Jan Esper
Bloomfield Hills Lahser
Bob Murray
Warren Woods Tower
Mark Sobieralski
Grosse Pointe South

(click on Inductee's name to read 'description')

Jan Esper, Bloomfield Hills Lasher

At first glance, the more envious among us might conclude that tennis coaching at Bloomfield Hills Lahser is tantamount to running a push-button program, one in which you merely toss out the balls, organize a few challenge matches, submit a line-up, and then sit back to watch your kids win. Indeed, Lahser players have always arrived for the first day of practice ready to play. Those kids in the community who don't stray to nearby Cranbrook, Country Day, or Brother Rice before they get to high school have had plenty of training and tournament experience before they matriculate.

But those who have had the good fortune to coach in bountiful programs know that it isn't always a bed of roses. There are high expectations and a measure of intolerance when they are not met. You are dealing with certain parents who are used to getting their way and thus, who not only look over your shoulder but often think that they know more than the coach, especially where their son/daughter is concerned. There are also the second-guessers in the form of local pros, coaching colleagues, etc. who are wondering "what's wrong with Lahser" when the Knights don't win it all year after year.

Enter Jan Esper. To be more specific, enter Jan Esper in 1977. It didn't hurt that she was one of them - that is, she had lived in the community since the early '70s where she enjoyed a network of friends who appreciated her competence and passion. It didn't hurt that she was raising her own kids there, tennis players who would go on to play high school tennis for Lahser, (but not necessarily for her). It didn't hurt that she is a strong-willed parent in her own right who often had watched her high school players grow up and helped train them. And it didn't hurt that she brought some successful coaching experience at West Bloomfield with her.

As it turns out, daughter Julie, competing for Lahser while Jan was coaching at West Bloomfield, was the one who put her mom's squad into the state tournament one year because her doubles team won a match against Marian which made the difference in points. Indeed, the Espers were already exerting an influence on Lahser tennis before Jan took over the varsity boys position. She had volunteered to help out with the East Hills Middle School boys program for four years. When Lahser went through four coaches in four years, athletic director Norm Quinn asked her to give it a try.

The results? With the possible exception of legendary Hamtramck coach Jean Hoxie, Jan's tenure might give her our sport's longest tenure as a female coaching boys in Michigan. Under her direction, Lahser boys have won 22 regional titles and two state championships, 1993 and 2002 (in both cases the squad was ranked third going into the tournament). The team finished as runner-up in 2001 and in third place in 2003, and overall the team has finished in the state's top ten 15 times. In addition, the Knights have won 17 conference championships in the Metro Suburban Association/Oakland Activities Association, its Division I being arguably the strongest league in the state (Andover, Rochester Adams, Rochester, Seaholm, Troy, Groves, and West Bloomfield).

Since 1977, Jan has also coached three powerful girls teams: West Bloomfield from 1977 to 1987, Rochester from 1989 to 1995, and Lahser from 1996 to the present. These kids brought home 7 regional titles, 4 second place finishes, and 9 conference championships. Her girls teams have finished in the state's top ten 9 times.

"I should win," says Jan. "I have been fortunate to have coached in three districts where tennis is a high priority." But the statement ignores the impact she has made in tennis programs that didn't always win it all. "She has definitely been in a unique position with the Lahser boys as she inherits top-notch players, some with attitudes, yet she is able, as a woman coaching these guys, to pull it off and win state championships," said Jerry Murphy, Rochester boys coach and current MHSTeCA president. "Over the years I've had to laugh on a couple of occasions when she would show up for an early season dual match between our teams, claim that she had a young team and was 'down' a hit this year, proceed to beat my senior-laden team 8-0, and then go on to win league, regional, and state championships."

For her efforts, Jan has been named Coach of the Year by the Oakland Press three times, the Birmingharn/Bloomfield Eccentric five times, and the Detroit News once. She has been the MHSTeCA Regional Coach of the Year several times and our state coach of the year twice, once for girls (2000) and once for boys (2002).

But Jan hasn't just confined her activities to winning titles. She has hosted 11 MHSAA regional tournaments, served two two-year terms on the MHSAA State Rules Committee, and has been on the MHSTeCA board of directors for four years. In addition, she is proud of the contributions she has made in the summer public tennis program in Harbor Springs. "I began a tennis program through the community schools to reach kids not exposed to tennis. In one beginner class, I had a five-year-old boy and a seventy-two year old woman. We charged one dollar per one hour lesson. Several of the students had plastic rackets. The program was very successful and many of my students went on to play tennis at Petoskey and Harbor Springs High School."

