Rahn Bentley
Tony Malinowski
Julie McKnight
Larry Nykerk
Traverse City
Al Wright
Port Huron Northern

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

Rahn Bentely, Hudsonville High School

There are those who pass through this mortal veil who become to us, "larger than life," who march to the tune fa different drummer, who are the subject of good stories at social gatherings, whose exploits reach epic proportions. Such was Rahn Bentley, a name which elicits immediate reaction and recollection.

Rahn was not cut from the same mold as the rest of us. His exploits were the stuff of legends. For those who knew him, his character became the stuff of immortality. Rahn was not your conventional "sissy sport;’ 12 month-a-year, country club, little—white-shorts tennis champion. A standout athlete at the now-closed Grand Rapids South, he was not only an excellent football (two time all state), swimming, and tennis champion but also an excellent Golden Gloves boxer who won the stii;e championship in the open heavyweight class. in fact, since Rahn couldn’t go to the national tournament in New York that year because it conflicted with football, the boy he defeated went in his place and lost in the finals in a split decision to Cassius Clay. From high school, Rahn went on to play football at MSU where he played ahead of Bubba Smith. His competitive spirit in all endeavors is wittily summarized by his brother Jerry who once jokingly wrote that Rahn "would sometimes throw his racquet for a touchdown, tackle his tennis coach, or, if he was losing, jump the net and punch out his opponent."

Elliott Pearce, the highly respected hall of fame and state champion coach from Grand Rapids Forest Hills entral who played high school tennis with Rahn, is fond of recalling his first encounter with this unique dividual. The G.R. South coach always started the season by instituting a challenge ladder in which the veteran players were placed on the bottom and the newcomers were placed at the top in order to make the those with experience work their way back up while affording the new kids some valuable lessons. As Rahn, a senior, was to challenge Elliott, a freshman, Elliott received a terse phone call one Saturday: "Elliott Pearce? Rahn Bentley. Garfield Park. 4:00. Be there."

Of course, Elliott showed up. And of course, so did Rahn. Of course, Rahn won. But the incident affords an extended metaphor of Rahn’s encounters with all of his teammates and players. Atter all, if Rahn said "Be there," there was little choice. however, there was little doubt that Rahn himself would also be there for his kids. With the tremendous force of his athletic ability and personality, he made a lasting impact. What his players at Hudsonville found in their coach was a no-nonsense, hard-working individual who rarely failed to make his kids better in some way. Virtually every kid who played for him will testify that he was the toughest coach that he had ever had but those who stayed became champions in many ways.

This is, in part, because Rahn coached very successfully during the last 10 years of his life in spite of a debilitating, degenerative disease that would have sidelined lesser men. He coached from crutches, then from a golf cart, then from a wheel chair, and finally from an electric wheelchair, yet in the words of Jorge Capestany, the highly regarded master professional in the Grand Rapids area who played for Rahn, "We never once heard him complain about his plight or the intense physical pain that his injury caused him."

Jorge credits Rahn with a post-defeat tongue-lashing that basically turned his life around. Fed up with Jorge’s ack of confidence, Rahn, in his usual forceful style, pounded at the idea that ‘Nobody is better than anybody se." Rahn was battling Jorge’s misconception that lie would often lose because, before a match, he subconsciously believed that his opponent was somehow better - better dressed, better equipment, prettier strokes, etc. However, using Mr. Bentley as an example, a select few actually become a bit better than the rest. Those are the ones who are judged as the very best to coach high school tennis in Michigan and as a result, have their pictures displayed at the Midland Community Tennis Center. Rahn Bentley belongs among them.

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Tony Malinowski, Trenton High School

With apologies to Doug Adams, the historian of the MHST~A should, instead, be Tony Malinowski. Since taking the ~ position in Trenton in 1948 until 1987 when he retired, he has seen more significant tennis history transpire than about anyone. In the 50s, he was an instrumental force in expanding the dual meet format from 3 singles and 2 doubles to 4 and 3. He spent 25 years sending individual players to state competition Under the old regional format before the present team format was employed. He pioneered the Saturday tournament which is the staple of so many successful programs today.

