Ed Waits

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Gary Ellis, Allegan High School

When Gary Ellis started his tennis coaching career in Allegan 33 years ago, he brought with him a wealth of training and experience. As a youngster growing up in Battle Creek, he had started to play the game in a 7th grade gym class under inspirational gym teacher Al Liebert. He caught the bug to the extent that during the following summer he practically lived at the two cement courts in the park near his home.

As the result of ensuing similar summers, he improved to the point where he played 3D, 1D, and 1S for the Battle Creek Central Bearcats against teams coached by, as it turns out, future friends and Hall of Famers Tiger Teusink (then at Jackson) and Jim VanZandt at Galesburg Augusta. “The matches I remember most are the matches I lost,” he says, “but I took a set off a state champ, even though I lost in three.”

Gary went on to play 1S and 1D at Kellogg Community College under coach Tom Mackie -- whose son years later, as it turns out, played at Battle Creek Pennfield and beat Gary’s Allegan player in a regional final and whose grandson played for Battle Creek Lakeview (Gary’s player finally beat the grandson in his senior year). Gary then cracked the top 6 lineup at Western Michigan during his junior year in college but “my senior year I did my student teaching in the spring, so I didn’t play that year.”

[Instead] “I did my student teaching at Battle Creek Springfield and asked if I could help with the team,” he says. “Working with Jim (1990 Hall of Famer coach Cummins) was by far the best ‘education’ class I took during college. He had a great group of guys and it was an absolute pleasure working with them. I learned so much from Jim that spring about working with and motivating kids. What a great experience for me.”

The feeling was mutual. “He supposedly student taught at Springfield,” said Cummins, “but he was actually the coach as I was a baseball player masquerading as a tennis coach. He was as knowledgeable then as now.”

According to Scott Cummins, Jim’s son who was an outstanding high school player, Gary would not only say “nice match” after a contest was over, but explain why, which few coaches are able to do. Scott was impressed with Gary’s depth of comments about a match, not the same old stuff with little substance. “It was such a great atmosphere with intensity, and yet played with sportsmanship and camaraderie,” he said.

“My players really missed him the next year,” says Jim. That’s because “the next year” Gary took a position at Allegan. As a double major in math and history who wanted to coach tennis, Gary found that the community had precisely the right opening. The school system was looking for someone with a good tennis background to take over a solid tennis program that had been established by previous coach Tom Essenburg. It became an excellent place to teach and coach, according to Gary, in that the parents and administration provided tremendous support.

To say that Gary rewarded the trust of the community is an understatement. Over three decades, his boys and girls teams recorded over 400 dual meet victories, 13 regional titles, 16 regional runner-up finishes, and 27 top ten finishes at the state tournament. His boys finished 3rd in the state in 1989 and his girls were runner-up in 1996. He has not kept count of the number of Saturday tournament wins, nor the number of Saturday tournaments he has hosted over the years, but an assessment of the total can come from a typical season when Allegan hosts three events with the boys and 4 varsity and two JV with the girls.

Can he coach? Consider the grading grid that Peter Militzer, Portage Central coach and MHSTeCA vice president uses to assess Gary. Teams: Well behaved. Players: Well-coached. Schedule: Doesn’t duck the tough teams. Performance: Speaks for itself. Improvement from beginning of season to end: Yes, consistently. Courts: 12 with a coaching alley so that you can coach from every court. Support from the school: Look at their new building.

Those coaches who have had the pleasure of looking at this building simply marvel. It consists of a coach’s office (complete with computer, printer, etc.), a concession stand, a conference/team room, a storage room with big doors, and two rest rooms. It has a porch area where there are picnic tables and the tournament table. The  primary use of the facility  is for tennis – the boys and girls varsity teams in the spring and fall and the summer program where 200-250 kids annually learn the game under the best of conditions. The cost, a bit over $150,000, was paid for primarily by donations from Allegan tennis supporters and the Allegan Booster Club. Clearly, the community appreciates and supports what Gary has done.