"Her record speaks for itself," says Gary Doyle, district superintendent, "but certainly does not tell the whole story in terms of the positive impact she has had on young people in our school district." Adds Bernie LoPrete, district athletic coordinator, "Her appointment to the Hall of Fame contributes to the standard of excellence that the organization represents." The hall of Fame Selection Committee agrees.

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Bob Murray, Warren Woods Tower

When Bob Murray was a successful high school basketball player (a starter for two years, he averaged in double figures) at St. John's Military Academy in Delafield, Wisconsin, he also played for the school's tennis club which competed against other schools, albeit at an exhibition level. Thus, when he tried out for varsity tennis at Western Michigan University back in the early 60's, coach Hap Sorenson told him that all he had to do to make the team was work on his serve, volley, overhead, lob, and footwork. Hence, as a player Bob concluded that he was not destined for greatness. However, what Sorenson didn't know at the time was that this struggling walk-on would someday become a high school Hall of Fame tennis coach.

Indeed, even though Bob came to the Warren area as a basketball coach, his real love was tennis, a sport which was, in this blue-collar community with an ethnic flavor, deemed unfit for real men. It helped, though, that the basketball coach was also a tennis enthusiast. After considerable prodding from both Bob and interested parents, superintendent Robert S. Tower reluctantly agreed to fund both boys and girls tennis teams beginning in 1977.

Understandably, the first few years were rough, but the squad turned the corner in terms of wins in the early '80s, primarily the result of a Murray-initiated summer program. When Warren Woods High School merged with Tower High School to form Warren Woods Tower in 1985, the nucleus for a successful team emerged.

Since that time, the school is on its third set of tennis courts and the kids have made good use of them. In 25 years of high school tennis (1978 to the spring of 2003), Bob's kids have won 350 dual meets, one regional title, and ten conference championships, all of this accomplished either in the Macomb-Oakland Athletic Conference while he coached at Warren Woods High School or in the Macomb Athletic Conference when he worked at Warren Woods Tower.

Part of the reason why honors at the state level were so sparse is that Tower competes in a rough neighborhood comprised of such perennial powerhouses as Cranbrook and Detroit Country Day. Even so, Bob has received ample recognition from his peers over the years: seven MHSTeCA regional coach of the year honors, Macomb Daily county coach of the year in 1994, and MHSTeCA Class B state coach of the year in 1995. In addition, three of Bob's players - Gary Lutes, Bryan Morrow, and Ron DeSmet - have been successful enough high school players to play college tennis at Wayne State University. Gary and Bryan received scholarships while Ron was a walk-on. Lutes, who had a 32-1 record his senior year (his only loss was to Todd Martin in the second round of the state tournament) is a teaching pro at Eastside Tennis Club in Detroit. Brian is a teaching pro at Peachtree Tennis Club in Mount Clemens.

These are very impressive accomplishments when one considers the area from which these kids came. One of the reasons for this long-term achievement is that the tennis coach was also a very successful basketball coach who coached varsity squads at Mt. Clemens Clintondale, Warren Woods, and Clawson. His most successful team was the 1992 Clawson team that made it all the way to the Final Four in Class B.

In other words, Bob promoted tennis in an area which previously had emphasized more manly pursuits. By the time he finished his 34.5 year teaching career, Tower boys on the spring team numbered in the forties while the girls had 60 play for the school. "He took the time and energy that is needed to have his athletes recognized at all levels," said Jan Sanders, Tower athletic director.

Bob credits much of his success to longtime assistant coach George Cutshaw who said of his colleague, "We had a great partnership. We both understood our respective roles as a JV and varsity coach and he never interfered with either my methods of instruction or philosophy of instruction. We got along with each other extremely well and knew that we could depend on each other both on and off the courts."

"Obviously, his record speaks for itself," said Charles Dargis, principal of Tower. "Even more important, however, is how much this man has done over the course of his career to promote sports as a tool for helping young men and women excel in the game of life. He is personally responsible for furthering our tennis and basketball programs and for promoting a professional, can-do attitude amongst our student body."

No stranger to honors such as this, Bob was inducted into the Macomb County Hall of Fame in 2002. Two years later, he adds another membership to an even more exclusive club: the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame.

