(click on coach's name to read more about them)

GIRLS (Spring)
BOYS (Fall)
1 - Annmarie Michol - Utica 1 - Andrew Shipp - Troy Athens

2 - Ryan Hankinson - Muskegon Reeths-Puffer

2 - Ian Thomas - Flushing
3 - Steve Lubbers - Hamilton

3 - Paul Foley - Auburn Hills Avondale

4 - Mark Sloan - Grayling 4 -Joel Cross - Portland

GIRLS (Spring)
Annmarie Michol, Utica - Division 1

Annie Michol’s tennis resume reads like a Hall of Fame application.


Indeed, Annie brings to her job a wide and varied experience in the form of “here and there and back again.” She coached at De La Salle for almost 16 years but stopped to spend time with all three of her daughters who played multiple sports. As can be expected, they are superb athletes who excelled in softball, basketball, swimming and tennis. The pool part is undoubtedly due to Annie’s husband who is a swim coach.


Even though Utica High School recently built new courts, Annie stopped coaching the boys there starting last season and is back directing the male varsity at DLS where her day job is as an English teacher, Curriculum Administrator, Academic Affairs Coordinator, and Student Council Moderator. She has been there for 25 years.


But she still directs the girls at Utica where her program runs in the middle of the pack, thanks (or no thanks) to programs such as Utica Eisenhower, Rochester Stoney Creek, and Port Huron Northern. Despite the heavy competition Annie enjoyed the excellence this past season of a 1S who won every match except to her counterparts from Utica Eisenhower and Dakota, both of whom made the MHSTeCA All State team. The regional was a tough one: three teams qualified for state competition.


Even though she teaches at DLS, Annie recruited 55 kids from Utica to try out for tennis. She runs her summer program on courts that are rented from Macomb College.


Her brother put a racket in his sister’s hand when she was five years old. She went on play 4S at Warren Fitzgerald her freshman year and then 1S the next three under Coach Wayne Gilbert. She lost only 10 matches in these four years, was undefeated in league competition, and qualified for “states” every year. She then played for Macomb Community College and Wayne State University.


In other words, Annie has been an example to the girls at Utica both in terms of excellence of play and quality of leadership. In multiple venues and for many years, she has been an advocate for tennis.

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GIRLS (Spring)
Ryan Hankinson, Muskegon Reeths-Puffer - Division 2

Tiger Teusink was a basketball player during his days at Holland High School. So was Jim Jonas who competed on the hardcourt for the Dukes of Essexville Garber. But they were both high school tennis players as well who afterward went on to stellar careers as tennis coaches.

Not so with Ryan Hankinson who was a primarily a basketball player at Hamilton High School. The smidgen of high school tennis that he engaged in on behalf of the Hawkeyes was in his junior year when he was recruited to play doubles because a few of the regular team members were kicked off the team for behaviors displayed in the midst of that year’s spring trip. He doesn’t remember ever winning a match.


Why was he recruited to play a modicum of tennis? At the time, the tennis coach at Hamilton was a physical education teacher in the district but the varsity basketball coach at Holland Christian. Ryan merely dipped a toe into a sport that would eventually garner him a MHSTeCA Coach of the Year Award..... for tennis.


Unlike Tiger who played both basketball and tennis at Hope, Ryan stuck to only basketball at the home of the Flying Dutchmen. Graduating from Hope in 1994 with a degree in English, he worked in the Ottawa County Area ISD and an Alternative Education program for two years in Zeeland. He then established a similar Alternative Ed program at Reeths-Puffer in 1996 and when the administrators closed that program two years later, he became an English teacher.


Actually, he was an English teacher and a basketball coach. He managed the Youth/AAU/Travel/ segments of the sport virtually every summer. In fact,  Ryan has coached the sport at RP from 1994 to today although he left his school briefly to be involved with a son and daughter at Spring Lake where he lives and where they went to school. But once they graduated and went on to play college sports --- Samantha played volleyball at Aquinas and Michael played basketball at Hope – he went back to leading RP teams.


