MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2008
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Bonnie Koch, West Bloomfield||1 - Stefan Welch, Ann Arbor Huron|
|2 - George Cutshaw, Warren Woods Tower||2 - Keith Bernacki, Birmingham Seaholm|
|3 - Dave Wollerman, East Grand Rapids|
|3 - Steve Lubbers, Hamilton|
|4 - Scott Zerlaut, Grant||4 - Ron Landfair, Lansing Catholic Central|
Bonnie Koch, West Bloomfield - Division 1
Bonnie Koch is no stranger to Michigan high school tennis, particularly to those who coach in the northwest suburban area of Detroit. When her oldest boy was a freshman player at Bloomfield Lahser, he came home one day to announce that Mrs. Esper needed a JV coach. Having “fooled around”(her words) playing the game when she was young, Bonnie convened the family to get their permission.
That was 35 seasons ago. For 19 of them she helped Jan (MHSTeCA Hall of Fame, Class of 2004) with the Bloomfield Lahser boys and spent one season assisting Jerry Murphy with his girls JV team at Rochester. As JV and assistant varsity coach over two decades, she developed a reputation for fairness, discipline, and above all, good will. She attended clinics on a regular basis where she was/is famous for being generous with hugs. When the West Bloomfield varsity job opened up, the school called her. “I guess they liked my philosophy,” she says. That was 15 years ago.
Thus, Bonnie’s extensive experience coupled with a superb temperament served her well, particularly in that she labors in a region where high-pressure parents have lofty expectations and some kids are not used to being told no. “Bonnie demands great effort and behavior, and her teams love her,” says Jan. “She is a great communicator with her kids and their parents, and her teams always have great affection for her. She truly enjoys coaching and her players are very fortunate to experience her very positive attitude.”
Although Bonnie has had some lean years at West Bloomfield, this spring’s 3rd place finish at the state tournament was the best that the WB girls have ever done. What is even more remarkable is that the Lakers accomplished this without the services of a returning 1S player. “I have never had a girl with such raw talent before,” Bonnie says. Alas, she was declared academically ineligible.
The mind boggles to consider what the team would have accomplished with her on the squad. But it is also impressive to consider that Bonnie’s 12-girl team contained six 9th graders. “I have never had that many freshmen on the varsity before,” she says, “and with two senior captains as my 1D team, they were great leaders.”
Indeed. Bonnie’s team finished first in the tough Oakland Activities Association Division 1 ahead of Bloomfield Lahser. They then captured the regional trophy with 26 points to Rochester’s 21. All flights but one went on to win at least two points at the state tournament.
This is no surprise to Jerry Murphy of Rochester who has competed against Bonnie for many years. “She has always been around winning programs,” he says. “I have always enjoyed her as a person,” he continues even though his teams were being defeated.
Needless to say, prospects for next year are promising. Not only will the six freshmen return but so will four upper classmen. “We should have a pretty good team,” says Bonnie, an understatement.
But it is not an understatement to assert that Bonnie’s philosophy transcends winning and losing. “I love working with young people, feeling that I can help them become better, caring people,” she says. “It’s not all about tennis, but how we get along and deal with people.”
Colleagues can testify that she offers a superb example.
George Cutshaw, Warren Woods Tower - Division 2
When you play George’s team, you’d better be prepared to play George’s army,” said Hall of Famer Don Wisswell of Mt. Clemens. “When the bus arrives, 40 to 50 players will get off and George will insist that every one get to play. I tell my kids to be ready to play multiple matches.”
Don was referring to George Cutshaw’s WWT JV team. For ten years – nine of them served without pay – he directed the program under Hall of Famer Bob Murray. During that time, he routinely fielded 35-40 kids, arranged the schedule, helped with Saturday tournaments, and assisted with regional sites. He was, in Murray’s words, “loyal beyond belief.” For his efforts, he was named MHSTeCA Assistant Coach of the Year in year 2000.