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Mark Sobieralski, Warren Mott & Grosse Pointe South

Mark Sobieraiski's lifelong love of tennis got its start in typical boyhood fashion: the community had built four courts at his neighborhood park in Warren and as an athletic eighth grader, he and his friends scrounged up some old wooden tennis racquets and gave the game a try. As it turns out, his junior high school sponsored a club team at the time and fortuitously, the director at the time was future Hall of Famer Tom Leyrer, current Jenison varsity coach and MHSTeCA first vice president. Tom helped Mark with the basics, fostered his love for the game, and sent him on to a very successful high school career at Warren Fitzgerald under veteran coach John Tatsak.

"He was like having another father," said Mark of Tatsak. "He taught us mental toughness and great sportsmanship." In turn, Tatsak says: "During the four years on the high school team, I recognized that Mark possessed several characteristics that helped him to be successful as a tennis player and student in high school, college and in his adult career as a coach and professional tennis instructor."

Tatsak's observation foreshadows a career that puts Mark into the Hall of Fame. But as a very skilled basketball player (the high school teams Sohieralski played on were ranked in the Class A top ten), this talented athlete received more college scholarship attention for what he could do with the large orange ball than with the small yellow one. Because he wanted to play both sports in college, he opted to attend Aquinas College in Grand Rapids where his tennis game, under the tutelage of coach Joe Hesse III, took off. A change of grips and the addition of an American twist serve elevated his game several levels.

In addition, Hesse helped get Mark a job at the Grand Rapids Racquet Club where he learned even more from former Uof M varsity star Brian Marcus and from work with players such as Luke and Murphy Jensen. By the end of his sophomore year (1980), Mark had won the N.A.I.A District 23 singles championship and had qualified for the nationals in Kansas City where he reached the fourth round. He ended his college career at Aquinas by setting the record for most career victories.

Thus Mark brought considerable talent and skill home with him when he returned to Warren to coach both boys and girls at Mott High School. At Mott, his teams captured II conference championships (six in boys and five in girls), and Mark guided Dave Gennero to the state No. 1 singles championship in 1992. It is safe to say that Gennero had someone worthy to work out with. After all, as a teaching pro at local racket clubs, his coach had spent time practicing with Aaron Krickstein.

Given that Mark had chosen tennis as a vocation and was working at the Wimbledon Racquet Club (and later at the Eastside Tennis and Fitness Club where he is currently the head professional), and additionally that he worked during the summers as head professional at the Grosse Pointe Yacht Club, it was natural that his impact on high school tennis would gravitate to the Grosse Pointe area. In 1993, Mark took over the girls varsity job at Grosse Pointe South, scene of so many state championships under the legendary Hall of Famer Stephanie Prychitko.

Although Mark has not achieved his goal of winning a state championship, he has, in the words of Warren colleague Larry Harte, "resurrected the Grosse Pointe South girls program back to state prominence." His 2002 squad came within one point of tying for the title. This year, the team finished in third place. Under his leadership, the Blue Devils have been regional champs each and every year he has been their coach. State tournament finishes from 1993 to present are 6th, 7th, 11th, 6th, 5th, 6th, 6th, 5th, 2nd and 3rd.

Over 21 years of coaching high school tennis, Mark has led Grosse Pointe South to over 300 dual meet victories, 22 conference championships, and 10 regional championships. A U.S.P.T.A. certified professional for the past eight years, he is an assistant director of the MHSTeCA, is cofounder and secretary-treasurer of the Macomb County Tennis Coaches Association (1989-2002), was voted the MHSTeCA state coach of the year in 1991 (while at Warren Mott) and again in 2000 (while at Grosse Pointe South), and was the N.F.C.A. Midwest Girls Coach of the Year in 2000. In addition, he has hosted 16 MHSAA regional tournaments and at least two invitational tournaments per year since 1986. He has often been seen pacing up and down the halls of the Troy Marriott in excited anticipation of giving a presentation at the annual clinic, then get out his wallet to pay the association's annual dues before going into the ballroom to serve some more.

In 1997, Ian Frost of Warren Mott was inducted into the Hall of Fame. In 1987, Stephanie Prychitko of Grosse Pointe South was included in our association's second class. In 2004, Mark, with a footprint firmly planted in both programs, takes his rightful place beside them.

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