Each year, the University of Florida’s College of Health and Human Performance recognizes alumni who have contributed to their communities in significant ways within the field of health and fitness.
Paul Cash, of the Village of Piedmont, was one such recipient, recognized for his career as a high school tennis coach and physical education teacher in Virginia.
John Rohan, director of The Villages Parks and Recreation Department, also was inducted into the same class and said the hall of fame is intended to celebrate alumni who have a substantial impact on the people that they work with in the field of health and recreation.
“It just shows a person’s talent and commitment to their profession and the difference they make in their profession by their work and their accomplishments,” Rohan said.
Cash graduated from the University of Florida in 1978. After working in the school’s intramural department as a director and official, Cash moved on to teaching and coaching tennis.
While working for a school in Richmond, an administrator from Prince George High School — a small, rural school in eastern Virginia — invited him to tour the school’s facilities and Cash accepted a position there as a teacher and the head boys and girls tennis coach.
When Cash arrived, Prince George was one of the worst tennis programs in the state — neither team had ever won a district title and both teams were dangerously underpopulated. Five students — some without the necessary shoes or equipment — showed up to the first tryout for a team with 16 roster spots.
“Friends I played tennis with made fun of me,” Cash said. “They said, ‘Why are you going there? You’ll never win there.’ Well, that’s a bad thing to say to someone that’s hard-headed.”
Cash immediately set to work establishing lessons in the summer, clinics on the weekends and open-court play after school hours. Among all of the free tennis sessions, Cash generated enough interest to form a team.
“We won more district titles than all the other schools in the district combined while I was there,” Cash said.
By the time he retired, he was the winningest high school tennis coach in Virginia. Cash had plenty of offers to take over programs at bigger schools and even a handful of college programs, but the idea of leaving Prince George never appealed to him.
“I’m happy here,” Cash said. “They’re good kids. Why would I want to change?”
One year after his retirement, Prince George High School opened a new eight-court tennis facility and dubbed it Cash’s Courts.
Cash also revolutionized the physical education curriculum for the district.
In his first year, he implemented a milestone-based fitness challenge that varied by age. He also established open gym hours before school, which allowed the students to come in every day and get some exercise before classes started.
Despite skepticism from other faculty, Cash started a similar fitness club program at the elementary school, which incorporated fun challenges — like doing a pushup on a basketball — with more active games.
“Everyone said I was crazy,” Cash said. “Parents loved it. We were full before the week was out.”
Today, Cash still uses his coaching acumen as a pickleball instructor. The multi-time U.S. Open champion teaches players both within The Villages and without — he is currently leading clinics in Virginia — and specializes in teaching former tennis players like himself how to translate their skills to pickleball.
“If you throw your ego and testosterone out, you can convert your tennis strokes to pickleball,” Cash said.
Cash now leads two biweekly clinics and organizes three group play sessions every week. He works with players of all levels and volunteers at the PCVG’s monthly ratings clinics.
Deb Harrison, one of the more prominent pickleball instructors in The Villages, works frequently with Cash and said she relies on him when developing her own programs.
“I admire Paul Cash a great deal,” Harrison said. “When I’m looking for a technique, for myself and to impart to other people, I ask Paul.”
Harrison and Rohan both spoke highly of Cash’s commitment to teaching.
“Even in his retirement, he still wants to help others better their lives and themselves through sports and recreation,” Rohan said.
“He does it just because he loves the sport and he loves people and helping people get better at the game,” Harrison said.
Cash said the desire to continue teaching is a reciprocation of the help he received when he moved to The Villages more than five years ago.
“When I first came to The Villages, it was incredible how many people helped me learn pickleball,” Cash said. “Other people helped me and now I want to help other people.”
Drew Chaltry is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5233, or firstname.lastname@example.org.