In 2013, he became the JV tennis coach at Reeths-Puffer in order to help a new young teacher. As it turns out, he “learned a bunch” from the guy who ended up leaving to go into the ministry.


“Several girls at the school complained about the turnover being due to coaches not understanding the players despite having strong tennis playing backgrounds,” he says. “I agreed to take the girls varsity position that spring on a one-year basis since they could not find a willing coach.”


Again, Ryan was fortunate. “Immediately I found a young assistant (Ike Patton) who could help me organize practices and cover the teachnical elements of instruction before heading off to play collegiately. I applied for the boys varsity job that June but they hired a first year teacher with a very strong playing ability from Mason (Tom O’Brien).  I was his assistant until taking over the boys finally in 2021 when he left for another school district. I loved the co-coaching experience.


In other words, Ryan was a seasoned basketball coach who was willing – even eager – to learn the intricacies of a new sport. He secured the help of, believe it or not, an international virtual coach. “Reid Klootwyk is a RP Alumnus before my tennis coaching time who lives in the Netherlands now but comes and donates his time giving free lessons for a week or two each summer,” he says.


“I also have a U.S. virtual coach, Michael Greeby from Chicago, who physically co-coached with me when Chicago was 100% virtual during the first COVID year and periodically visits when up at their cottage,” he continues. We randomly just met on a local court when he was coaching his teenage children.”


The results: RP has finished in the top 4-5 in the conference the last three years after never scoring more than a single point or two during the first five seasons. Given the competition in that league --- Forest Hills Central, Forest Hills Northern, East Grand Rapids, and Muskegon Mona Shores – this is an admirable achievement.


Ryan has accomplished this, in part, because he has worked at getting girls more opportunities to hit/play year round despite the only indoor tennis facility within approximately 40 miles closing 4-5 years ago. 


Secondly, he sought good athletes to take up the sport several years before getting to high school. This was done with a free summer program following the lost Girls COVID season and four- player hitting sessions in district elementary gyms through winter.   


Third, he bought a stringing machine and 20 demo rackets from Norton Pines Athletic Club. He strings rackets for players in the area and uses the proceeds to string rackets for RP kids free of charge (“for life: mine”). The 20 racquets were sold/traded/donated to defer costs for families with no tennis background or no interest in making the financial commitment to get their children started.


Perhaps what is most impressive about Ryan’s work is that in a regional which featured such perennially powerful programs as FHN, FHC, EGR, and Lowell, he was voted Regional Coach of the Year by these coaches. That conveys respect and appreciation from some very successful people.

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GIRLS (Spring)
Steve Lubbers, Hamilton - Division 3

MHSTeCA high school tennis history is replete with coaches who followed their talented sons and daughters onto teams as coaches. Most of them do a very good job because they had played the game back in the day and subsequently had helped develop their own kids. A few were dedicated to their alma maters because they had themselves competed for the school decades prior. See Don Leavy.

But many step down after their kids are through competing and have graduated. Their service to the school was one of a certain self-interest at the expense of a  program that suffers from is a lack of consistency in terms of leadership. The successful programs are those in which the coach sticks around.

Steve Lubbers is one who stuck around. He played three years at Hamilton High School under Hall of Famer Wayne Tanis (Class of 1991). In his junior year, he was part of a doubles team which won the conference championship. In his senior year, he was 19-1 at 4S, won the league title, and then teamed with the 3S to capture the regional doubles championship under the now-ancient format.


After Wayne retired, there was a revolving door of five or six coaches. While this was going on, Steve went about a normal life. He acquired a BA in Accounting at Davenport University, then went on to eventually own two companies.


In the meantime, he played recreational tennis and worked with his sons. As a spectator who often showed up to watch one of his sons play, he was approached by the then-coach to help with the team. After she left, he was the natural choice to take over. Given his position at his companies, he was able to work out a schedule so that he could meet with his kids on their time table.


