I didn’t mean to give him the willies. I figured he already knew.
But until I called Mike Rankine last week, the Portage Lakes area resident had no idea he once played a tennis match against Jeffrey Dahmer.
It all began when Beacon Journal history maven Mark J. Price was wandering around in a database, looking for material for his awesome weekly column, This Place, This Time, and stumbled across a box score for a high school tennis tournament printed May 14, 1976 — 40 years ago this month.
Our newspaper reported that the previous day, a Jeff Dahmer from Revere easily defeated a Mike Rankine from Ellet, 6-4 and 6-1.
Fortunately for the sake of this column, the name Rankine is almost as uncommon as the name Dahmer. I was able to track him down quickly and, as it turns out, give him some news he wasn’t necessarily thrilled to hear.
After listening to my voice mail, Rankine says, he got goose bumps. His first thought: “That’s really creepy!”
What’s the problem? Other than Dahmer being a violent sexual predator, a necrophiliac, a cannibal and a serial killer, he was just another high school athlete, right?
“I’m kind of glad I lost,” Rankine jokes. “Turns out he wasn’t a guy you wanted to get too mad at you.”
Rankine went from Ellet to the University of Akron, where he earned a degree in construction management. Today he owns a thriving homebuilding firm, Design Construction Services, based in North Canton.
Rankine was aware Dahmer had played interscholastic tennis at Revere but had absolutely no recollection of their match, which took place in the first round of the AAA sectionals.
“When you’re playing high school tennis,” he says, “you don’t even introduce yourself to your opponent. Or you might just give a first name.
“Some of the big-name players in high school tennis, maybe you know who they are. But guys like me [and Dahmer], nobody knew.”
When they faced off, both were sophomores. Dahmer was a week away from his 16th birthday — and only 25 months away from his first murder.
Rankine describes his tennis career as “about average.” He played second doubles most of that year, winning more matches than he lost.
“We did good in the city, but we couldn’t really hang with the Suburban [League] teams. But we didn’t really play them very much back then.”
He says he does wish he had fared a bit better against Dahmer.
“It’s probably going to earn me some teasing from my son. He played tennis for Green and was the Suburban League regular-season champion in doubles his senior year.
“He always did have bragging rights on the tennis courts. This will help him confirm that.”
Today his son, Brian, 23, owns a diploma from Ohio State, lives in West Chester with his wife and is working for an insurance company in Cincinnati.
Mike and his wife of 33 years, Debbie, also have a daughter, Jacquelin, 27, who will graduate this month with a medical degree from Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
Their eyes will likely widen when the kids are told about Dad’s long-ago encounter with one of the most evil beings in history.
Says Rankine, “I was driving home yesterday thinking, ‘Oh, man, I can’t remember anything about that match.’ But you know what? One thing I do remember is that after every match you shake hands.
“It was 40 years ago and it was just a handshake — how many people do you shake hands with in your life? — but I thought, ‘Oh, I shook the hand of that guy, and what he did with those hands later ...”
Dahmer has been a household name since the June night in 1991 when Milwaukee police discovered 11 human skulls in his apartment. Eventually the world would learn he had killed 17 men and boys.
Am I allowed to say it was poetic justice when Dahmer suffered the same fate in 1994, bludgeoned to death by a fellow inmate?
Let’s just say the clear loser in that long-ago tennis match turned into the runaway winner.
Bob Dyer can be reached at 330-996-3580 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He also is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/bob.dyer.31