Tony’s first foray into tennis teaching and coaching came via a 1951 summer job at Palisades Park on the west side of the state. As a student working his way through college, he helped organize the youth into tennis tournaments at the resort at which he worked. He loved the game so much that he tried out for the Western Michigan squad but, being so inexperienced, was the first one cut from the team. He was so enthusiastic, however, that he convinced the coach to keep him as the assistant to the manager. This experience planted the seeds of a lifetime love of this lifetime sport.

Being one of the first veterans to return from World War II where he served as a navigator aboard Naval aircraft, Tony took the then-vacant swim, cross country, and tennis jobs at Trenton High School and immediately set about achieving his paramount goal, getting lots of kids interested in tennis. Having been cut from the sport himself, his first strategy was to never release a kid. Anyone who came out for the sport was kept on the squad. In fact, every freshman who entered Trenton High School received a written invitation from him to come out for tennis. His second tactic was to see that all kids had an opportunity to play, a philosophy that was difficult to achieve in the 3S, 2D format that was employed at that time. He began a quest to expand to 4S and 3D to get more of his kids to play. In addition, he instituted large freshman, JV squads and pushed other coaches to do the same so that there was an opportunity for each kid to see some competition against players from other schools. Finally, he added a new concept to high school tennis play by creating the Honor and Glory Saturday tennis tournament. He named it "Honor and Glory" to emphasize that players were competing for joy and satisfaction, not for medals. He invited the best teams he could find from the area, once again expanding opportunities to play for more kids. It is undoubtedly the oldest Saturday tournament in the state and, in fact, one of the oldest in the nation. Tony went on to direct more than one Saturday tournament a season.

This pioneer of tennis used still another ploy to lure more kids to the game. At the time when neighboring Hamtramck’s Jean Hoxie was not only winning state championships but gaining international prominence by teaching the game to royalty in England and Japan and to U.S. royalty at the White House (a.k.a. Jackie Kennedy), Tony invited her to speak at school-wide assemblies in Trenton High School, an inspiration to many of the kids. He also worked for free during the summertime, organizing tournaments and encouraging girls to play long before there was interscholastic competition for them.

Although Trenton won 431 matches and 24 league titles during the 39 years that Tony coached, he asserts that he only had 8 players who would have been legitimate No 1 singles players on other squads. Instead, Tony stressed equality and believed that virtually everyone on each team could play No.1 because he spent so much time with each kid. Indeed, his paramount goal was to see that the "lesser-lights" of the squad also had an opportunity to learn the game.

Don DiPaolo, the exceptionally successful and respected former tennis coach of Saline High School who played for Tony asserts that this gentleman was a true role model for generations of Trenton youth. Indeed, Tony coached not only Don but also both his father and his brother. Throughout these years, he was the embodiment of good teaching, an exceptional grammarian who never raised his voice, never swore, and never tolerated bad behavior from his kids. He was, in Don’s words, a teacher first and a coach second, a man who was, in many areas, ahead of his time. For almost 40 years, a length which is in itself astonishing, he developed and maintained a tennis community in Trenton. In a high school tennis program of "no stars," he has, ironically enough, become one of many outstanding individuals who comprise the hall of fame.

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Julie McKnight, Marina High School

For the past twenty years, a fixture in the elite of Michigan high school girls tennis has been the powerful teams representing Marian High School in Bloomfield Hills Is. Since Julie McKnight took charge of the program in 1978, the Mustangs have won almost everything almost every year. They have captured 12 consecutive Catholic League titles, taken home 10 regional trophies, won over 200 dual meets, and placed in the top ten of the state tournament 16 times. In fact, Marian is so perennially strong that it has finished in the top five in the state 6 times and placed second an astounding 5 times. The only thing Julie’s kids have not accomplished is to win a state championship and even that has been heartbreakingly close, finishing in the runner up position twice by one point. They lost the title on the final point in a 5-9 tiebreak in 1980 (a high forehand volley that was out by an inch), and in 1996, by one match, a three set loss.

