s the character of that person that I certainly enjoy working with.”
Aki fell in love with tennis at a similar venue. His father was a service member, and Aki first picked up a racquet at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds, a U.S. military facility outside of Aberdeen, Maryland. He would hit against a wall and get tips from service members passing by. Eventually, his brother became his hitting partner.
“On the proving ground is where I picked up the game as a summer program,” Aki said. “I just picked a racquet up and just hit off the wall. During that, people walking by would tell me how to correct this and that. Before long, I picked up a lot of tips.”
Hitting with his brother made them both better, and his brother went on to play racquetball while Aki stuck to tennis. Eventually, Aki would pick up a different racquet sport.
Paddle tennis is a skill that Aki teaches at The Pacific Club. He teaches young players the game of paddle tennis and said it’s a sort of training for regular tennis.
“These paddle courts are small enough to start people with paddle and then eventually switch them to big tennis,” Aki said. “You know how the USTA has the small court thing, QuickStart? We were already doing QuickStart with the kids on the paddle courts. When they got better, usually around 12yearsold, we would switch them onto the big courts.”
Aki was also the tennis instructor for high schoolers in a unique athletic program. He was the boy’s and girl’s tennis coach for Pac-5, an athletic program incorporated from smaller schools which allow student athletes to compete in the Interscholastic League of Honolulu (ILH). Aki became the tennis coach for the Pac-5 when the school he was currently the tennis coach and P.E. instructor for joined the Pac-5.
“For him it was a transition, but I think he probably had an allegiance to the program,” Pac-5 Athletic Director Peter Estomago said. “He had an allegiance to the kids. He was coaching at University Laboratory School, and when it became a part of the Pac-5, it was a name change, that’s all it was.”
To give some perspective, Pac-5 member University Laboratory School’s senior class in 2018 consisted of 48 students according to the Hawaii Department of Education. Compare that to a school that the Pac-5 program competes with in the ILH such as ‘Iolani School, which had 219 seniors in 2018 according to ‘Iolani communications.
Estomago said that coaches in the Pac-5 face challenges that a typical high school coach don’t.
“The program for Pac-5 is really unique in the sense that we don’t have any facilities. We’re not a school,” Estomago said. “It was really difficult for our coaches, no matter what the sport was, to get our student athletes together at the same time to start practice. It was a challenge for Aki as a coach. But understanding the program, he remained with us for a while.”
Estomago said that schools joining the program not only gives students the opportunity to play against larger programs, but the smaller schools that join the conference are able to save money by avoiding uniform, facility and coaching expenses.
Matthew Westmoreland was one of Aki’s students who benefited from Pac-5’s unique program. He attended Island Pacific Academy in high school and was a student of Aki’s. Playing under the Pac-5, Westmoreland was able to play alongside other students who attended small schools and compete against larger programs like Punahou School and ‘Iolani.
“I thought that was great that the association would allow us to all play together,” Westmoreland said. “So at least we could compete and have that experience. And Aki did a great job of being able to connect all the players from different schools. We had a good team bond even though none of us ever saw each other in school or anything.”
When you teach tennis for 29 years, one of your students is bound to follow in your shoes. For Aki, one of those students was Westmoreland. He went on to play at Texas A&M, earning the second-most singles wins all time at the university. He then became a coach at Saviano High Performance Tennis in Plantation, Fla. before relocating back to Corpus Christi. At the time of writing this article, he was in the process of moving back to Texas with job interviews lined up. Westmoreland said Aki’s infectious attitude helped him stay motivated during his high school playing years.
“He always had a positive spirit,” Westmoreland said. “What stood out is that he was a great motivator and always had a great attitude to everyone on the team. I remember that about him the most. Always laughing, always a great attitude.”
Aki said the most rewarding part of his job teaching tennis is giving students the opportunity to use tennis as an avenue to higher education and a stable career.
“That’s kind of what I was looking at when I was doing Pac-5, was ‘how can I get these kids good enough so they can play in college?’,” Aki said.
Speaking of higher education, Aki is currently working on his doctorate in 3D Virtual Learning. Aki is using the program to build three-dimensional models where forensic students can implement their knowledge from the classroom.
“I provide this virtual space where students can go in and become forensic investigators,” Aki said. “They can go inside and virtually solve these crimes.”
Now, serving as the women’s head tennis coach at Chaminade University of Honolulu, Aki helps students succeed on the court and in the classroom at that higher level.
“I get so much enjoyment seeing some of these kids move on to become doctors, some are now looking at going into law,” Aki said. “I can’t even describe it with the word rewarding. It’s a different feeling.”