Thus, when Murray retired seven years ago, George was a more than natural choice to make a smooth transition. After all, he had not only served the program for a decade but also watched his two sons play for Murray’s Tower teams.
The only glitch – a minor one as it turns out – is that George teaches in the neighboring Fitzgerald district. But these two school districts have bent over backwards for this guy because they wisely understand what they have. “My principals have been most generous in allowing me to get to my matches if they occur earlier,” he says, “and my district has allowed me time off (Tower pays for the substitute teacher) when I have to be absent for tournaments.”
The reader will note that plural usage of principals. Feb. 09 will mark George’s 45th year of teaching, and he plans to make it to 50. Formerly a 5th and 6th grade instructor, he began teaching P.E. when No Child Left Behind came into effect. “I get to play all day and get paid for it,” he says.
The play extends to after school as well. The kids get a chance to get home, change, grab a bite to eat, and then return to school for two hours of practice time.
They come back ready. This past spring, George coached his best team since becoming varsity coach. They finished in second place in the Gold Division of the MAC and scored six points at the tough Bloomfield Lahser regional, 1S and 1D upsetting seeds. “The reason this was the best team that I have had is because the positions were strong from the 1S to the 4D,” he says, “and if everyone played heads up at each of the matches, we could have won it all, but illness at several key positions at the wrong time did us in. Five seniors with experience and then a good makeup of the JV players coming to the varsity helped to make it a solid team top to bottom.”
Of course, George knows about good JV players making an impact. Having been the provider for a decade, he is now the receiver, this time from JV coach AnnMarie Michol, herself a Boys Coach of the Year in 2003 at Warren DeLaSalle.
Hence, the girls at Tower are fortunate. They enjoy the services of two solid coaches who have been honored by our organization for their efforts. In addition, George, although not a board member, has occasionally volunteered to conduct regional coach of the year balloting “as long as I don’t win.” No dice.
Indeed, a once Assistant Coach of the Year has become a State Varsity Coach of the Year eight years later.
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Dave Wollerman, East Grand Rapids - Division 3
When you head a program as historically successful as that of East Grand Rapids, it’s hard for opponents not to be intimidated. After all, this is the home of Charlie Partin, Hall of Fame Class of 1986 —the very first one. Partin traded multiple state championships with Cranbrook’s Don Brown in the 70s and 80s. The Pioneers won their share.
But it is equally hard to avoid being resentful. When the bus let you off in front of Cranbrook’s courts, you were in the midst of a campus the beauty of which rivals most universities, and you played against players who came to the courts with lots of advantages. In like manner, when you showed up at East, you were competing against the economically privileged, kids who had the benefit of lots of training and experience. You often felt like you didn’t stand a chance against such a stacked deck.
Which, according to colleagues, makes playing against Dave Wollerman such a pleasure in that in the midst of such plenty, he is so gracious, and he sees to it that his players are, too. “It was one of our best experiences when we came to town,” says University Liggitt’s Chuck Wright, himself no stranger to advantages. Another coach described how well Dave handled a dispute. “Dave was fantastic. It was something that could have blown up,” he said. “Players respect him,” said another.
“I coached against Dave for several years before I retired,” says MHSTeCA founder Bob Wood, “and he was always very pleasant and fun to be around. His athletes were terrific on and off the court. I cannot recall a major problem ever occurring when we played against East Grand Rapids, and we played them two or three times a year for thirty-five years in a row.”
The continuity of this excellent program is to be expected if you consider that Dave has been in and around East boys and girls tennis teams on and off for 30 years. His day job was designing computer factory systems but “I became involved with EGR tennis through my friendship with Charlie,” he says. “I stayed because of my love of tennis and East Grand Rapids.”
Dave assisted Charlie during 15 of his state championships, and since taking over the boys 15 years ago, the success certainly hasn’t dropped off. “Obviously, the East Grand Rapids tennis programs have a tradition of excellence,” says Chuck. “Dave has certainly carried on this outstanding tradition.”
