Late Tennis Coach, Midshipman Honored With Arundel High Memorial: See Photos

GAMBRILLS, MD — A late Naval Academy graduate and former private tennis coach was honored with a tribute at the courts he once roamed.

U.S. Navy Commander Donald John Carlson died on July 3 at 74 years old. His memory lives on at Arundel High School, where he taught tennis lessons and was a substitute teacher.

Dozens of tennis balls are mounted on the fence surrounding the court. Each ball has messages remembering “Coach Don” written on them.

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Flowers flank the array of tennis balls. There are also United States and Navy flags at the memorial.

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A sign proclaims it “Carlson’s Court,” though Arundel said a community member hung the sign and the courts are not officially named after the coach.

Carlson was a volunteer for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 Arundel tennis teams.

“Mr. Carlson has been an integral member of the Arundel community for many years,” Arundel Athletic boosters said Friday on Facebook. “Mr. Carlson was a kind man, always reliable, and a member of the community that cared for all staff and students with whom he interacted. Coach Carlson loved working with Arundel student-athletes.”

Carlson was even better known for his private lessons at the Arundel courts.

Gambrills resident Jerry Kline called Carlson “a long-time fixture at the heart of the community” who “touched so many people over the years.”

“He taught generations of kids and adults to play the game he loved,” Kline told Patch in a July 3 email. “He was kind and patient, with a gentle nature that encouraged and warmed the hearts of all he met.”

Kline, his two sons on the Arundel tennis team and his daughter who wasn’t on the team all took lessons from Carlson over the years.

“I can still see him running kids through endurance drills, scraping snow from the courts at dawn in winter and shagging practice balls long after dark in the brutal heat of summer,” Kline said. “Having taught classes at Arundel High School, he cleverly and seamlessly integrated historical figures and events into his routine tennis drills. After a 90-minute lesson, a student could expect to improve his or her backhand and know the names of the first 10 U.S. presidents, in order.”

Carlson was born on Sept. 17, 1949 in Youngstown, Ohio to Paul and Angela (Urbancic) Carlson.

Carlson graduated from the Naval Academy in 1972 and finished flight school two years later. He flew H53 helicopters in the Navy and was stationed in San Diego, California; Newport, Rhode Island; Naples, Italy and Virginia Beach, Virginia.

The former midshipman returned to the Naval Academy in 1989 for his final duty station. He served on active duty until 1994 when he retired and became the Director of the Plebe Intervention Program and the Plebe Advising Program until 2002.

Carlson met his wife, Evelyn, at a party in Annapolis. They married in 1973. The couple had two daughters, Lindsay and Rebecca, and one son, Andrew. Carlson is survived by his wife and children among other relatives.

The viewing is Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Hardesty Funeral Home in Gambrills. The funeral is Saturday at 1 p.m.

There will be another memorial celebration at the Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis at an undetermined date in late summer.

In lieu of flowers, the Carlson family asked for donations in the coach’s name to Arundel Athletics. Donations are accepted at

“Always caring, always nurturing, always giving freely of his time,” Kline said. “The Odenton/Gambrills area has lost an important and indispensable figure.”

Carlson’s obituary, which details more of his military service, is posted here.

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