CHAMPAIGN – Long before identical twins Anna and Avra Jain got their names in print, they got their hands on dozens of newspapers daily for three years.
Barely teenagers in the mid-1970s, they were News-Gazette paper carriers – "We doubled our circulation route in the few years we did the route," Anna said – with a specific target for their earnings of about a nickel per day per paper.
History shows the Champaign Central graduates made a wise choice in attending John Newcombe's tennis camp in Texas.
"First time we saw our swings on video," Anna added.
Next month will mark the 30th anniversary of their state tennis championship in doubles.
After winning all seven matches at Arlington Heights as seniors, Anna and Avra earned full scholarships to Purdue University.
It was a nice return on the nearly $250 they each spent for Newcombe's weeklong camp.
"I remember watching John Newcombe's serve, how fast it was and how he could do it blindfolded," Avra said. "That's when I learned the serve was all about the toss."
Anna and Avra will return to Champaign-Urbana this weekend to join two other former Central athletes for their enshrinement in the C-Club Athletic Hall of Fame. The official induction takes place Saturday night at the Hawthorn Suites.
This year's other inductees are swimmer Dan Trupin and basketball player Nate Mast.
The record books show that on Oct. 28, 1978, the Jains completed their impressive state series performance. They teamed up to beat their first three state-meet foes by 6-0, 6-0 scores.
The fourth opponent fared better, losing 6-2, 6-0, before the Jains dominated in the quarterfinals 6-0, 6-0.
"Hard to believe it was 30 years ago," Anna said. "I still remember the beautiful, crisp fall day and how nervous I felt as though it was yesterday."
In truth, it has been 10,554 days since they were crowned champions.
"We both remember that particular day very well," Avra said. "It was a cool day. In fact, we played the whole (championship) match with sweaters on."
In the semifinals, the Jains were paired against the top-seeded team, a duo from New Trier, and survived 7-6, 4-6, 6-4. In the finals, they beat the doubles team from Hinsdale Central 6-4, 7-5.
They had reason to be nervous before the championship match.
"We misplaced our rackets and had to play with our backup rackets," Avra said.
It was the first time they had used them in competition.
Quoted in The News-Gazette the following day, Anna said: "What makes the difference is we were mentally tough. It was just us, the tennis ball and our opponent."
Fittingly, the Jains ended the showdown with a memorable final point.
"Anna poached across the net and hit a volley that struck the other player, which automatically meant the point was over," Avra said.
The Jains were 16-year-olds when the prep tennis season started their senior year but were exactly eight weeks past their 17th birthday the day they won state.
The Jains took pride in establishing their individual identities, at least off the court. "We wouldn't dress the same," Anna said.
There were times, however, they had no choice about their apparel.
"We had the same team uniform," Anna added.
That worked to their advantage in the title match when Anna admittedly wasn't playing her best. "Avra carried us," she said. Their opponents recognized that but were unable to capitalize.
"They commented that they knew one of us wasn't playing well, but they couldn't hit the ball to the person because they couldn't tell us apart," Anna said.
As doubles partners, the Jains switched places frequently, which helped to confuse their Hinsdale Central opponents.
The twins' introduction to tennis came through a Champaign Park District starter program, but only after they'd abandoned a different endeavor.
"Figure skating was our first sport," Avra said. "We got tired of falling, so we took up tennis."
Their ultimate success involved more than the time they dedicated to the game.
"It takes very supportive parents to give up their weekends to take you to tournaments," Anna said.
Their father, Ravinder, was born in India. Their mother, Barbara, only learned she was having twins two days before the girls were born.
Avra said their parents' behind-the-scenes help was essential in their development.
"My mom would get up before us to go reserve the court (at Hessel Park)," Avra said. "If it had rained, she would squeegee off the courts so it would be dry by the time we bicycled over.
"Couldn't have done what we did without her help and my parents' support. They never pushed us on anything but helped out as much as they could."
In the meantime
The Jains have traveled different career paths since graduating from Purdue with degrees in industrial engineering.
Anna is now president of the accessories and footwear division of Michael Kors LLC and is based in New York City. She has been in the fashion industry for 17 years and works with design, production and sales for a company that has evolved into a $100 million-plus business and is planning to expand internationally.
Interestingly, many associates of both Anna's and Avra's do not know the existence of the other.
"We have made a point of separating and building lives independent of each other and the whole twin thing," Anna said. "Many people in our lives do not know we have a twin."
Anna and her husband, Peter, have two sons: Andrew, 13, and Daniel, 10.
Avra, who had a 15-year trading career on Wall Street, now is based in Miami as a real estate owner and developer. She recently developed The Blue at Doral, a preferred hotel resort condominium along the fairways of Doral's Blue Monster Golf Course.
Her latest project is Regalia, an oceanfront ultra- luxurious condominium adjacent to the private residence community of Golden Beach.
Her 4-year-old daughter, Alexandra, is not yet following her footsteps into athletics.
"She is more interested in ballet and painting than soccer," Avra said. "I'm not sure if she will start playing sports, but as long as she is happy, I am happy."
They wouldn't have known it at the time, but the Jains are now the answer to a trivia question: Why has no high school doubles team won state titles three consecutive years, even though that accomplishment has occurred in singles?
The players the Jains defeated in the 1978 finals, Hinsdale Central's Anne Hutchens and Vicki Shields, went on to win doubles state crowns as juniors in 1979 and as seniors in 1980.
Meanwhile, the Jains were at Central during the heyday of the school's success in girls' athletics. Five months before they became state champions, Central's Jani Ensrud won the mile in the 1978 spring state track meet.
In the 29 years since the Jains graduated from high school – with Avra as the valedictorian – Central's girls' programs have had one state champion: diver Amanda Crews in 1996.
How much have the times really changed?
In 1978, folks could purchase an eight-pack of Pepsi-Cola (16 ounces) for 99 cents and a half-gallon of ice cream for the same price. Tomato soup was 17 cents for a 10 1/2-ounce can, and an 18-ounce jar of peanut butter was 69 cents.
And in The News-Gazette, the same day the sports section chronicled the exploits of Central's newest state tennis champions, was an advertisement for a concert to be held a few weeks later at the Assembly Hall.
The group was REO Speedwagon ... the same band that has scheduled another Assembly Hall date for next month. Both the Jains and the music still are going strong.
Fred Kroner is The News-Gazette prep sports coordinator. He writes a weekly high school-related column throughout the school year. He can be reached at 217-351-5235, by fax at 217-373-7401 and by e-mail at email@example.com.