From 2001-2007, Steve coached his sons and their teammates. Given the strength of competition they faced – Allegan and Holland Christian, for instance -- the Hawkeyes were never regarded as a powerhouse but they played hard. “It seems like every year at the regional, Hamilton would knock off one of the seeds,” said Gary Ellis of Allegan at the time. “It was never regarded as a ‘good draw” to have to face them. If you played one of Steve’s kids, you had better be ready.” Indeed, Steve’s players gave so many opposing teams such tough matches that he earned a Coach of the Year Award in 2007.


Since then, his boys squads have qualified for state competition five times. Their best finish was in 2014 when they finished ninth. Three all state players came from that team.


“Steve has built consistently strong Hawkeye tennis teams that are always prepared, conduct themselves with class and are competitive regardless of the score,” affirms Jed Mulder of Zeeland East.


This year’s award is for his work with the girls teams which have qualified for “states” twice, the best being a 12th place finish in 2021. This past spring, they were 9-5-1. They finished third in the conference and fourth in the regional. This is not the result that ordinarily gets one a State Coach of the Year honor. But “opposing coaches respect and admire him,” says Jed.


Each fall, Steve hosts a tournament to honor Wayne Tanis. In turn, each spring he does the same with the Julie Genzink Memorial Tournament, an invitational in honor of a player who was killed in an automobile accident five years ago. “She was a young lady who played four years of tennis and was the kind of player every coach wants on his team,” he says. “She was a quiet leader and gave her everything in every practice and match. She played 1st singles for her last two years and was captain.” And yes, last spring Steve’s Hawkeyes won that tournament.


“Steve is a wonderful ambassador of the game,” says Jed

For the second time --- 16 years later --the board of directors agrees.

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GIRLS (Spring)
Mark Sloan, Grayling - Division 4

“Smart girls play tennis.”

For the 14 years that Mark Sloan has led the Grayling girls tennis team, this has been one of several mantras which he employs. It is a way of “selling the sport” in the halls of the high school, the same institution where he has had so much trouble fielding a boys squad.


His girls back it up. They have been MHSTeCA All Academic every year since he took over a struggling program a decade and a half ago when his daughter was a disappointed freshman who couldn’t play tennis because there was no offering.


At the time, Mark, a financial advisor for Ameriprise, met with the athletic director and the two conducted a survey to gauge the interest. Thirty one girls responded affirmatively even though only two – his daughter and one other – had ever played tennis.


This is truly a grass roots beginning. Twenty to twenty-five girls joined his No-Cut program although the authorities were pretty sure that Mark would step down after his daughter graduated because he doesn’t work for the school system. “Everyone thought I would be done when Carlie graduated but I always had a couple up-and-coming kids I wanted to see through so 14 years later I’m still coaching, “ he says. “This year I had a freshman make it to the regional finals at 3 dubs so I guess I will be sticking around for a while. I stick around to see other athletes continue to grow.”


“Over the years I have been impressed with Mark for staying with the program in Grayling and working to make a difference in the lives of kids,” says former Coach of the Year Larura Hackman of Harbor Springs.  “He never gives up on the girls and has always made sure Grayling’s program continues.”


Indeed, Mark has developed a program with a high level of skill and sportsmanship amidst many competitive athletes. “Teams in our conference and regional respect us for the quality team that we produce every each and every year,” he says. “I’m a stickler about how my teams represent themselves, me, our school, and community.”


“I first met Mark when Ludington slipped to D4 back in about 2012 and were switched to the TC regional,” says Hall of Famer Tom Kudwa. “I knew none of the coaches personally. Mark was most welcoming. Not only did I enjoy meeting him, but my girls walked away from the regional talking about how nice the Grayling players were to them. That’s not something you hear much.”


To be sure, Mark starts every spring with five or six kids who have never held a racket and works hard to develop them into competitive tennis players. “We have yet to win a conference title, regional championship, or qualify for the state tournament but we keep working in that direction,” he says.


“Our record last season was 10 wins 11 losses and 2 ties,” he continues. “We finished in the middle of the pack in regionals and the Lake Michigan Conference and have yet to win over TC St. Francis or Harbor Springs. But I have 11 varsity starters coming back next season and I’m thinking it will be our strongest team in years.