“We used to meet for the coaches meeting in a portable classroom near the courts,” said MHSTeCA vice president Nancy Brissette. “And yet, it was the best coaches’ meeting ever. Gary would hand out his program and we would make changes over donuts and coffee while Gary would tell one joke after another. Now we meet in his air conditioned conference room lined with a zillion trophies.”

Another indication of the respect that the community has for Gary is that he has served as the school’s athletic director twice. The first time was in 1983 but he soon found that the job took him away from home far too much. “I had two young children at the time and one night when I was actually home I couldn’t believe how fast they were growing. I decided that I wanted to watch my own kids grow up instead of other people’s.”

The second time was supposed to be a temporary thing. In February 2004 the school’s athletic director resigned and Gary was asked to complete the year. But then, predictably, he was asked to consider remaining as A.D.  Because of this, he had to give up coaching the girls team, “ but I knew that they would be in good hands with my JV coach.”

Sure enough, Jen Aldrich, who had played for Gary (she holds several Allegan records), went on to star at Western Michigan University, and then returned to assist Gary for seven years, took over the girls program three years ago, and has done her mentor proud. This year’s Allegan squad finished as state runner-up. “He is the reason I became a teacher and a coach,” she says.

“He always wrote me special notes when I had summer tournaments away and I couldn’t go,” she continues. “I still have one today in my desk. I look at it often.” Jen observes that Gary often travels to college matches to watch his former players. “He cares about his players, even after we graduate.”

Respect and admiration extend to his colleagues as well. Gary was selected state coach of the year three times: boys in 1984 and 2005, and girls in 1994. His service to our organization is extensive. He oversaw the accumulation of regional coach of the year data and the selection of state COYs at the board of directors meetings for 10 years which is, in the minds of many who are aware of his integrity, why he wasn’t selected state coach of the year even more often. He served as our president from 1995-96.

In addition, he has served on the state seed committee (and still does) for so long that he can’t remember the total years. “He is incredible at those meetings,” says Nancy. “His mind is like a computer and he effortlessly remembers who we seeded at what division in order to compare scores.”

Gary’s service has extended to the West Michigan tennis community as well. He has been a WMTA officer through First Vice President, chairman of the organization’s Sanctions and Schedules, and director of the WMTA Inter-city League. He has been tournament director of the Boys 14 & Under District Qualifier and an umpire at both the qualifier and the USTA National Tournament. He has been area co-ordinator of the WMTA USA Team Tennis West Division and is currently chairman of the USTA/Midwest Sections Junior Teams Committee. In addition, he has worked for many years at the annual August spectacle at Stowe Stadium (the USTA National Junior and Boys Championships) as a scorekeeper, a court monitor, a roving umpire, and a chair umpire. “We often worked the consolation matches from sunup until sundown at WMU,” he says. “This was a great way to watch some outstanding tennis up close.”

In the midst of 20 years of this activity, Gary has mentored a junior high social studies teacher who had coached freshman football and middle school basketball but had no tennis background. Even so, Walt Kaechele was, in Gary’s estimation, “a coach in every sense of the word” who took it upon himself to learn the game from Allegan’s high school tennis coach and from attendance at a myriad of MHSTeCA clinics. Walt became Allegan’s JV coach and for years he helped with the summer program. “He has a great sense of humor,” says Gary. “He was a great help – helped me keep my sanity and a good perspective about things. His impact on our program has been significant.”

As with all successful tennis coaches, it’s about connections. In the case of Gary, it went from Liebert to Mackie to Cummins to Ellis. Then it returned (what goes around, comes around) from Ellis to Kaechele to Aldrich, and virtually anyone – and there are many, many – who have been fortunate enough over the years to have come to know this remarkable human being. It is known, quite simply, as “passing it on.”

