MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2014
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Mark Sobieralski, Grosse Pte. South||1 - Rick Farr, Utica|
|2 - Whitney Wasielewski, North Farmington||2 - Ben Tasich, Pinckney|
|3 - Peter Riley, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep|
|4 - Scott Zerlaut, Grant||4 - Chuck Parker, Otsego|
Mark Sobieralski, Grosse Pte. South - Division 1
Those who have followed Michigan high school tennis over the past 65 years are aware of powerhouse programs that have accumulated multiple state championships: Hamtramck (Yes, Hamtramck) under Jean and Jerry Hoxie, Tom Pullen at Ann Arbor Pioneer, Charlie Partin’s East Grand Rapids squads and Don Brown’s Cranbrook Kingswood teams.
But it would be remiss to not include Grosse Pte. South in this august group. Under Stephanie Prychitko, Hall of Fame Class of 1987, the Blue Devils dominated Class A girls tennis from its origins as a high school team sport (all flights at the state tournament) in the early ‘70s. Her record speaks for itself: 16 league titles, 15 regional championships, a great 273-28 win-loss record, and 11 state crowns. Stephanie, who learned her tennis in Hamtramck, was the South coach from 1972 to 1990. Judy Flowers took the helm for the ensuing two years.
Then came Mark Sobieralski who at one point joked that he had “ruined” the program, doubtlessly referencing the fact that there were no longer stretches of state championships. Instead, under his leadership, South has “merely” finished in the top ten of state competition every year. “Fourteen of the 21 years I have been at GPS, we have finished in the top five,” he says. This means that overall South girls have finished in the top five of the state an astounding 27 times, a record.
The folks in Grosse Pointe knew what they were getting when Mark took over this legendary program back in 1993. An outstanding player from Warren who played college tennis at Grand Rapids Aquinas, he compiled a very successful record at Warren Mott, coaching the girls to 108 wins. While he was there, his teams captured 11 conference championships (six in boys and five in girls). Mark guided Dave Gennero to the Class B State 1S championship in 1992. He was named MHSTeCA state coach of the year in 1991.
“I was happy at Mott, but I wanted to grow,” Mark gave as the reason he left Mott for the Grosse Pte. South job. As the head pro at Eastside Tennis and Fitness, he had close contact with area tennis players. The results over the years are truly impressive: a 190-66-8 dual meet record, a top ten finish at the state tournament every year except one, a top five finish 14 of the 21 years he has been at South, and (ahem!) three state championships, the third accomplished this past spring.
It was close. “We won five out of the six three set matches we played at states,” he says. “They were so clutch. With most of my girls returning, the extra year of experience paid off. We probably would have lost most of those matches the previous year.” And the future leadership looks good. “Three straight years I have had a freshman win the 4S title,” he says.
Not to be outdone by the big shoes he has filled with the girls teams at South, Mark stepped into an even more challenging situation by taking over the storied University Liggett program this past fall. After all, Bob Wood had won 27 state titles with the boys and 12 with the girls. “Liggett did not have a coach a week before the season,” he explains. “They never thought I’d be interested since I had not coached boys since 1993 and was director of tennis at the Lochmoor Club.
“The first season was awesome,” Mark summarizes with characteristic enthusiasm. “I inherited a team that had lost 8 seniors the previous season. We had five freshmen, three sophomores, two juniors, and two seniors in the top twelve…….We had a great state tournament with such an inexperienced team. In four flights, we defeated a player or team that was seeded ahead of us. Quite remarkable for kids being on the big stage for the first time. Our goal was to finish second. We did it.”
Indeed, the tennis situation in Grosse Pointe looks good for two different schools with the same coach. But win or lose (mostly win), Mark contributes to high school tennis with the same genial humor and good will. He has made presentations at our workshop, always in regard to doubles strategy. He is our current 2nd Vice President, due to take over leadership of our organization in Feb. 2017.
Although a second Coach of the Year award is not unusual, there are those board members who are reluctant to vote a Coach of the Year award to someone who, say, is also in the Hall of Fame (Class of 2004) or has received national recognition (2009 National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coach of the Year). But Mark’s enthusiasm, good will, and experience make him an exception.
