Kevin Friesen
Royal Oak Kimball/Royal Oak
John Knoester
Holland Christian

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

Kevin Friesen, Royal Oak Kimball/Royal Oak High Schools

If there were ever a manual published to describe what is needed for establishing a high school tennis program in a non-tennis community, Kevin Friesen should be the author. What he has done, especially since 2012, is simply mind-boggling in terms of innovation and effort. Even though his teams have yet to make it to the final tournament, he is seemingly relentless in his efforts to “grow the game” in his community. He has both an advantage and incentive, of course, in being a physical education teacher in the Royal Oak schools. His day job – and life goal – is getting kids active. He especially excels in getting them to engage in our lifetime sport.


For instance, the Royal Oak Middle School has a spring sign-up day for future 9th graders to declare what sports they might be interested in once they reach high school. Kevin obtains all the tennis names, all the names of the kids he had instructed in elementary school, and all the names of the kids who did not mark a sport for the fall or spring, and either calls or texts them. 


Sometimes he would send a group text. Sometimes a group e-mail. Sometimes sending a letter to all of them in an effort to encourage kids to give tennis a try. This was indeed recruiting in the positive sense but a year or two ahead of those coaches throughout Michigan who are reduced to walking the halls of their high schools trying to get kids to go out for the team (see Scott Symons). To be sure, it was not recruiting in the sense of going to summer USTA tournaments and trying to talk already excellent players into transferring from a public school to a private institution with a strong tennis program


“But with 87% of our kids starting tennis as 9th graders, I needed to do more,” he says. “Many new players were hesitant to join the regular practices so I would have an hour practice for them and then an hour and a half practice for all the returning players. This I have been doing for the past six summers. On average, that’s about 20 hours of volunteer tennis for Royal Oak players per summer.”


Is it working? The two players who were chosen to be captains of the 2021 season were once in that beginners group.


Kevin also uses tennis statistics as a motivational tool. For both boys and girls, he went back into the archives to compile “most matches played in a career,” “most singles wins in a season and career,” and “most doubles wins in a season and career.” He then established record boards in the main gym of the school to give any kid, regardless of position, a chance to get his/her name on the board. Also located in that gym is the academic all state board. The tennis teams of both seasons dominate, the girls qualifying seven times and the boys five.


In 2016, Kevin took charge of the Royal Oak Summer Tennis Camp. In that he only instructed 21 kids that first summer, he went to the elementary the next spring and hand-delivered tennis flyers, pre-counted, to every 2nd-5th grade teacher. The following year, he did the same but added a tennis ball for each kid, collected from local clubs. The tennis camp numbers grew with more than half becoming returning players.


That’s how you prepare kids for high school tennis. “Many of the top tennis programs in the state just reload each season and compete for conference, regional and state titles without missing a beat, whereas in Royal Oak, my biggest job is to get players and families motivated,” he says.  “We want to be the best of the non-tennis schools and we want to be respected by all schools.”


How did Kevin get his start? After long-time coach Wade Schulteiss quit in 1984, Kevin accepted the job even though he knew very little about tennis. He went to the Troy Racket Club to watch various classes, take notes and talk to the instructors. For the next 13 years, he coached not only boys and girls varsity tennis teams but also freshman and JV basketball. Then he decided to step back.


 At the time, he was newly married, had started a family, and therefore opted to enjoy playing sports with his daughters. “As an elementary teacher PE teacher, I was lucky enough to watch our two girls grow up,” he says. “I was Daddy Day Care in the summers, coaching them in soccer, basketball, volleyball, track and field, golf, and yes, tennis. He returned to ROHS tennis in 2012 with the goal of putting the school “back on the map and have our program respected.”


Kevin added to his knowledge of coaching tennis by working with Troy High School’s Brian Miska. [The opportunity] “came about as my two daughters played tennis at Troy,” he says. “My oldest, playing for only 2 years, played 4 singles as a junior and 1 doubles as a senior and was all-state. Brian had an assistant at that time. But when our next daughter started playing in 2014 they had no assistant and I think Brian asked me to help out and I said yes. For three seasons I was able to watch my daughter play, coach her and help coach a top high school tennis program.”


Although Royal Oak High School has never participated in a final tournament (Troy and Troy Athens often stand in the way),since 2012 Kevin’s boys have compiled 10 consecutive winning seasons, seven consecutive campaigns of 10 wins or more, and 10 consecutive years in which his teams were all-academic. His teams generally finish second in the Oakland Activities Association Blue Division but every once in a while (2021) they share a championship.


Not to be outdone, his girls were also league champs in 2021. Since 2017, they have enjoyed three consecutive winning seasons and have achieved all academic status for five. Unfortunately, the league tournament has been cancelled for the past three years due to weather or Covid.


Kevin played basketball for his alma mater, then-Royal Oak Kimball, for four years, three of them on the varsity. He also played tennis for one year and baseball for another. He was All League at Oakland Community College for two years before transferring to Ferris State where he became a role player. “I started a few games at Ferris, but for two years I came in off the bench late in the games when we were ahead and ran the delay game and got fouled to shoot free throws.  I shot 91% my junior year and 92% my senior year.”