“Passing it on” is a version of immortality. Indeed, there is a certain amount of this quality surrounding the Gentleman from Allegan anyway. After all, the school board did an end-around of sorts and -- although the district has a policy against naming buildings after people -- named a “stadium court” beside the Allegan’s Tennis Taj Mahal after Coach Ellis. And, of course, induction into the Hall of Fame is another small slice of immortality in its own right, something tangible that remains after a coach is gone.

But thankfully, he is alive, both literally and in the hearts and minds and souls of hundreds of fortunate individuals. “Gary Ellis is a GIANT in Michigan High School Tennis,” says secretary treasurer Tiger Teusink. “He is a role model supreme. Our sport is indebted to him.”

“People like Gary Ellis come along once in a lifetime,” adds Hall of Famer Harold Holcomb of Essexville Garber. “I am so privileged to have known him.” 

Get into what is a long line, Hoke. And welcome, Gary, to the Hall of Fame.

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Ed Waits, Southfield-Latrup High School

Aretha Franklin asked for it; Rodney Dangerfield didn’t get any; Ed Waits earned it. In the words of Steve Weingarden, one of his former players who coached at Berkley High School, “My greatest memory of playing tennis at Southfield-Lathrup High School under Ed Waits was of how I had the utmost respect for him. He was a very skilled player and I was honored when he hit with me.” Jody Winkleman, another former player and current coach at Lake Orion High School, recalls that she was always challenged, that Ed never missed the ball when they were on court, and how he always expected the utmost tennis etiquette from his players.

But Ed didn’t always gain respect, at least not when he was growing up. He took up the sport primarily because his two older brothers were accomplished players. Luckily he lived one block away from the Jackson High School tennis courts and therefore spent all day, every day in the summer there. But after dinner, even though he would dash back to the courts, he would be kicked off by adults who worked during the day. He used the time wisely. He would sit on a hill and watch them, wondering if he could ever be as good.

The highlights of every summer during that era were the four tournaments sponsored by the local recreation department. Ed would advance in the draw, defeating everyone he played until he met one of his brothers who would routinely beat him 6-0, 6-0. But these hard lessons paid off. As a 15-year-old, he qualified for the Nationals in Kalamazoo and won two matches. Ranked 28th in the nation in the formerly named “USLTA 15 and Unders” in 1960, Ed still got no respect on the courts from his brothers. “I was nationally ranked by the time I got to high school,” he said, “but I still couldn’t beat either one of my brothers.”

Ed also credits much of this early success to the leadership of Dennis Kiley who was inducted into the second class of the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame in1987. Kiley was a true grass roots coach, one who developed players, not inherited them. Everything about Jackson tennis revolved around him. “He even organized trips to the prison to play with the inmates,” said Ed. “As a result, I instantly gained the attention of my high school English classes whenever I told them that I had spent time in the largest walled prison in the world.”

Ed became not only a student of the game, but a student of the history of Jackson tennis where his brothers played. By the time he was a sophomore (it was a three year high school back then), he was more than ready and eager to contribute. During his high school years from 1961-63, the team won three conference championships, three regional championships, and finished with a 35-1 record. “We were not only undefeated in my junior year,”he said, “but we also won every dual meet 7-0 except one. In that meet, we beat Ann Arbor University High School 6-1. The one loss was mine. Bill Dixon beat me 10-8-6-4.” Dixon went on that year to win the Class A state singles title. Four years later, he and Ed met again but this time on the same side of the net: They were Big Ten Champions at Flight 3 doubles for U of M.

Ed played for Jackson Junior College his first year and won both the state singles title and the National Junior College Championship. He likes to say that he tries to slur over the letter J when he tells people that he was once the NJCAA Champion. He then transferred to the University of Michigan but had to sit out his sophomore year due to the fact that he had played junior college tennis. However, the coach, Bill Murphy, let him practice with the team but also allowed him to march in the Michigan band. Having been the star trumpet player in high school, Ed found it humbling to play next to the music majors. He also loved to tell the story to his high school players that he had not only played varsity tennis at Michigan but also marched in the band, and that band was the more physically demanding of the two. Anyone who has seen the band come out of the tunnel for the pregame show can understand the statement.

