Jack Thommen of Edina was a Minnesota college tennis champion and tireless advocate for a game he believed had virtues beyond the court.

Thommen, an educator and a founder of the Urban Tennis Program for children, died of melanoma on Oct. 22 in Edina. He was 80.

In the early 1970s, he cofounded Urban Tennis, a joint project of Minneapolis parks and Minneapolis schools.

"He always said tennis did so much for me that I wanted to share it with other young people," said his son Wade of Edina.

He helped lead the group for at least 20 years and would personally pay for promising young players to attend a tennis summer camp at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., said Steve Wilkinson, Gustavus' tennis coach and the camp director.

"He strongly believed that the mind and body went together, and he was interested in their education and their sports," said Wilkinson.

Greg Wicklund of Edina, head tennis pro at the Edina Country Club, said Thommen was always giving balls and racquets to children.

Wicklund said that Thommen not only managed the parks program, but also would get out on the court and teach.

"He was always so enthusiastic, and he cared about all the kids," said Wicklund.

In the 1930s, growing up in Minneapolis, neighborhood friends had hired famed player Bobby Riggs to give them tennis lessons. They invited Thommen to join in.

When he was in high school, he was a championship player. After graduating in 1946 from Southwest High School in Minneapolis, he joined the Army Air Forces, assigned to play on a military team.

After military service, he played for Gustavus Adolphus, taking the 1949 MIAC singles championship.

During the 1940s, he was a nationally ranked player, according to his family.

By 1953, he completed a bachelor's degree in education at the University of Minnesota, playing tennis in the Big Ten and serving as the team captain. He later earned a master's degree in education from the university.

In 1953, he joined the Minneapolis public schools, teaching elementary and junior high school, and later becoming an administrator.

In 1968, he became a pioneering manager of the school district's community education program, providing adult education and after-school programs for children.

He also helped found and lead the Minnesota Community Education Association. He retired in 1990.

He was inducted into the United States Tennis Association Northern Section Hall of Fame and the Gustavus Adolphus Tennis Hall of Fame.

His wife, Joyce, died in 1999.

In addition to Wade, he is survived by his other son, Peter of Jordan; daughter, Becky Nye of Edina; sisters Jodie Pieschel of Springfield, Minn., and Marilyn Dawson of Huntsville, Ala., and four grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at the Bloomington Covenant Church, 10150 Xerxes Av. S., Bloomington. Visitation will be from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the church.