Whitney Wasielewski, North Farmington - Division 2
Since her start at coaching girls at North Farmington in 2005, Whitney Wasielewski could write a textbook on how to lead a successful high school tennis team.
1. Play strong competition. Part of this was handed to her. After all North Farmington plays in the OAA Red and White Divisions. This year, the competition included Clarkston, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield, Rochester Adams, Groves, Seaholm, and Troy. It is a testament to the strength of their conference schedule that her squad finished at the bottom in terms of dual meet wins and 6th out of 8th at the league tournament, yet, they won the regional, sweeping almost every flight. They ended the season 9th in the state.
2. Host Saturday, Conference, and Regional tournaments. “I usually host a tournament or quad once each season for both boys and girls,” she says. “I also host our league tournament for both boys and girls nearly every year. I also have hosted the regional every year since my second or third year of coaching.”
This is significant. Managing tournaments gains the gratitude and admiration of fellow coaches who appreciate the extra work involved. In addition, hosting a regional sometimes helps in terms of geography; i.e. there is a chance that you can avoid unfortunate assignments (Just ask the folks who live near Ann Arbor). And hosting a tournament gives you the opportunity to recruit teams that will test your team, especially in terms of seeding consideration later on.
3. Be athletic. It is absolutely true that the best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches (see MHSTeCA Hall of Fame for examples). Nevertheless, it helps, especially when a female coach is dealing with doubters of the opposite sex. Whitney came to North Farmington with not only abundant coaching experience but with considerable playing background in a variety of sports. As Whitney Crosby, she was an excellent tennis player at Livonia Stevenson. In addition, “My dad was an All American swimmer at Eastern Michigan,” she says, “so my brothers and I swam in the summer for him. But in high school, swimming was the same season as tennis.”
She also played volleyball and softball in high school As a result of this background, she is the tennis director at Sports Club of Novi. Her summers are at Western Golf and Country Club in Redford where she is the not only the Director of Tennis but also Assistant Pool Manger and Tennis Coach. She does tennis camps with her brother in Novi. Bottom line: she can walk the walk.
4. Serve on committees. “After I was asked by Gina to be on the state seed committee, I began to get more involved in the coaches association and meet more coaches,” she says. “A few coaches mentioned that they thought I would be a good addition to the (MHSTeCA) board so I decided to go ahead and do it. I feel like I can bring a different perspective than many of the other members because I am female and a younger coach.”
It is significant, by the way,that she served on the seed committee before joining the board. This service provides information and insight as she evaluates players and programs. Rubbing shoulders with the movers and shakers can be invaluable.
5. Stay long enough to develop a tradition. Although North Farmington has often – if not always – been strong in tennis, Whitney has brought them to another level. “We continue to gain recognition every year,” she says (See above). Part of that recognition involves success in both seasons.
“It’s definitely not the same,” she says about coaching both boys and girls. “I wouldn’t say one team is more successful than the other; it really just depends on the year. There have been years where the girls have been more successful and years where the boys have been. More recently, the boys have had more depth but in the beginning of my coaching career, the girls were stronger. But regardless of gender, the reason I love coaching so much is because of the relationships I build with my players.”
6. The inevitable result: Winning awards. “I think when I won COY (Boys, 2011), it helped get my name out there a little more and I also began to get more involved in the coaches association which has helped me network more and get a stronger schedule, which in turn has helped my program continue to improve,” she says. Now, of course, one more award.
“Whitney is a wonderful person and coach, and an invaluable member of our sport,” says Holly’s Will Sophiea. “Her numerous efforts towards Michigan high school tennis are second to none.” Indeed, when the Old Guard moans about which young folks are capable of taking over after they fade into the sunset, they need look no further than this exceptional lady.
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Peter Riley, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep - Division 3
Peter Riley had the good fortune to grow up within walking distance of the newly built Troy Athens tennis courts. He also had the good fortune to play four years of varsity tennis under Hall of Famer Warren Block.