Over these 20 years, Julie has become well-known as an aggressive, hard-working, supportive coach who has been recognized for what she and her kids have achieved long before this induction into our hall of fame. She was voted MHSTeCA coach of the year in 1980, only two years after taking the helm at Marian. In addition she was named the Detroit News All Metro coach of the year in 1980, Observer-Eccentric All-Area Coach of the Year in 1984, and in 1987, was inducted into the Catholic League Coaches Hall of Fame.

Just as impressive are Julie’s contributions to the game even before she became involved in high school tennis. She worked for tennis & Crumpets, Inc., an organization that from 1975-81, raised over 1.3 million dollars for Children’s Hospital of Michigan. She was the organization’s president in 1979-80. In addition, in 1973, she helped recruit and organize over 1700 mixed doubles players in Oakland County to participate in a benefit for that same hospital, an event that culminated in a chance to play a tie-break with the Rod Laver for $100, again for the benefit of Children’s Hospital.

Julie also worked for the USTA as a tennis official, at first in local junior tournaments and events as a volunteer. Characteristically, she branched out into the ‘big time" as a chair umpire for such luminaries as Evert, Sabatini, Mandilokova, and Navratilova, and as a line judge for McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, and Agassi. She "worked" the National Clay Courts, the U.S. Open, and the Lipton International Players tournaments, among others.

Julie is now "working" the MHSAA regional circuit. A beneficiary of receiving regional championship trophies from a number of managers, she now annually hosts the tournament. Perhaps most importantly, she has fostered a continuing family atmosphere among her teams that sometimes reaches far beyond their tennis days at Marian. She is often a guest that the weddings of her former players. Several of her players are now high school coaches. After the tragic death of Marian player Courtney Johns aboard TWA Flight 800, each room of Marian players at the state tournament that year received flowers and good luck wishes from Mrs. Johns.

In other words, appreciation of her efforts has been the result of every one of Julie McKnight’s tennis endeavors. Few coaches over the past generation can match her record of achievement. But just as important, she has gone far beyond accepting trophies to reach out and give back to the game that she has served so well. For this and much more, she deserves a place in the hall of fame.

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Larry Nykerk, Traverse City High School

To many observers, Traverse City is the mecca of Northern Michigan, the place where all roads lead. In this region, it is the ‘big city" and as such, the residence of one of the few Class A schools in the region. With its advantages of size and wealth, it is burdened with an Altar of High Expectations as the center of the area’s excellence in all things academic and athletic.

In overwhelming fashion, Larry Nykerk’s tennis squads have, over the course of his 31-year tenure there, met and exceeded these expectations. In an era where "figures lie and liars figure," the numbers speak by and for themselves. His boys and girls squads have amassed a total of 500 dual meet victories. Since he started coaching the Trojans in 1968, his boys record is 332-52 (86%). Since 1981 when he took charge of the girls, his teams have won 168-8 (95%). This results in an astounding overall 89% win-loss percentage (500-60) and puts him alongside the ranks of legendary hall of famer Mickey Johnson of Marquette.

But the statistics go even further. Larry’s girls haven’t lost a dual meet since 1989; they’ve won 77 in a row. The last time his boys lost was 1991; they are currently on a 59-match win streak (with the exception of one tie two years ago against the current No.1 team in the state that year, Midland Dow). His kids have amassed a total of 168 tournament titles over the years (80 for boys and 88 for girls). In addition, Larry’s kids have presented his school with a total of 22 regional trophies (10 championships for the boys and 12 for the girls).

Cynics might conclude that these awesome numbers reflect the proverbial "big frog in a little pond." however, the statistics indicate that Larry’s teams are consistently among the best in the state. His boys, for 25 of his 31 seasons, have qualified for state competition every year but two and also were either ranked by the MHSTeCA or finished in the top ten in all of these years. His girls qualified for state competition every year but one (17/18) and again, were either ranked in the top ten or finished in the top 10 every year but one. This past year, his girls finished third in the state while his boys finished at No.4 for the past two seasons. ln other words, over the course of over a quarter century, Larry has been at the helm of a regional dynasty that impacts the state championships year after year.