Indeed, his coaching record is an astounding 100 plus wins against only 5 defeats and four ties. Under Dave’s direction, the Pioneers have amassed 14 conference championships, 15 regional titles (in other words, every year), and three state titles.
A natural choice, Dave took over the girls program four years ago and has since compiled a record of 38-4-2. “Last year, we had eight new girls on the team and did not expect to have a winning season,” he says, a statement that undoubtedly nobody else believed. Indeed, the squad captured the conference title and the regional, won the East Grand Rapids Invitational, took third in tournaments at Ann Arbor and Allegan, and then placed first at the South Christian Invitational. Their only loss was to Division 2 state champion and cross-town rival Forest Hills Northern. East finished fourth in the state in Division 3. “What makes him a special coach,” says Chuck, “is that he can enjoy all his teams equally well, even during an ‘off’ year.”
In addition, according to Chuck, “He has no ego. He has been blessed over the years with great assistant coaches who share his excellent knowledge and sense of fairness at all times. He is not hesitant to let them take over during the tournament or game days while he takes care of other duties and gives them enormous credit for the East Grand Rapids successes. He also feels that the kids respond better to a variety of voices during the course of the season.” Indeed, when asked for a picture for this article, Dave sent one of him and assistant coaches Bob Levin and Brian Cutler, and asked that they all be included in this publication. Unfortunately, space limitations made this impossible.
Dave came to Grand Rapids as a highly-skilled player, having played high school tennis at Arlington Hts. near Chicago and college tennis for Culver Stockton College. He continued excelling in adulthood, attaining a national age group ranking of 18th in singles and 5th in doubles. But “one reason why Dave is a coach with a great overall perspective is that he leads such a balanced life with many outside interests. For over two decades, he competed in triathlons and still bikes long distances regularly,” says Chuck.
In other words, Dave proves that nice guys can still finish first. “He is a real credit to high school tennis,” says Chuck. “He embodies all that is good about the sport.”
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Scott Zerlaut, Grant - Division 4
At the beginning of each tennis season, coaches in many – if not most – conferences have a pretty good idea as to which team will end the campaign as champion. Yes, there are a few tightly-contested races wherein the title will come down to a key dual meet or a key match at the conference tournament. And yes, there will be upsets (As Dennis Margoni once said, a tennis tournament isn’t a tennis tournament without upsets). But by-in-large, the result of many a conference race is a foregone conclusion.
In like manner, so is the outcome at the other end. In many conferences, the doormat is the same team year after year. Such was the case with Grant High School of the Lakes 8 Activities Conference. Year after year Spring Lake, coached by Hall of Famer Charlie Bassett, collected the trophy. And year after year, Grant finished last.
“Tennis was an afterthought when I started,” says Scott Zerlaut. “It was a social thing that didn’t have a solid foundation. Most kids had never had any lessons and were playing with old rackets. We struggled to win any matches and sometimes games.”
Note the past tense. Before Scott arrived on the scene seven years ago, playing Grant was a laughable no-brainer. Says Coach Bassett, “No more.”
Indeed Scott is a living testament to the difference that a coach can make. Before he took over the program, Grant’s six courts were empty in the summertime. Now there are two additional ones (funded through an application that Scott made to the Fremont Area Community Foundation) and they are filled on selected evenings with Scott-sponsored hit-arounds. The courts are also the scene of the annual Tiger Open, a July fund-raiser tournament that is supported by area businesses and 90-plus players who compete in multiple matches and multiple divisions for the good of Tiger tennis.
In other words, the attitude towards high school tennis has taken a U-turn since Scott took over five years ago. To be sure, it was slow growth but coaches throughout the conference and regional took notice that he was making an impact. Despite having 1-10 seasons, he was twice voted regional coach of the year by his peers. Amazingly, although he was voted state coach of the year in spring 2008, he was also awarded regional coach of the year honors for his work with the Grant boys this past fall.
