Thomas Edward Flynn Jr. is this year’s class salutatorian at John Bapst High School of Bangor, an obviously bright student who recently decided to join older sister Erin in the fall at Columbia University, where he plans to study business and history.
But to family, friends, classmates and members of the state’s tennis community, he’s Bob Tom, a concession to his sister’s ill-fated attempts to call him “Baby Tom” when the two were toddlers.
“She had a little mess-up when she said it so she said ‘Booby Tom,’ and everyone in my first-grade class called me ‘Booby Tom,’” said Flynn, who will compete in the state singles semifinals Saturday at Bates College in Lewiston. “When my mom found out, she said instead of transitioning to Tom, let’s just go with Bob Tom, that should be easier, and it just stuck.”
Indeed, Bob Tom Flynn has made his own name on tennis courts around Maine during the last four seasons, playing No. 1 singles throughout his John Bapst career and last spring joining his sister as a state semifinalist — Erin made the final four in 2008 — before being ousted 6-2, 6-0 by Waynflete of Portland’s Brandon Thompson, the eventual state champion.
The Hancock resident has spent the last year learning from that experience and improving his game to make one final run at the singles crown.
“I had the strokes before, but this year I know how to implement them,” he said. “I’m forming strategy in my head, I’m forming tactics. I’m doing those things now as opposed to last year when I just hit the ball as hard as I could. This year I’m trying to move my opponent around, come to net, and implement a bunch of variety to my game.”
Flynn also has matured physically.
“I’m five inches taller than I was a year ago,” said Flynn, now 6-foot-2. “It’s actually made my serve a lot better. It’s changed my serve, but the rest of my game is exactly the same.
“I also have done a lot more plyometrics to get faster. Whereas last year I weight lifted, I’ve been doing ‘Plyometrics Insanity’, which is like a beach body program.”
While Flynn has been undefeated and untested in his high school matches so far this spring, he tests himself virtually every evening by working out with former Clemson University tennis player Chris Angell, a member of the teaching staff at the Ellsworth Tennis Center owned by Flynn’s mother, Susan Scherbel.
“For a lot of the high school kids I play, tennis is a second sport that they play in the spring,” said Flynn. “Fortunately I have a hitting partner who played Division I.”
Flynn yielded just three games during three victories earlier this week while advancing from the Round of 48 to Saturday’s scheduled semifinal against Falmouth freshman Justin Brogan.
All four semifinalists — Flynn, Brogan, top-ranked Patrick Ordway of Waynflete and Matt Gilman of Cape Elizabeth — are seen as capable of emerging as the state champion in what is described as one of the more wide-open tournaments in recent years.
The second-seeded Flynn also will have to overcome what he described as a minor back injury that flared up during Tuesday’s Round of 16 and quarterfinal matches.
I’ve actually never been injured in my entire tennis career,” he said. “This is the first time.”
But no matter what happens Saturday, Bob Tom Flynn’s results will be more about his game than his name.