“He had an unusual two-handed forehand,” recalls Warren. “He was very competitive and improved tremendously over his four year career. In 1979 he and a Finnish exchange student won the regional at 3rd doubles. That helped Athens participate in the state finals for the 1st time.” The team went on to qualify again in 1980, no small feat considering the tough neighborhood (Bloomfield Hills, Birmingham, Southfield-Lathrup, etc.)
Peter then went on to play four more years of varsity tennis, this time at the University of Detroit under Earl Clark, Jr., son of Detroit Lions legendary great Dutch Clark. “Even though I did not have a winning record at singles and doubles, it was fun to travel around the Midwest playing different colleges,” he concludes.
All of this was ample background and experience for high school coaching. He started in 1996 by coaching the JV girls team at Rochester Adams under another Hall of Famer, Al Must. He then went to Royal Oak Kimball to lead both boys and girls at the varsity level. At the same time, he was teaching in the Avondale school district. When friend Jon Kavanagh moved from Avondale to take the AD job at Notre Dame Prep, Peter used this contact to take a teaching and coaching position there when the opportunity arose.
It was to be Notre Dame’s blessing. Although the school plays stiff competition in Division II of the Catholic High School League – Sacred Heart Academy, Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard, and Allen Park Cabrini (coached by Hall of Famer Al Kaye), among others – Peter’s teams have won the division tournament and the sectional title seven times. The boys have been to the state tournament twice, due to the fact that – for a change – they were not ensconced in the Detroit Country Day – Cranbook regional.
But a judicious regional assignment is not the reason for Peter’s success this past spring, a campaign he calls “our best year.” The team qualified for state competition with 18 points, thanks to victories by his 1D and 2D over (ahem) Detroit Country Day. “When our other players who came from different sites after losing to Country Day in different flights found out we made it to states, the look on their faces was priceless,” he says.
Even though Peter’s kids received a tough draw prior to the state tournament (five flights had to play seeded players), the team did very well. The 4S and 2D kids defeated seeded teams and 4S went to the semifinals. The 3S player defeated both the 2nd and 3rd seed to reach the finals. 1D, seeded 2nd, won two tough three-set matches to also reach the finals. The result: a fifth place finish, no small feat.
“I have never coached a team that was this close, easy-going, and relaxed as this team,” says Peter. “This year, the coaches (Cory Jergenson, Laura Brickley, and Leigh Ann Grubbs) took a less-is-more approach during matches. We allowed them to play their game, showed faith in them, and helped them out when they needed it with a brief talk.”
2014 was no fluke. Some of these kids had been there before. “In 2012, we had a great season due to the depth of the line-up,” Peter says. “There was not much difference in talent at 1-4 singles and doubles. As a result, our 4th singles and 4th doubles (including Peter’s daughter Maddy) made it to the finals. “Also, our 1st doubles team defeated the 2nd seed, made it to the semifinals, and became the first tennis players from NDP to earn All-State.”
“I love to watching Peter pace from court to court, coaching his players and firing them up,” says Sacred Heart Academy’s Judy Hehs. “He is passionate about all he does. He believes in his players. And he is just and fair.”
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Scott Zerlaut, Grant - Division 4
In spring, 2007, Scott Zerlaut's Grant Tigers compiled a record of 1-10. Nevertheless, he was voted Coach of the Year at his regional.
In spring, 2008, his squad once again went 1-10. Once again, he was Regional Coach of the Year. He was then voted State Coach of the Year by the Board of Directors.
In spring, 2013, his record was 4 wins against five losses. His MHSTeCA colleagues made him Regional Co coach of the year along with Portland's Jim Niebling.
In spring, 2014, his team was 0-8, 8th in the conference, and 7th in the regional and yet he was elected Regional Coach of the Year again. And State Coach of the Year… again.
“It’s a gross understatement to say that Grant is not a traditional hotbed of tennis,” says North Muskegon’s Joe Gentle. “The program survives because of Scott. Furthermore, he does way more than the vast majority of coaches to support high school tennis across the state as well as our coaches association.”