And he took another step this year. Under Scott’s leadership, the Tigers finished in third place in the conference behind Spring Lake and Ludington and third in their regional behind Northpointe Christian and Calvin Christian. In other words, Grant is advancing steadily.
Born and raised in the community, Scott played basketball and ran track; there was no tennis program. His route to tennis coaching took him to Southfield (where he went to Lawrence Tech for a year but picked up a racket now and then), to CMU (where he was a PE minor), and to Zeeland (where he coached middle school tennis). He eventually took over the Zeeland varsity girls job before an opportunity opened up to return to his alma mater.
To say that he took advantage of it is an understatement. It became clear that things were changing when the Tigers started to beat Newaygo County rival Fremont on a regular basis. A fixture at our clinic in terms of attendance, Scott joined the board of directors three years ago.
In other words, we are watching an emerging program led by a dedicated coach who is expanding both the possibilities of his kids and the professional development of his career. He embodies the definition of a coach of the year.
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Stefan Welch, Ann Arbor Huron - Division 1
In terms of records, this past season must have been the stuff of dreams for Stefan Welch. His River Rats were undefeated in dual meet play, placed first in the conference, first at the regional, and capped the campaign by winning the state championship. The only blemish was that they “only” won seven of the eight tournaments that they played in and tied in one dual meet. Even still, these set-backs – if you can call them that – most likely occurred because Stefan’s 1S was recovering from mono at the time and his 2S was playing with a hand injury for the first half of the season.
Furthermore, it must have been particularly satisfying for him to have an Ann Arbor school besides Pioneer, who had won the title the previous six years, capture the state championship. Not only is this the first state title for Stefan but also the first regional title in the six years he has been varsity coach. Consider that this is a team which placed second in its regional every year but was so strong that it would go on to place second in the state three times (2004, 2005, and 2007), third once, and fourth once in his coaching tenure. In addition, Huron had never won a dual meet against Tom Pullen’s squad. “Overcoming their shadow this year was very special,” says Stefan. This was Huron’s first state title since 1996.
As it turns out, Stefan is no stranger to state titles. As a player for Jan Esper’s (Hall of Fame Class of 2004) Bloomfield Lahser squad between 1992-94, he helped the Knights tie for the state title with Brother Rice in 1993, clinching the championship, ironically, with a win over Ann Arbor Huron at 3D in the last match of the state tournament. Stefan played second 2D, 1D, and 2S in those years, earning all-state honors at 1D. He was a state semi-finalist in both of the year he played doubles (losing to Pioneer both years) and was a quarterfinalist his senior year. “Stefan, as a player, was a coach’s dream,” says Jan. “He was the hardest working player on the team and one of the most competitive. He always gave 100%, even in practice. He was so difficult to play against as he never showed emotion. He just focused on playing. He never gave me one moment of displeasure in four years at Lahser.
Stefan credits his success to team bonding, the return of 10 of 12 starters from the previous year’s squad, and the work of excellent assistant coaches Ann Hubbard and Vinny Gossain. But Jan adds: “He knows how to get the most out of his players in a very calm manner. Do not let his calm personality fool you. He is a great competitor.”
He had to be. “It certainly was not easy,” he says. “We had never been in the position of being expected to win before. It’s a pretty large bulls-eye being ranked #1 in the state. You tend to get everybody’s best game.”
Since graduating from U of M in 1999, Stefan has been a full-time teaching pro at the Huron Valley Tennis Club where team members from both Pioneer and Huron play. When Huron coach Jim Burdelski retired after the 2002 season, the captains of the team approached him about applying for the job. He was interviewed by both the athletic director and the legendary Gordon Boettcher (Hall of Fame Class of 1996) who himself has won multiple state titles as the Huron coach in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “Stefan has been a tremendous asset based on his excellent knowledge of the game, his being able to motivate his players both on and off the court to do their very best, and being a very ethical and fair coach,” says Gordon, who was Stefan’s assistant coach for five years before retiring this past year.