Mark has roots both in the community and in the game. “I grew up In Grayling  and started playing tennis between 7th and 8th grade,” he says. “Our community had just built a new single court at our middle school and 6 new courts at our high school. “I bought my first ‘real racket’ between 8th and 9 grade with money earned by shining army boots at Camp Grayling. It was a Wilson T2000, the one Jimmy Connors used.”


Even though Mark, as a high school player, had to play on a co-ed team in order to fill out the line-up, they still qualified for the state finals one year. 


Coaches without access to indoor tennis facilities know that players “get made” in the summers. “We run open tennis on Monday evenings during the summer and Sunday evenings in our new Viking Activity Center during the winter,” he says. “All are welcome to come and hit with us.”


“I  started a USTA Community Tennis Association a few years ago and ran some programs for elementary and middle school kids,” he adds. “We have been able to get rackets and nets into our elementary school through the USTA program. Two years ago, we were awarded the CTA of the Year for Northern Michigan.


“A team is a reflection of their coach,” says Tom. “His selection is a compliment to not only him but the board of directors who were wise enough to recognize his worth on behalf of his kids and his community.”

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BOYS (Fall)
Andrew Shipp, Troy Athens - Division 1

This past fall, Andrew Shipp’s Red Hawks of Troy Athens finished in 8th place at the state finals, the second best finish in their history, yet they ended in a tie for fourth place in their league.

Why? Insiders know that the OAA Red is probably the toughest conference in the state. League champion was Bloomfield Hills who went on to win the state title in Division 1. Conference runner-up was Troy who, in turn, went on to capture second place in the state, again in Division 1. Third place was Birmingham Seaholm, who finished in second place in D2.


Also-rans were Troy Athens, Stoney Creek, and Beverly Hills Groves, all tying for fourth in the league. Seventh place in the conference went to Jerry Murphy’s Rochester crew but yet they finished in fifth place in the state. In fact, Athens had defeated Rochester in this year’s dual contest but again, coaches know that the state tournament is not a head-to-head.


Maybe what was most impressive about Athens’ state tournament performance is that every doubles flight was seeded and each of them held their seeds. In fact, Athens beat Rochester by winning 4S and all the doubles. That exhibit of team depth is why the Red Hawks even defeated Ann Arbor Huron this past fall.


Their coach is no slouch either. Andrew has been at the helm of high school tennis teams for 25 years (including one in Saipan). There were one-year stints at North Farmington and Bloomfield Hills Andover. The other 22 are at Athens, six as the JV coach under Hall of Famer Warren Block and 16 as the head guy.


 His career record of 140-126-22 further illustrates the strength of the competition in his neck of the woods. It is an understatement to say that there is a lot of parity in that region. His kids don’t win it all but they certainly can play.


But what is more impressive to some of us is the extraordinary service he has offered to high school tennis on behalf of the MHSTeCA. In that stacking has been an ongoing bane to our sport for at least 50 years, Andrew became an initial member of the Ethics Committee in 2013 and is now the chair. As such, he has to deal with delicate situations that involve a coach who has been accused of bending the rules.


“Andrew has been on the claims committee since its inception and is the longest serving member,” says former president Eric Gajar.  “Most of that time, he has served as the comittee's chair. He is thorough and fair in his dealings and has headed off many potential conflicts. He puts in countless hours, knowing that it is a thankless job most of the time. In my opinion, he is single handedly responsible for the continued success of the claims committee and I cannot imagine it without him.”


“I’ve had to have a lot of tough conversations that I’ve tried to handle with compassion and respect for all parties involved and I’ve always tried to see both sides,” says Andrew. What is admirable is that Andrew has put himself in that position for so long.


In addition, he has served on the state seed committee, an exhausting assignment at the end of a crazy-busy time that also can involve heated discussions once the draws have been made and high-octane coaches start to get involved as they express their self-interested opinions.


Let the record show that year after year, the work of this committee is amazingly accurate. The outcomes of these flights in terms of those who have held their seeds are almost always in the 95 percent range but they don’t reflect the hours that committee members put in hosting area seed meetings, compiling results, and studying entries in TennisReporting.. Then they spend a night and a day in Lansing doing the work of establishing seeds and making the draws.