Indeed, Scott is a testament to the difference a dedicated coach can make. Colleagues appreciate the force of will and love of the game necessary to field a team in an area where you have to drive by cornfields and orchards to get to the courts. "I was amazed the first time I attended one of his summer night hit-arounds," says Ed Waits, a retired veteran coach who was well acquainted with established Detroit area programs before he retired to West Michigan. "At 5:45 p.m., the Grant courts were empty." By 6:00, they were filled with kids hitting tennis balls."
The same applies to the Tiger Open, a Friday and Saturday fund raiser that Scott holds each July. You would not expect groups of players to be gathered under trees waiting for their matches to be called in a community such as Grant. And you would be pleasantly surprised at the quality of the eight courts, two of which were recently installed thanks to a grant from the Fremont Area Community Foundation that was submitted by Scott. In a county that boasts few courts, Grant High School has eight, along with a large hitting wall.
But there have been setbacks. For instance, Scott was laid off in 2011, even though he had taught in the district for 15 years. Still, he administered all the summer camps and programs -- he also takes kids to intercity matches in Portland, Spring Lake, and Ludington. “However, a handful of guys were not sure that I was going to be there to coach the team and if they would even have a team,” he says. “So those three or four good athletes were looking at playing football and a really good player transferred away. When I was hired back at the last moment, we had only a handful of players on the first Wednesday of practice. The school gave us until Friday to get a full 12 or they were going to cancel the season. So they didn’t let us have a season.”
Veteran coaches know what a setback such an unstable situation can be. So is the challenge of diminished enrollment in a Division 4 school. “Our high school has been down 60-70 students since 2008,” he says.
Consider this past season: Scott graduated 11 seniors from the previous year. The lone returnee was a senior 2D player who decided that playing 1S wouldn’t be much fun during her last fall. She decided to take a job. That meant that the varsity squad consisted of many freshmen. The 1S on the 2013 JV squad became 1S on the 2014 varsity squad. Still, Scott fielded a team of 18 girls.
Thus, Grant tennis is a matter of ups and downs. Scott manages to build up the program for a couple of years, only to see it sometimes deteriorate despite his considerable effort. In 16 years of coaching girls, his record is 43-106-13. The Tigers have never won a conference or regional title, yet coaches obviously admire what he does. “He always attends and is a valuable contributor to our all-area meetings,” says Joe, “even though Grant has never placed a single player on the all-area team. He is a voice of reason when controversial issues need to be resolved.
All this from an exceptionally busy guy. Scott was on the teacher bargaining team for his district for five years. He served as the GEA's president from 2012 to 2013. He is the father of four youngsters, ages 12, 10, 8, and 4. They get coached in tennis and golf by their dad who plays with them regularly. But when asked if he would take over the compilation of regional coach of the year data (read: another obligation that takes time), he readily agreed. "It will free my mind from all the other stuff," he said blithely.
Things will surely improve when his own athletic children reach high school, and as often happens – drag friends with them. They play in USTA tournaments and Scott takes them to the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati. He chuckles over an incident in which he – away from the scene -- learned that Caroline Wozniacki had paused for a photo opportunity with Melinda and the kids while Caroline’s then- boyfriend stood politely and quietly off to the side. Scott later lamented to them: “Do you know who he is!!?” A cherished second picture lost.In the meantime, Grant has a tennis program that, according to Joe, would not survive without Scott. It is to the benefit of both his community and our association.
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Rick Farr, Utica - Division 1
As with so many kids of his generation, Rick Farr’s athletic focus when growing up was on baseball, but when he got booted off the junior high team for fighting, he switched to tennis. After all, there were tennis courts in his backyard, Boulan Park, Troy. “That scuffle was life changing in every positive way,” he says.