“It [coaching high school tennis] remains the most fun 2 and ½ months of the year for me,” says Stefan. But to be fair, there are high expectations and accompanying pressure as well. After all, simply consider Tom Pullen’s record at Pioneer and, for that matter, Eric Gajar’s record at Ann Arbor Greenhills. Pullen was named Coach of the Year by the National High School Athletic Coaches Association in 2007 and Eric’s team has placed either first or second in the state in four out of five final tournaments (the fifth was a third place).
Even given the exalted company, there is little doubt, for a variety of reasons, that Stefan fits right in as an MHSTeCA Coach of the Year.
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Keith Bernacki, Birmingham Seaholm - Division 2
Although Birmingham Seaholm has always enjoyed strong tennis teams throughout the years – perennial league champions, at or near the top of the regional, and somewhere in the top ten of the state – the team had finished first or second in the state only once or twice. That is, until Keith Bernacki took over as coach. Over eight seasons with the boys and four with the girls, his record is remarkable.
Consider that in the past four seasons, his girls were state champions in 2004, state runners-up in 2005, state runners-up in 2006, and (horrors!) fourth place this past spring. His boys state finishes during that same period were 3rd place in 2006, 4th place in the spring of 2007, state runner-up in the fall of 2007, and state runner-up this year. His girls have won the regional championship all four years and his boys have done so three out of the four. Out of a possible eight Oakland Activities Association championships (surely one of the strongest conferences in the state) during this time period, his kids have won five in this time period.
“He is a great competitor,” says one-time rival coach Jan Esper of Bloomfield Hills Lahser. “He goes above and beyond to make his kids better players , as well as better people. I admire him tremendously.”
A factor in Jan’s admiration involves health challenges. Keith was diagnosed with bone cancer in 1997 but was able to fight through initial diagnosis and several recurrences throughout the past dozen years. In the midst of this, he serves on the MHSTeCA board of directors and has been on the state seeding committee – an arduous task, at best -- four times, three for boys and one for girls.
“I have found him to upstanding, honest, and totally dedicated to his team and tennis,” say Jan. Tiger Teusink, a member of that committee since its inception agrees. “The MHSAA Seed committee for the final tournaments demands a focus of high integrity and commitment to do what is for the players in all divisions,” he says. ”Keith has that high integrity and commitment. He is always well-prepared and very thorough in helping establish the seeding for the finals.”
Keith coached tennis at Seaholm before he got a job teaching there. Before he secured the position, he taught English and coached soccer at his alma mater, Brother Rice, where as a senior he was both an all-state doubles player and an all-state soccer player.
“Early in 2002, after retiring from General Motors, I interviewed with Seaholm when the coaching position for their Boys Team opened up,” says Paul Young (who is our assistant coach of the year). “I wanted to give back to the sport that introduced me to so many interesting people and provided so much pleasure over 50+ years of playing competitive tennis. Keith's tennis and teaching qualifications earned him the job, but I met with him to see if he would consider me as his assistant, and we hit it off. He was a great choice for head coach, because as a young teacher at the school, he is a strong positive influence on the student/athletes, and his competitive drive knows no bounds.”
On several levels --- championship teams, role model, service to our sport – Keith more than qualifies for this honor. Although he is grateful to mentors Blaze Keating and Keith Cullen, as well as Paul Young, he stands alone to accept a well-deserved coach of the year award.
