In the fall of 1980, the Monaco Twins completed a reign of dominance that has gone unmatched. They won four state doubles tennis championships, finishing with an amazing record of 117-1.
Lisa and Margit were double versions of Clark Kent, mild-mannered and studious off the tennis court. On it, with red capes flying, they were fierce and invincible competitors. They were Super. They were simply unbeatable.
Featured in Sports Illustrated magazine, their names screaming across banner newspaper headlines on a regular basis every tennis season, the Monaco Twins were the rage, the bomb(s) in today’s vernacular. But all of the fame and glory was lost on them. In fact, the acclaim was amusing to them. It still is.
“All we did was play a sport,” Hicks says. “Sure, we played it pretty well, but it was, after all, just a game. I never thought it was a big deal. I still don’t.”
“Isn’t that funny?” Wheless asks. “Everyone thought what we did was so big, and we didn’t. You want to know how much we talked about it? After winning a match, in the car with our mother, we said, ‘Take us to McDonald’s.’ That’s what we were thinking about.”
This is not an act. It is the way the twins are, the way they were throughout their four-year championship run. Both were unassuming, humble, shy, trying to stay out of photographs instead of jumping into them. The girls were unaware of just what a huge story they were writing.
“We were never caught up with ourselves,” Wheless says. “Our parents taught us to be humble and tolerant.”
“I have always been thankful to our mother and father (Margit Monaco and the late Stephen George Monaco),” Hicks says. “We lived normal lives; we weren’t looking for attention, and we were surprised by all the attention we got.”
This is not to say tennis was unimportant.
“Oh, it mattered,” Hicks says. “It mattered a lot. We started playing when we were six. Our mom had played, and she got us involved. Our first goal was to beat Mom. Tennis was huge back then with McEnroe, Nastase and other pros who were real popular.
“When Lisa and I went into a tennis match, we never let our guard down. We were taught that we couldn’t depend on an opponent making errors, that we had to force them. We were always the aggressors.
“We never really talked about tennis. We just liked to play and we had fun playing. Winning was a plus, but what we really enjoyed was working at it and getting better. Lisa and I are both perfectionists.”
“We pushed ourselves more to improve than we did to win,” Wheless says. “Our mother did not drive or push us; she encouraged us. Margit and I never felt pressure.”
The twins were outstanding students, members of the National Honor Society, and outside of tennis, academics took up most of their time.
“We were big-time nerds,” Hicks recalls. “We thought it was more important to do well on a test than win a tournament. We had no social life, and that’s the way we wanted it.”
“Our upbringing was very sheltered,” Wheless adds. “We were nerds … the braces, the pimples, the books. Margit and I really liked being students, and we were very serious about it.”
Following graduation from Terry Sanford High School in 1981, the sisters attended UNC-Chapel Hill, where they were roommates and played on the Tar Heels’ tennis team. They both majored in art history and then went to Campbell University, Margit earning her law degree and Lisa getting her masters of education in school guidance and counseling.
They were married within six months of each other. They were also pregnant at the same time. Margit and Robby Hicks have two sons, Alex and Michael, who are nine and seven years of age, respectively. Jay and Lisa Wheless have a nine-year-old son, Stephen, and a seven-year-old daughter, Elizabeth.
Neither twin has been playing much tennis.
“I was burned out after Chapel Hill,” Wheless says. “I played on the satellite pro tour a little, but my heart wasn’t in it. When I came to Manteo, I gave some tennis lessons and played quite a bit for a while. Then I stopped altogether.
“I took up running, which I still do, and I give lessons for a week at clinics twice a year. I used to be a school counselor. Now I spend time with my children, and I’m very much into the PTA. I was voted 2007 Volunteer of the Year at Manteo Elementary School, and I am very proud of that.”
While Wheless’ children have taken no interest in tennis, Hicks’ sons have just started playing. And that has brought their mother back to the courts.
“It is fun to go out and hit the ball with them,” Hicks says, “but I can’t see myself getting real competitive again. My number-one goal is to be a good mother. My mom and dad were good teachers. Lisa and I learned from them how to be good parents. My children are my blessings.”
The Monaco Twins were tremendous teammates and even better friends – the best of friends.
“We always have been,” Hicks says. “Even though Lisa lives far away, we remain very close.”