Coaches of a certain age will recognize the racket that he found lying around his garage, a Doris Hart (precursor to the Jack Kramer autograph, the Bancroft Players Special, and the Tad/Davis). “My parents convinced me to take lessons,” he says. Troy High School’s coach, Dick Shepick, gave group lessons on those new courts. The next set of lessons the following year were taught by a character who, while I was taking lessons with other neighbor kids, promised me ten bucks per lesson if I taught the beginning adult lessons for him. At age 14 and being new to the game, I’m sure my lessons weren’t very good – and as you may have guessed – the reprobate never paid me.”
Those lessons led to four years of varsity tennis at Troy High School. “At the end of my senior year, a friend helped me get a summer job at the Birmingham Athletic Club where for three summers, I had some of the best experiences teaching tennis and taking care of clay courts,” he says. “Being a visual learner, it was here that I learned the most about playing tennis by observing so many excellent players.
Playing four years of varsity tennis for Oakland University didn’t hurt. All this experience enabled him to teach the game at OU and at Boyne Mountain. “I really learned teaching tennis after working with Dick Gould from Stanford University,” he adds.
In 1978, Utica High School hired a teacher who was eminently qualified to start a tennis team (it wasn’t a recognized sport then). And after 37 years, he still gets satisfaction “seeing kids learn the game, compete to the best of their abilities, and act like gentlemen in the process.”
In terms of wins and losses, it hasn’t been easy. Under Rick’s guidance, Chieftain tennis has captured three league championships (two MAC Blue and one White) but no regional wins. Year after year, Port Huron Northern stands in the way. But this past season was an exception. ‘I benefitted from a team of boys who through desire, long hard practices, dedicated families and all the other ingredients for success, won back to back league championships.”
“He has the most beautiful Ken Rosewall-like slice backhand of any amateur player I have ever watched,” says Rochester’s Jerry Murphy who notes that Rick has won both the Open singles and doubles titles of the Rochester City Tennis Tournament numerous times. “I’ve known Rick for about 40 years. He is a perfect gentleman on and off the court, and his teams reflect his personality. Combining this with his longevity and his first appearance at the state finals, he is well-deserving of the Division I State Coach of the Year.”
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Ben Tasich, Pinckney - Division 2
In the late 1940s, Ben Tasich, age 8, started playing tennis at the local park down the street in his native Belgrade, Yugoslavia. When his father moved to America to escape the Communists, Ben brought his tennis skills to the team at Lowrey High School, Dearborn where he played doubles. From there, he went to Eastern Michigan University where he received a BA in secondary education, an MA in U.S. History, and a Specialist in Secondary School Administration. He taught at Ferndale High School and Ypsilanti High School. He then served as an administrator at YHS before going back to teaching and coaching (football and basketball) there.
Ben got back into tennis when he retired to open Racquets Unlimited in Livonia, a sports store catering to tennis, racquetball, and running. This is when he met Bob Wood. Coaches will remember that Ben donated equipment for the workshop raffle between 1980 and 1993.
He closed the shop in 1993 to get back into education, first at Schoolcraft Community College (where he ran their summer tennis program) and then as an assistant principal in South Lyon. He retired from there after 27 years in public education. “In retirement, I found some time to get back to my second love in life – tennis,” he says. “An indoor club was down the street from my house, just like that park in Belgrade 40 years earlier.”
“In 2009, Pinckney High School was looking for someone to rebuild their moribund tennis program,” he continues. “We have accomplished a lot in the past six seasons.”
Indeed, during this time Ben has been as much into building community tennis as he is in producing winning high school teams. Working closely with Pinckney Community Education, the Southeastern Michigan Tennis Association, and the USTA Midwest Section, he helped develop comprehensive tennis programming for K-12, established a middle school program which offered two four-week sessions of tennis each school semester, set up a comprehensive six-week summer program in partnership with the Sportsclub of Novi, and helped set up a mentoring program wherein high school varsity players assist a teaching pro in working with younger kids.
“With our No Cut Tennis Program, we have one of the largest girls teams in the KLAA conference,” he says. “Over 40 girls played this past season and our boys program had 36. This year, Pinckney is one of the 14 high schools nationally that have been recognized as the 2014 No Cut All Star team. We are proud that Pinckney is being put on the tennis map.”