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Mark Shanks, Kingsford - Division 3
When Mark Shanks was growing up in Kingsford, he took up tennis on his own at age 13. Although he received a bit of instruction a year later via a community schools program, he didn’t really get a sense of what the game is all about until the he was 15 when he took lessons at a summer program from the legendary Phillyis Laurila of nearby Iron Mountain. Phyllis, a former MHSTeCA Coach of the Year (1987 and 2000), was a protégé of the legendary Jean Hoxie of Hamtramck. Her contemporaries were Jerry Dubie, Ray Senkowski (her mixed doubles partner), and Dick Potter, names of national prominence in tennis circles during the ‘50s. Phyllis herself won the NCAA Women’s Doubles Championship with Joyce (“Chicken Bones”) Peinewski back in 1959. “She totally changed what a community program was like,” says Mark.
As a result, Mark took a considerable knowledge of the game to his first teaching job in Greenville where he worked with another coach of the year, Elaina Morey (1992) from 1983-1994. After taking six years off from teaching -- working construction instead -- he returned to the courts of Kingsford in 2001 to coach alongside still another coach of the year, Ellette Nyman. (2005). For the past eight years, Mark has worked with the boys in the spring (assisted by Ellette) and with the girls in the fall as Ellette’s assistant.
If it weren’t for the fact that he is a varsity coach, he could easily be in line for Assistant Coach of the Year honors given the success of the girls. “Ellette reversed what Phyllis did,” says Mark. “Phyllis dominated. Now it is Kingsford.” Indeed, Kingsford has won the state girls championship five of the past eight years. Again, assisted by Mark.
But he has been no slouch in the spring. During the first four years of Mark’s tenure, the Flivvers had compiled a respectable 25-16-3 record, but it is in the next four seasons that they have been a force, putting together a 43-2-5 total. This past spring, Mark enjoyed his first state championship as a varsity coach. In addition, he has coached four all-state players.
The success is directly attributed to the summer program, a reversal in location of Phyllis’s efforts. Mark and Ellette run it together but Mark is the one who spends the most time on the court. And to be sure, he works not only with the Kingsford boys and girls but also with the kids from rival Iron Mountain. The program has increased in size and capacity to somewhere around 250-300, some coming from as far away as neighboring Wisconsin. After all, Wisconsin schools are on U.P. high school schedules. “With Mark’s enthusiasm for the game, our tennis program has grown to about 50 girls and 30 boys in our high school program,” says Ellette. “He is extremely passionate about sharing his love of the game with the young people of our community.”
At age 50, Mark has been coaching tennis for 22 years (he also referees football, basketball, hockey, and volleyball). In that time span, he has worked with more than his share of MHSTeCA coaches of the year. The fact that he now joins them on equal footing in terms of honors is most appropriate.
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Steve Lubbers, Hamilton - Division 3
“Being a JV coach gave me vast knowledge of how the entire program for high school tennis is run,” says Matt Brown of his six years under Hall of Famer Tim Elenbass. But truth be told, Matt brought more than his share of credentials to the Cadillac program. Starting in the eighth grade, he spent plenty of time on the courts across the street, won the regional at 2D for Sandusky High School during his freshman year, played 1S the next three years, and reached the quarterfinals of the state tournament in both his junior and senior years.
Matt’s high school success earned him a scholarship to play at Oakland University. When their program was cancelled due to Title IX issues, he continued his career at Lake Superior State University where he played No. 1 singles and doubles his junior and senior years and was named GLIAC Player of the Year after losing in the finals of the Rolex (ITA) Midwest Division 2 qualifier. He finished his college career by receiving Academic All-American status and earning a top 30 ranking in Division 2.
At the time, Matt was also already coaching. He started at a private club in Bloomfield Hills and teaching tennis became his summer job thoughout college. Upon graduation, he became the assistant men’s and women’s coach at LSSU. He also coached a girls SEMTA team for a year. Thus when he took a teaching job in Cadillac, he was eminently qualified to take over after Tim’s retirement, the apprentice years being over.