Schools don’t compile these awesome statistics for this duration by accident. The most common adjective used to describe Larry by his peers his ‘hard-working." In particular, he is known as much in the area for his summer program as for his phenomenal success on high school tennis courts. Under his supervision, hundreds of kids learn the basics and compete all summer in Traverse City and its environs, establishing a foundation and supplying a base for excellence once they reach their high school years. Again, the numbers speak for themselves.

Larry’s hard work is manifested in the amount of time and energy spent in taking his ‘show on the road." Each year, his teams have logged "Upper Peninsula miles" as he has sought to establish that his kids were among the best in the state, both to get them seeded and to prepare them for the final tournament. Predictably, his travels over all these years have taken him literally to the best competition in the state and metaphorically, to the entrance of the MISTeCA hall of Fame.

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Al Wright, Port Huron Northern

Wright’s link to the tennis ha1l of fame goes back, unknowingly, to his years as a student at Northwood Institute in Midland. Although he dabbled in the game a bit as a youth in Imlay City, he didn’t play it extensively until, as the vice president of his freshman class, he used the key that came with this position to sneak into the Jean Hoxie Tennis Center after midnight to play. This indirect link with the tennis coaches hall of fame comes full circle as he is inducted into this group 13 years after Mrs. Hoxie’s induction.

Actually, Al’s entrance into the coaching ranks continued to be ‘back door." Although a candidate for the head basketball position at tiny Yale High School in 1973, he lost the job to a friend who, as it turned out, suffered through an initial season with a 0-20 record. In contrast, as a consolation prize, Al was given the tennis position and although the school had had no previous program, no players with previous experience, and with only two courts that were intended to be an ice rink in winter, his enthusiasm and hard work foreshadowed future success. His boys ended that first season with a 6-4 record and a third place finish in the regional behind perennial powers University Liggett and Country Day. Under his direction, his kids got stronger during the next six years, won the regional twice, and were runners-up in that tournament three times on their way to a 66-13 record.

Thus, the seeds of success were planted. When Al acquired a teaching position back in his birthplace of Port Huron at Central High School in 1979, his boys won 25 matches against only 2 defeats with both a regional runner-up and regional championship to cap off two very successful seasons. Unfortunately, the school closed, leaving Al no choice but to transfer to Northern high School in 1981. Since then, he has compiled a record of dual meet wins, regional championships, league championships, and state championships that has made Port Huron Northern a recognized power in Michigan high school tennis.

For a variety of reasons, Al has coached at Port Huron Northern in clusters of years (Boys: 1984—86, 94-98; Girls: 1981-82, 87-97. Within these time frames, his overall record is 267 wins against 51 defeats and 17 regional titles. In addition his kids have captured an impressive total of the 10 Saturday tournaments per year that is a staple of Northern’s schedule, bringing homel27 trophies. Invitational tournaments became so important to Al that he started to host them before Labor Day.

However, the next and final level is a state title. Indeed, Al’s kids were, for years, tantalizingly close. Competing with such perennial heavyweights as Grosse Pointes North and South, University Liggett, and Mt. Clemens, Al was often frustratingly close in terms of state seeding positions. He perservered by continuing to strengthen his schedule and playing in strong invitationals, major components to winning it all. His girls were state runnersup in 1990 which not only whetted their appetites for the state championship but put the rest of the state on notice that Port Huron Northern was a power to be heard from again. Sure enough, Al’s Huskies won their first state championship in 1996 and followed with a repeat the next year.

In other words, Al directed a program that became one of the best in the state year after year. Recognized by his peers over this time, he was named MSHTeCA’s regional coach of the year 13 times and state coach of the year in 1990 and again in 1998. In addition, he has served on the MHSTeCA board of directors for six years and on girls state seeding committee for the past three. He has surely more than paid his dues and has reaped the benefits. The final reward is to put his picture where that of Jean Hoxie resides, on the wall at the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame

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