Ben set up a Pinckney Area Community Tennis Association which ran the first-ever USTA Jr. Boys Tournament this past August. “We had 32 players from as far as Jackson, West Bloomfield, and Hope, besides our local kids from Howell and Brighton, playing,” he says. The organization also ran a World Day of Tennis last fall and they take kids to Ann Arbor to watch women’s and men’s collegiate tennis. “We will be planning a trip to the Davis Cup matches when they are played in the Midwest,” he adds.
All of this has paid dividends for the high school program. “In 2013, we finished 3rd in our Western Division of the Lakes Conference and we finished 8th out of 24 teams in the KLAA League (boys),” he says. “This year’s boys team has had the same successes and for the first time in Pinckney’s modern tennis history, we sent a player to compete in the state finals.” Nick Romano won the first two rounds and received all state honors.
In addition, this is the fourth year that the boys have received the MHSTeCA All Academic honor (3.80 GPA). The Pinckney girls receive the award every year. “We try to walk that talk when we talk about student athletes,” he says.
And at age 74, Ben continues to play. “I have been playing USTA Men’s Travel tennis for the past 12 years,” he says, “and have just returned from the Mid-West Sectionals, representing Pure Michigan in the 65 and over men’s Super Seniors division. We were fortunate to win the championship and have qualified for the nationals in Surprise AZ this March. This will be our fourth nationals tournament.”Ben is a mover and a shaker. He lists no fewer than five individuals who have helped with a program that has never previously been at the forefront. He is a prime example of the difference that leadership can make at the grass roots level. Thanks to his efforts, tennis is thriving in his community.
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Henry Bruunschweiler, Haslett - Division 3
Although Haslett High School has not generally been known as a hotbed of high school tennis, things are changing. “Seven years ago, we only won one match the entire season and had only qualified for the state tournament two times in the school’s history,” says varsity coach Henry Brunnschweiler. “Over the last few years, we have shown continuous improvement by moving from an average finish in the high teens to No. 11 last season and No. 9 this season at the state tournament.”
Henry calls this year’s squad the best in school history. The Vikings captured the Capital Area Athletic Conference – Red crown over DeWitt, Fowlerville, Ionia, Owosso, and St. Johns and then went on to bring home the regional trophy.
Henry credits, in part, a strong schedule for the team’s success. “We set up our most challenging schedule this year which included multiple tournaments in the Grand Rapids area,” he says. In that Haslett is located a few miles northeast of the MSU campus, this involved travel, a requirement of most successful programs. “Two of our three losses came in dual meets against Detroit Country Day and Cranbrook,” he adds. This gave his kids a clearer vision of what it takes to reach the next level.
Moreover, Haslett had to overcome a significant challenge. “We suffered a very tough injury in our doubles lineup that set us back as we changed three doubles teams halfway through the season,” he says. “We started players who had not played until then. Despite this, we managed to recover. It was the first Top Ten finish in our school’s history.”
But perhaps not surprising, given the wealth of teaching experience that Henry brought to Haslett as an 8th grade U.S. history teacher. As a student, he was an assistant to a tennis class offered by MSU. Then in 1994, he was hired by Court One in Lansing to coach a new program that Todd Martin (who, by the way, had played high school tennis at East Lansing) was starting in the Lansing area. “The Todd Martin Development Program works with Lansing area youth and teaches tennis and educational programs to hundreds of students a year,” he says. “I was the director of the program for 19 years.”
Henry’s bona fides go back even further. Growing up in the Lansing area, he attended Okemos High School, coached by Jim Powers, a pioneer in the early days of MHSTeCA establishment and a member of the Hall of Fame Class of 2014. “I learned a lot from him,” he says. “As a coach, he made every player feel as if they were a part of the team. He took the time to give everyone an opportunity, a coaching philosophy I use to this day. Our Haslett boys and girls teams regularly carry 23+ players each season.”