These are burn-out jobs. The fact that Andrew has remained in the service of these two committees shows both outstanding dedication and resilience. Moreover, the future of the MHSTeCA administration looks strong in that he will be our president in 2025.


At one MHSTeCA workshop years ago Vic Braden declared: “If you’re thinking something good, say it.”


“Andrew expresses gratitude,” says Ed Waits, “something that doesn’t happen often enough with regard to what coaches should receive for their labors.


Now, it’s our turn.

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BOYS (Fall)
Ian thomas, Flushing - Division 2

“I will always remember Ian as a member of the Flushing High School tennis team who steadily became stronger,” says Doug Adams, a Hall of Famer who lives in Flushing. “He earned All Big Nine Conference honors as a junior at #1 Doubles and as a senior at #1 Singles.”

This ain’t small potatoes, given the rich history of achievement of the Flushing tennis teams that go back to Art Vince, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1995. Art coached from 1973-1990 and led a squad that ended Grand Blanc’s streak of 66 consecutive Big Nine conference wins on their way to a league title.


Art was followed by Alan Nelson who put together an astonishing number of victories which place him second on the record board as compiled by Flint Journal’s Greg Tunnicliff. Al won 264 dual meets as against only 46 losses from 1992 to 2016.


Only the recently deceased Rod McEachern eclipsed that total.


Enter Ian Thomas who was ever so ready to continue the success. He got obsessed with tennis at age 13 when he joined a community summer program. He played four years for the Raiders at various positions, “ a record of 52-20, 20th on the program’s history list.


Ian graduated from Flushing High School in June 1998 and went straight from there the very next year to what became an annual summer job  running Flushing Tennis Camps. He grew the camps from 20 kids to over 100.


“I have directed and coached at summer tennis programs these past 25 years and feel each year the camps get a little better,” he says. “I also feel the summer tennis camps are the reason our high school tennis programs and in particular our varsity tennis teams have been so successful. We not only teach the physical attributes to excel, but also the mental aspects of the game along with emphasizing and modeling good sportsmanship.”


During his student teaching in 2001, Ian began coaching the Flushing JV program as well. Between his 15 years at that post together with summer developing top notch varsity players, he was more than ready to take over after Al retired in 2016. After all, he was already deeply involved in those teams’ success during that decade and a half.


“I helped develop almost all our players at a very young age and continued to coach them through the varsity ranks during my time coaching summer camps at Flushing, Flint Swim and Racquet Club, Genesee Valley Tennis Club and Genesys Athletic Club,” he says.


Doug confirms this. “As a longtime Flushing resident I’ve been very impressed with the great job Ian did running one of the larger summer programs in Genesee County, and then as a tennis coach at Flushing High School, he says. “He has gained the respect and admiration of his players, their parents and residents of the Greater Flushing Community including myself.”


That’s because in 2016, Ian got his chance to continue the work that had preceeded Flushing success the previous years. The first thing he did was beef up the schedule, a source of contention amidst record keepers in that area who maintained that Flushing’s success was too often the result of a weak schedule. “We have won six consecutive Metro League titles from 2018 through 2023, developed college tennis players, and won one regional championship in this time,” he says.


“What I hang my hat on more than anything, though, as an educator of 20 years is that every single year I have coached we have been a MHSTeCA All-Academic Team,” This year we have a 3.61 cumulative grade average and last year we had a 3.81 GPA. I pride myself on not just developing athletes, but scholar athletes.”


It didn’t take long for Ian to get the credit for what he had been doing all along anyway. He was selected Regional Coach of the Year for four of his eight season years at the helm of the Flushing boys: 2016, 2017, 2022, 2023. He was selected Metro Coach of the Year for five of these of those eight seasons for the years: 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2022.


He can now add a State Coach of the Year honor.