Ed began to garner the respect of his high school future players before he even landed his first coaching job. The Big Ten tournament was played in Ann Arbor at the end of his senior year and the Southfield tennis coach brought his players to watch. Brothers of Ed’s future tennis players at the then-new Southfield-Lathrup High School were able to see him win his third Big Ten flight championship.

His first year at the new high school was in the spring of 1969. With three grades and no experience, the team was 1-9 that year, but it was clear to Ed that he had attracted players who had what it takes: they were intelligent, motivated, athletes who couldn’t play the major sports but who understood the pay-off of hard work and lots of lessons with their young coach.

In the ensuing years, Ed’s teams reeled off 10 league championships -- in a conference which included Lahser, Groves, Adams, Troy Athens, and later, West Bloomfield and Rochester-- in 12 years, and captured three regional championships. His teams won over 300 dual meets in the 25 years that Ed coached. His best state finish was 4th place in 1977. Oakland County voting him the Observer-Eccentric Coach of the Year three times and the MHSTeCA honored Ed in 1983 as state coach of the year. Four of Ed’s players have gone on to coach high school tennis

In the midst of this activity, Ed put together a long history of service to high school tennis in Michigan. He hosted over 18 regional tournaments, and served on the MHSAA state seed committee from 1985-1995 for both the boys and girls seasons. In addition, when the MHSAA instituted mandatory rules meetings for coaches and required a test for those who missed the meetings, Ed stepped forward by writing several versions of the exam. 

Ed attended the very first MHSTeCA Tennis Workshop and went to his first board meeting in Prudenville in 1981 where he volunteered to do the rankings. He took over the newsletter from Gordy Boettcher in 1985. He not-so-fondly remembers writing it on an Apple IIe computer (but he notes that Gordy, in turn, had done it on a stencil) but was grateful to be able to send it to Dave Fredette who printed and mailed it.

It wasn’t long before he took on the added responsibility of being the association’s public relations officer (Bruce Grotenhuis currently holds this position). In this capacity, Ed instituted a successful effort to publish pictures of the all-state players in the Detroit News for several years. He also compiled the yearly association information (lists of all state teams, regional coaches of the year, history of state coaches of the year, etc.) for inclusion in the clinic program. He continues to perform this task.

In 1985, the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame was established and as public relations officer, Ed was placed on the selection committee. As a result, he accepted yet another responsibility: author of the inductees’ biographies, a task he continues to this day. He has written every one of the 86 articles (until this one). In addition, he guesses that since 1985 he has written over 200 coach of the year, assistant coach, and distinguished service pieces. Secretary-Treasurer Tiger Teusink states that “Ed’s articles bring the pages to life with anecdotes, stories, and pertinent information; not just a recitation of the facts.” Add to all of that is that for the past four years, Ed has taken over the entire production of the Hall of Fame banquet program.

Ed served as president of the MHSTeCA from 1991-1993. In that capacity, he gave the dedication address at the Hall of Fame when it opened in Midland. He also wrote the “History of the Association” document  which is on display there.

In the summer of 1998, Ed took over as Membership Director. He completely revamped the system, used e-mail to keep their membership information updated, and produced an improved hard copy of the directory. He was instrumental in launching the system into the 21st century by instituting the use of mass e-mails and producing a directory for posting on the Web site. His MHSTeCA database contains information regarding over 1,000 tennis coaches, past and present. In 1997, he was honored by our membership for his enormous contributions by receiving our Distinguished Service Award.

In other words, in addition to coaching his teams, service – above and beyond that which starts every point in our sport – has been the hallmark of Ed’s career on behalf of Michigan high school tennis. Hall of Famer Harold Holcomb states that Ed has been a foot soldier in our association but Ed has been a commander. Tiger’s says, “Ed Waits is a true ambassador for the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association.”

However, Ed’s resume of accomplishment was not complete until tonight. He is most deserving of his place in the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame, the ultimate sign of respect for a colleague.     

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