“Living in a rural community, there are no indoor courts or lessons within 50 miles besides those I give myself,” says Matt of his situation. Nevertheless 34 tennis players came out for the boys season. Expectations were not high in that 12 of the top 17 players from the previous spring had graduated. “We thought that this would be a rebuilding year,” says Matt, “but these kids were good athletes who worked hard through the summer.”
Indeed Matt runs a community-based program for four weeks during the summer and other programs for six weeks, instructing camps from 9:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. most weekdays. The program has doubled the number of participants to over 180. Giving the rural nature of the community, he keeps it cheap: $35 for four weeks.
As a result, his high school kids were ready to play come August. “On Day One when those 34 kids showed up, success happened and so did our successful campaign,” he says. “We were able to beat a solid Ludington team 5-3, winning the last three matches of the day, and we came back to tie Petoskey in our conference tournament after falling to them 7-1 in a dual.” Unfortunately, the Vikings came in third at the regional behind Spring Lake and Petoskey by one point and one point from the magic number of 18. “It was not disappointing,” say Matt, “because of the progress we made, because of our effort, and because of the dedication it took to achieve the success we had this season.”
“I consider our high school tennis team to be more than just a tennis program but rather a tennis family,” he continues. We spend countless hours together bonding and creating memories that bring the kids back, which in turn helps recruit kids into our program.”
“He is a first class tennis coach and, more importantly, a first class human being,” says Larry Nykerk, Hall of Fame coach of Traverse City Central. He knows how to have fun, create good relationships, and how to get the most out of his players. Matt’s teams have always been well-behaved, disciplined, and respectful. He is most deserving to be named Division 3 Coach of the Year.”We agree.
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Ron Landfair, Lansing Catholic Central - Division 4
Ron Landfair’s tennis players have been named All-State Academic all seven years that he has been coaching there. Each year, he requires each player to a service project: a cancer or heart asssociation walk, a book drive, a clean-up day, etc. There is much to be inferred from these activities.
But be assured that his kids also play very good tennis. Over 7 years, his Cougars have compiled a 68-14-6 record which translates to a winning percentage of 77%. They have won the Capital Area Conference championship five times, been regional champions four times, and regional runners-up three times, hence qualifying for state competition each and every year. Their state tournament finishes in either Division 3 or 4 have always been in the top ten. During the past two campaigns, his kids were 3rd (fall of 07) and 2nd (fall of 2008).
But if Ron’s kids lack for a state championship as a team, they don’t as individuals. Over the years he has coached 14 individual state flight champions representing 8 flights. Prior to 2003, the school had produced only two. Five more have reached the finals and 15 more were semi-finalists before being eliminated.
But what is even more impressive is that of the 14 individuals who graduated having won a state championship, eight were former JV players. On the top of this, four had never played tennis prior to high school. “I make a simple promise to every incoming freshman,” says Ron. “If you stay with the program for three years, I promise that you will be on the varsity in your senior year and earn your letter, if you have not earned one already.”
“It is my relationship with my players that I value more than anything,” says Ron. “Perhaps the best compliment ever paid to me was from one of my state champions, Jordan O’Neill. He asked to meet me for lunch one day and wanted to talk about his future. When I asked him what he wanted to do, he said: ‘I want to do what you do, coach.’ I thought he meant as a high school coach. He said, ‘No,no! I want to help people like you do!’ That meant the world to me.”
Ron not only serves on the MHSTeCA board of directors but also is a founding member and board member of the National Catholic Youth Organization for Sports, based in Washington D.C. and a board member of the National Federation of Catholic Youth Ministry, two organizations dedicated to ministry with young people in the arenas of athletics and religion.
“He has really done a good job of putting his team on the map and being one of the top programs in the state the last five years,” says Eric Gajar, state champion coach of Ann Arbor Greenhills. He is a stand-up guy who works hard to make sure his players not only learn the game and compete hard, but also to do it in the right way. This year he led his team to their highest finish ever at the state tournament, after having won his conference (again), and regional (again). I would give him my vote.”
So would we.
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