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BOYS (Fall)
Paul Foley, Auburn Hills Avondale- Division 3

Growing up in Rochester as a devout (his word choice) baseball player, Paul Foley competed for the Falcons in basketball and baseball until his senior year. An ankle injury playing basketball in that final season rendered him unable get on the field on behalf of his favorite sport; therefore, he joined Jerry Murphy’s veteran-laden tennis squad in 1982 in the midst of that season.

Jerry simply says: “He was a very good doubles player,” an understatement in that he was all-conference in the only year he served on the team as a veritable walk-on.


How could this happen?


Obviously, one reason is that he was a very good athlete. Another is that his parents had purchased a house in Rochester when Paul was nine years old which had a backyard tennis court. Practicing on that court plus playing on the tennis squad for Heart of the Hills Swim Club in the summers of his middle school years, he acquired some pretty sound fundamentals. Close friends on the varsity team in his senior year were the ones who persuaded him to skip baseball for tennis.


He must have loved the experience. Paul spent the summer after high school graduation practicing so that he could maybe play college tennis. He succeeded, spending a year on the Oakland University squad back when they were fielding a team. He got there by competing in a walk-on tournament for the final two spots on the team and secured a place. He ended up being the 7th man on a 7-person roster when the 8th man quit. He played a lot of exhibition matches and the occasional low singles and mid-doubles when called upon.


What does this have to do with coaching? After all, Paul is a college professor. He previously taught at Oakland Community College and St. Mary’s College where he also was an assistant basketball coach. He is currently a professor at Macomb Community College teaching political science with a focus on American politics.


As it turns out, his goal was to combine two passions: teaching and coaching. He started at Warren De La Salle as a JV coach under the varsity’s Annie Michol. Three seasons later, he worked at Fraser High School when the legendary Lee O’Bryan (Hall of Fame Class of 1995) stepped down to become the school’s athletic director.


His eight seasons at Fraser were amazingly successful. Playing in a mixture of the Red, White and Blue divisions (MAC), his girls qualified for the state finals four of five years. They always/inevitably finished as the runner-up to one of the Grosse Pointe schools as Fraser fluctuated between Divisions 1 & 2.


During his tenure as the girls coach, the boys position opened up at Fraser and again, in each of his three seasons as their coach, Paul’s teams qualified for the state finals. If not for Grosse Pointe, they would have been regional champions as well.


This didn’t go unnoticed. During his eight seasons at Fraser, Paul was voted Regional Coach of the Year seven times by his colleagues. He also served on the MHSTeCA Board of Directors during this time and was the lead instructor of the Fraser/Macomb County Summer Tennis Camp. This was a four-days-per week, four-hour sessions over six weeks and over a five year period.


But parenthood ensued and Paul made the decision to step down and “play Dad.” However, when McKenna and Kellen entered middle school, he got the itch to coach again. This time it was the Avondale boys job that opened up. He stepped into the position in 2015 and not only resumed coaching but also resumed winning.


Again he began a summer program during the month of July in 2015, open to all interested players. It ran for 2-3 hours, three days per week for five weeks. He helped players, both boys and girls, from Auburn Hills, Rochester, Troy, Royal Oak, Lake Orion among others to improve their skills.


It took a while in that Avondale is not Fraser, but Paul eventually led a team to this school’s first regional championship ----and thus, their first trip to the state finals – in just three years.  This has been followed by three more state final tournament trips in three consecutive years  --- 2021, 2022, and this past fall.


And here we go again, Paul added four more Regional Coach of the Year honors to his other seven.


This past fall’s success definitely got the attention of the Board of Directors. The Yellow Jackets finished as co-champions in the OAA Blue Division with a 4-1 dual meet record. They ended up second behind Cranbrook Kingswood in the regional with 16 points, the most any Avondale squad had ever accumulated. And to top it all off, they secured All Academic status for the ninth year in a row.


Paul points out that this is accomplished in the midst of competing demands on his players. They have to cope with AP exams, band membership, and ACT/SAT prep courses because, to paraphrase Grayling’s Mark Sloan, “Smart kids play tennis.”