Fast forward to the Senior Olympics in which Kevin started to participate at age 50. He participated in many sports at the national level but, of course, included tennis. In 2019 at Albuquerque, New Mexico, he and his wife finished second in mixed doubles and he was runner-up in men’s singles, age 60-64 bracket.


However, his favorite was basketball at these events. Kevin participated in three-point shooting and spot shooting but his greatest strength, by far, was free throw shooting.  “I'm guessing that I have shot in maybe 88 contests and figuring it out the other day, I have made 1,030 out of 1,049 free throws,” he says. “I have lost one contest out of those 88 (three-point shooting) and the other 87 I have won and beaten the entire field in all age groups.


Indeed these are impressive numbers that don’t mirror what his Royal Oak tennis teams have achieved. Indeed he summarizes his squad’s “achievements” this way: “Number of state titles: zero. Number of regional titles: zero. Number of state qualifying teams: zero. Number of conference championships: zero.”


Yet he persists in these extraordinary efforts. After all, he is a phys ed teacher who understands that tennis is a lifetime sport. What that means to so many Royal Oak kids who will grow old but still find themselves on a tennis court is immeasurable.


The MHSTeCA Hall of Fame Selection Committee, consisting of some of the most successful coaches in the state in terms of trophy accumulation, had no hesitation in voting Kevin Friesen, a stalwart if there ever was one, into the Hall of Fame.

Back to Top

John Knoester, Holland Christian High School

For almost a century, the Holland tennis community has been blessed with some of the finest high school coaches in history. One need only point to the very first Hall of Fame induction when both coach and player (the latter soon to become a coach after graduation from Hope College) were honored. Joe Moran was so revered that the community named the ten public parks cement tennis courts, built in 1933, after him. In 2016, the courts at Holland High School became the Tiger Teusink Tennis Courts. On that memorable day in August 1986, these two special people, traveled to their induction together. This was the Class of 1986, our association’s first.


In like manner, when John Knoester retired from coaching Holland Christian tennis in 2019, the community named the Knoester Pavilion in honor of his 30 years of splendid leadership. Former player Tina VanDoornik called him a rock, the connotation being stability, consistency, steadiness, reliability, and dependability.


For three decades, John has coached parents and children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews. In his last year, 10 of his 14 varsity players had at least one family member play for him in the past. If you were a child of a parent or had a sibling who played for John, you wanted the chance to experience it for yourself.


More than likely, you would emerge a champion.


John’s girls won eight consecutive league championships and at one time 11 of 12. They brought home 16 regional trophies to the school’s display of athletic achievement.  They were state champions in 2005, again in 2006, and runners-up in 2001. One of the most impressive feats was that his girls team finished fourth in the state in 2015 without their top player.


From 1990 to 2018, his boys were 222-113-19. From 1990 to 2019, his girls won 208-63-14. That’s a total of 430 victories.


The Maroons were virtually a fixture in the state tournament draw. His boys won 18 regional titles and finished second 9 times. That’s 27 trips to the final tournament in 30 years. They were runners-up three times: 1990, 1996, and 1998.


Born just south of Grand Rapids, John attended G.R. South Christian where he played football and basketball but not tennis -- there was not a team at the time. Upon graduation from Calvin College, he and his wife moved to California where he taught high school math. A USTA professional began teaching tennis in the community and John’s son became involved to the point where he was playing USTA tournaments. “At that time, Ripon Christian High school did not have any tennis courts or program,” he says.  “Fortunately, when John became of high school age, RCHS built some courts and I became their first tennis coach.  Back then, tennis was a coed sport for small schools such as RCHS.”


Thus, when John moved back to Michigan in 1989, he was an experienced coach of both boys and girls. Ron Pothoven (MHSTeCA Coach of the Year in 1990) was about to retire from the boys job and Tom Buursma (MHSTeCA Hall of Fame, Class of 1997) would do the same from the girls program a few years later. In the meantime, John completed his USPTA certification and took over both programs.  It may have been daunting in that two of his predecessors, Clare Pott and Buursma, are in our Hall of Fame.

Why all this success? Players credit his coaching style:

“I covered John Knoester's tennis teams for 14 years, the first four at the Grand Rapids Press Lakeshore Edition and the final 10 as Holland Sentinel Sports Editor,” says Alan Babbitt who is currently the Sports Information Director at Hope College. “His squads at Holland Christian, whether boys or girls, were a model of excellence and class. They achieved at a high level with an impressive number of conference championships, regional titles, and high finishes at the state tournament. John also excelled at working with the media and helping us promote his teams, high school student-athletes, and the game of tennis. Even after a long day of coaching tennis, he made sure he provided results to us so that we could meet our print deadlines.”


“The program has been a stable program in all respects,” says athletic director Dave Engbers. “Year-to-year, you knew what to expect. He did a lot behind the scenes, and did it all with humility. He didn’t like being the center of attention.”


In this case, he won’t get his wish. John takes his rightful place with Holland area tennis coaches Tiger Teusink, Karen Page, Joe Moran, Clare Pott, and Tom Buursma in the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame.

Back to Top