“He is the nicest guy you are ever going to meet,” says Jim Jonas, varsity coach at Fowlerville and himself a Coach of the Year. “Last year, my team competed in the regional at Haslett and for the first time ever, we qualified for the state meet. Henry was as happy for my kids as I was. He greeted my players with warm high fives and was just so excited. I can’t tell you how many times my kids and their parents have commented on how classy he was/is.”
This is Henry’s 14th season as both boys and girls coach. Given the background and the steady improvement, the future looks good. “We will be returning the majority of our lineup for next year, led by our top three singles players,” he says. “This year’s team was well-connected and showed incredible resilience when we had to replace much of our doubles lineup.” Lessons that should transfer to the next campaign.
“When I run into his players at the tennis club or at the mall, they all speak so highly of Coach B,” says Jim. “He is a fierce competitor but he has coaching in the right perspective. He is all about the kids. Haslett wouldn’t be as strong as they are without his leadership.”
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Chuck Parker, Otsego - Division 4
Although he grew up in Lansing, Chuck Parker moved to Otsego in 1980 where both his son and daughter played on the high school’s tennis team. Compared to them, he started playing the game a bit late -- at age 42 -- but he “got good” quickly, eventually playing for the 3.5 Men’s Travel Team at the Kalamazoo YMCA. As a by-product of his skill, he volunteered to help with the high school program in 1997 and 1998 but couldn’t take the head job when it became available because, at the time, his position as a freelance writer and photographer for the Kalamazoo Gazette – which covers the Otsego district – presented a conflict of interest.
Instead, he gained valuable experience for two years as the head coach at Paw Paw before stepping down because of a torn ACL, the 40-minute commute, and the fact that he was missing out on his own kids’ athletic experiences back in Otsego. But later, he jumped at the opportunity to get back into tennis coaching when he learned that Peter Militzer of Portage Central was looking for a JV/Assistant Varsity coach. At the time, Peter pointed to multiple improvements to his already strong program, thanks to Coach Parker. For his efforts, Chuck was awarded MHSTeCA’s Assistant Coach of the Year award in 2006. In 2007, he returned to Otsego where he has coached the boys for nine seasons (two seasons in 2007).
The Otsego kids are fortunate. Chuck has translated all of this into an impressive record: 70-21-13 overall. He has been named our Region 26 Coach of the Year three times (2006, 2008 and 2014), Western Michigan Tennis Association Junior Team Tennis Coach of the Year in 2011, and Wolverine Conference Coach of the Year twice (2012, 2013).
This past season offers an insight as to why. Chuck worked nearly every weekday during the summer to develop upcoming players. They participated in Junior Team Tennis and had inter-city recreational league tennis experiences almost every Friday.
At the beginning of the season, he set goals as a team: Win the conference, win the regional, and finish in the top ten at the state. Mission almost accomplished. The squad finished second in the Wolverine Conference to Sturgis but captured the regional trophy. At the regional, “We were worried about our doubles getting past Paw Paw and Niles Brandywine after losing to them earlier in the season,” he says. “Three of our doubles made it to the finals. So it ended Otsego 27, Niles Brandywine 22, Paw Paw 19.” In other words, improvement in doubles, the mark of good coaching. And thanks to strong singles, the Bulldogs finished in a tie for 8th at the state finals.
“Chuck’s touch on Otsego's program has been extraordinary,” says Peter. “His players compete hard and are well-behaved, and they always seem to improve more than you think they should.”
With Chuck at the helm as varsity coach, Otsego has qualified for the state tournament 6 times, once in Division 3 and five in Division 4. A major reason is a summer-long tennis program and camp which he has run since 2007. He also helped initiate an Otsego Middle School Spring Tennis Club and helped increase involvement from other school districts as a USTA Junior Team Tennis Area Coordinator from 2010 – 2012.
“Chuck is a big, burly guy, but he's like that neighbor dog that always barked at you until they got to know you,” concludes Peter. “He's a teddy bear at heart. He's warm, friendly, and more than giving with his time and energy. He has earned respect from fellow coaches. His peers are not shy about singing his praises.”
His peers include the MHSTeCA board of directors who elected him Coach of the Year.
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