Posted on February 6th, 2018 by

The Fridinger family – a longtime TLC family – has been named the National USTA Family of the Year.

And they don’t want anyone to know.

They don’t think what they do is a big deal.  Or should be made a big deal.  They would be happy if everyone would just go away.  So they can get back to serving others.

Let me sum it up in one story.  When Beth’s and Steve’s boys were young (for the purpose of NCAA rules, we cannot use their names or pictures), this is what happened at Tennis & Life Camps.

A boy had come to camp for the first time.  He was deeply anxious having come by himself.  And then he discovered the roommate he had been assigned had to cancel and he would be rooming alone.  He became bereft and begged his mom to let him go home.  Coming alone can be one of the hardest things a child can do.  I know.  I remember being terribly homesick when I did this as a child.  And if no one reaches out to you, it becomes a panorama of all happiness swimming around you with you as a center of misery just waiting to please be able to go home.

In this case, we always match a child up with another roommate.  Because of an odd number, we needed to triple this child up.  We approached a parent – out of earshot of the boy – and asked if this child might be able to room with their boy and his friend.  The parent stated that her boy’s experience at camp would be ruined with this third boy in the room that neither of the boys knew.  That her child would not be able to enjoy camp with his friend with a stranger as a third roommate.  So… no.

I was angry.  How could this mother do this?  But before I judge (which I am very good at, thank you), let me be brutally honest, I have been in this situation as a parent before, wanting to shut someone else’s child out so my own daughter can have a “better experience” not dealing with the other child, whatever “good reason” there might be to not include the other child.  It is something I am not proud of.  I don’t like acknowledging it in myself.  And when I see it in others, it angers me.  Because there should only be enough room in this world for me to be a jerk.  Not you, too!

That is when the Fridingers stepped in the door of camp to register. The Fridinger boys were in junior high.  They had a room to themselves.  They were excited, as always, to hang out together, to be with someone they knew so well they could complete each other’s thoughts.  And to have the comfort of comfortability.  I pulled Beth and Steve aside and explained the situation.  Before I was able to ask, they said, “He can stay with our boys!  Where is he?  We need to meet him.”  I assured them they did not have to do this, and they said, “What?  And leave him to a room by himself?”  “What about your boys?”, I asked.  “What about them?”, they replied.  The boys immediately, just as their parents had done, said genuinely, “Sure, he can room with us.  What’s his name?  Where is he?  We’ll make sure he has a fun time.”  And we all went over, had introductions, and before the conversation was through, the Fridinger boys had brought the new boy up to their room, where they were in the process of becoming friends.

This is why the Fridingers don’t believe they deserve the national award.  Because this is what they do as a matter of course.  It is how they live. It is who they are.  Why should they be awarded a trophy for doing something that others would (not, as we have discovered, but they believe others would) naturally do?

This is how Fridingers treat their friends, neighbors, strangers, teachers, cheaters, outliers, coaches, family.  In other words, everyone.

They deserve this award exactly because they think they do not.

Now they would like us all to get back to work and stop paying attention to them.

But not before we say one more time. Congratulations.  And thank you.

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  1. Tom & Ellen Fridinger says:

    YES, we must take some of the credit…for shipping Steve out to TLC as a youngster; and then encouraging him, coercing him, maybe threatening him to attend a good college. He was worried about being in over his head at GAC, and he probably was the first couple of years. But then Beth came into his life, and then three sons, and the rest is history. Best thing we ever did, and we also try to live up to the 3 crowns.
    Ellen & Tom (Steve’s Mom & Dad)

  2. Jill Whisler says:

    It’s been my privilege to be in a Mom’s in Prayer Group with Beth the last couple of years! She truly lives out her faith in the community in a variety of ways! Steve has been a great volunteer on the court helping my boys & many others improve their skills! Together they are an inspiration to so many families . . . especially ours! They epitomize the spirit of TLC!

  3. Suzie Heideman says:

    Congratulations Fridingers!! I have had the privilege to work with them all, and they are most deserving! I could go on and on, but it sounds like they might not like that, so I’ll keep this short and sweet.
    Thanks you for your time, energy, support, friendship, hard work, and encouragement. And thanks for modeling the 3 crowns!

  4. John Whitmer says:

    Although I’ve never been directly associated with TLC, I know enough about it to think the Fridingers may be more typical of TLC folks than this story might imply. They just had the misfortune of being caught and dragged into the spotlight.

  5. Cathy Blumhorst says:

    This family is my sister, brother-in-law and nephews. The above story IS the Fridinger family. They are the kindest and most humble people I know. In our family Beth is known as the “nice” one; Steve spent years patiently teaching my kids how to snow and water ski, wakeboard, and tried in vain to share his love of tennis with them. Their boys have grown into fine young men that make their auntie proud and tennis ambassadors in their own rights. Steve’s parents–Ellen and Tom–also envelop any and all into their lives; they have been an integral part of the USTA community as well.

  6. Steve and Beth Fridinger says:

    Ok, Neal, you’re in huge trouble now! 🙂
    Your comments are gracious and kind, but truth be told, there are more times than we’d like to admit where we’ve acted not to serve others, but ourselves. Which is why we keep coming back to TLC for our yearly reminder of what’s really important (and how to move through a volley)! Many factors went into this award, including primarily my dad (with my mom’s support!) who has been a great ambassador to the sport serving others. Our family talks about and refers to the 3 crowns and the serenity prayer all the time, like almost everyday! We often find them easier to say than do. We try to remind ourselves of the many blessings in our lives everyday, but life can be rough – for us and others around us. So we read – and reread – your blogs for inspiration. We know we could do more to help and love others, but to say that the TLC model (and the many friends who share in our passion for TLC) has had great influence on our lives and the tennis program that we helped create in Woodbury would be an understatement. To Neal, David, Barb and Coach Wilkinson, Tommy and all the others within the TLC family, thank you, thank you, thank you for all you do and have done, the love you share and the encouragement to spread it to others! Can’t wait for camp this summer!! And if any future camper ever needs a roommate, they can stay with our boys – and help keep them out of trouble! 🙂

    • Neal Hagberg says:

      lol. and thank you. We have ten campers who will need to stay in your kids’ room at camp (slumber party!) and another 37 who will be coming to stay the summer with you ;). You all are wonderful. As are your parents and kids.

  7. Neal says:

    love it. and yep :).

  8. Amy Braun Steinhauser says:

    Four posts after this on my feed, a friend started off with “The people of God are commanded thirty times in the Old Testament to welcome the stranger.” Seems to me this family did that in spades! Heartwarming and inspiring.