Given the above plus eleven Regional Coach of the Year honors while guiding two school programs, one wonders why the Board of Directors took so long. Yes, previous winners were certainly deserving but this man has accumulated an incredible body of work, definitely worthy of this award.

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BOYS (Fall)
Joel Cross - Portland - Division 4

For many years, Portland High School has fielded strong tennis teams, primarily due to the leadership of Hall of Famer Jim Niebling (Class of 2012). But all along, Jim has given much credit to a plethora of assistant coaches who have provided so much support on the courts. They include Nick Martin, Crystal Lowe, and Alexandra Stamm who all received our association’s Assistant Coach Award.

But in the mix almost the entire time was Joel Cross whose name would come up repeatedly in terms of Portland’s latest achievement. “He started playing for me in 1991 when we were just a school club,” says Jim. “When he graduated high school, he was my first assistant coach, both boys, girls and summers. He was very instrumental to our development in the early years.”


To be sure, Joel’s service on behalf of Portland tennis has been lengthy but erratic. In 1996, only his second year out of high school, he started helping out with the boys JV squad when tennis finally became a varsity sport at his alma mater. He picked up the girls JV job a year later, firmly affixing himself to the Portland program from the very beginning. He was so taken with the experience that he enrolled in Ferris State’s Tennis Management Program. He then added to his coaching credentials by teaching at Court One in Lansing for two years. Ultimately, he became the girls varsity coach from 2002-2006.


He loved teaching so much that he decided to go into elementary education which meant stepping down from his varsity girls position. The time constraints of college classes were simply too much.  But even though he gave up the girls varsity job, he still helped out at the JV level.


This has meant some in-and-out service for the Portland program but, to be sure, with plenty of “ins”. Joel was always there to assist with the summer program and in addition, he helped fundraise and construct new outbuildings at the facility. He was also involved in building junior and pickleball courts there.


Thus, he was a natural choice to take over the boys program in 2018 when Jim retired. Since then, the squad has qualified for state competition three of those six years.


It hasn’t been easy for this D4 school where football takes up so many of the school’s athletes in the fall. For instance, the freshman class numbered about 60 boys, yet 56 signed up for winter football conditioning.


During this past campaign, Joel even had to go into each contest with one player short, yet they still had a successful season. They finished second in the league during the dual meet season and a tie for second overall. Losses in two close contests sent them to third place in the regional.


Moreover, Joel has had to develop players, not inherit them. “We do not have kids who hit regularly at a racket club,” he says. “Almost all that they have learned has been through our program. All eleven of our players have played competitive tennis for only three years or less, yet we got them to a level in which they almost qualified for the state tournament.”


How to gain competitive experience? This past fall, Joel held five quads. Those are a lot of gatherings that involve a lot of work but they not only improved his own players but continued the Portland tennis tradition of extending opportunities to compete for other squads as well. His kids won one of those quads. Then Joel turned around and ran both the league tournament and the regional. More work beyond merely coaching.


He is in his 10th year of teaching in the district, having started as a kindergarten instructor for three years. He currently teaches 7th grade science at Portland Middle School and is the school’s robotics coach. He has taught game design and drone aviation in the past.


Given that Joel started playing in Portland in 1991 and has coached since he graduated, it is now 2023 and “my feet are getting tired.” This is to be his last season. As a result, he has spent a substantial amount of time grooming Bailey VanHouten, his replacement, by teaching him how to schedule and run tournaments, build relationships with players and opposing coaches, organize and run practices, maintain facilities, work with parents, and work with administrators.


Through these years, the Portland High School tennis program has been the recipient of several MHSTeCA honors with regard to its coaches. Jim Niebling is in the Hall of Fame. Crystal Lowe has been a Girls Coach of the Year. Nick Martin and Alex Stamm have received Assistant Coach Awards (so has Crystal).


But almost always, Joel Cross has been contributing Portland success during this time period. Furthermore, he was the Girls Varsity Coach from 2002-2006 and the Boys Varsity Coach from 2018-2023. That’s eleven seasons of varsity coaching coupled with nine seasons of JV contributions.


In other words, his Coach of the Year Award is exceedingly well-earned.


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