MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2016
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Mike Barnes, Sterling Heights Stevenson||1 - Chas Claus, Clarkston|
|2 - Jim D'Angelo, Mason||2 - Rocco Giorgi, Gibraltar Carlson|
|3 - Tom Kudwa, Ludington|
|4 - Cathy Hassett, Royal Oak-Shrine Catholic||4 - Mark Sobieralski, University Liggett|
Mike Barnes, Sterling Heights Stevenson - Division 1
In the early 1970s, Mike Barnes began a tennis program at Sterling Heights Stevenson at the club level. A football, wrestling, and track athlete at James Whitcomb Riley High School in South Bend, Indiana, he started playing tennis when his wife got him on the courts. He continued the activity with three fellow teachers during his first few years at the school, but then in 1974, a group of students talked him into sponsoring a tennis club. He started teaching a group of 10 to 15 students “with help of some books and anyone I could find to give me some pointers.”
In 1977, the club members petitioned the Utica Community Schools to initiate a varsity tennis program. The district added varsity tennis to the athletic program in 1977-78. In 1981, he took over the girls program after their second season.
That was almost four decades ago. What is amazing is that he is still at it despite retiring from teaching in 2007 where he taught Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, and A.P. Chemistry. “I think I have hung in for so long because it is in my DNA,” he says. “My brother coached for American Legion for many years. My father, grandfather, and great-grandfather were all involved in working with youth, either as teachers or through Boy Scout programs.
What’s more, Mike has done this for so many years with essentially the same facilities. “We still have just six courts,” he says. “Our campus is limited space-wise and the staff like having a place to park so we’re stuck with it.”
That doesn’t keep him from hosting a quad every year and the league tournament when his school’s turn comes around. Over the years, he has managed many events and more often than not, handing the trophy over to another coach. His team rarely makes an appearance at the final tournament: Grosse Pte. South, Troy Athens, and Troy High School usually stand in the way.
But even after so long, there are plenty of pleasures and compensations and satisfactions. “I truly enjoy meeting former players on the courts,” he says. “Last summer playing USTA, 7 of 8 players on the opposing team were former players of mine at Stevenson. The 8th had played against us.”
“When I first started coaching [at Sterling Hgts Henry Ford], he was a huge help,” says Steve Nellis who played for Mike in 2002 and 2003. “I would always go to him with questions and he was always willing to stop and help me out. He knows so much about the game, strategy, and tactics. We coach at schools in the same district and within close proximity of each other so that adds to the rivalry a little bit. In the summer, we schedule our summer camps around each other so that we can get players from both schools attending each camp.”
Mike admits that there are probably more years behind him than there are ahead of him. But “Introducing young men and women to the sport and watching them mature into better players and responsible people keeps bringing me back,” he says.Almost four decades and counting for a coach who could have taken his Hall of Fame induction (Class of 2011) and retired in blissful satisfaction. Instead, tennis players in his area and Michigan high school tennis in general are better for his dedication.
Jim D'Angelo, Mason - Division 2
"Jim D’Angelo challenges his players like no other with a very tough schedule,” says Haslett’s Henry Brunnsweiler. “He travels all over to play a ton of matches against quality competition.”
You need only to look at last spring’s schedule to verify this. Jim’s teams competed in four tournaments before the league and regional events. They played against such storied squads as Portage Central, Forest Hills Northern, Portage Northern, Petoskey, East Grand Rapids, and Holly. Jim hosted two of these events.
Unfortunately for his state tournament prospects, he doesn’t have to go far to encounter even more tough challenges. When Mason’s school enrollment puts the team in Division 2, he has to compete against Okemos and East Lansing. “In Division 3, honestly we would go [to the final tournament] every year along with Haslett,” he says. Case in point: at the CCAC Red League tournament, Mason finished second to Haslett, 39 to 36. And sure enough, in the regional, the Lady Bulldogs finished 3rd with 15 points.
Mason’s strength was on top: his girls were runners-up at 1S, 2S, 1D, and 2D. This is especially impressive in that Jim’s squad was comprised of nine first-time varsity players. They lose only two (read: next year looks good).
Although victory against Okemos seems to be annually out of reach, Jim has had some success against East Lansing. Over the past nine years, the squad has been to the state tournament five times in Division 2 by either beating East Lansing or being one of three schools compiling more than 18 points under the Murphy Rule. They qualified twice when in Division 3 but the school enrollment these days seems to be “high enough that I don’t see us dropping back to D3,” he says.
Jim has been at Mason High School a total of 11 years, the first two as an assistant under Doug Dancer. In those nine years as head coach, the team has captured seven conference championships. This year, the daughter of his own assistant, Peter Hanover, lost in the D2 1S final in three sets. Jim’s own daughter went to the semifinals at 1S back in 2005 when the Lady Bulldogs not only won the regional but finished 5th in the state that year.
What’s more, they have a coach who himself can play. Jim competed at 1S for Birmingham (now Beverly Hills) Groves back in the early ‘70s where he qualified for the state tournament all three years (they were three-year high schools back then). His best finish was the quarterfinals. He went on to try out for the MSU team but was the last man cut. Instead, he lettered in soccer. Clearly, he was very good at both sports.
He still plays several Midwest and National adult USTA tournaments each summer, both singles and doubles. He also is employed part time as a USPTA Elite Level certified teaching pro at Court One where he works from September to the start of the girls season. His day job: he has owned a landscaping company in the Lansing area since 1981."Jim and our teams usually meet up at least twice each season,” says East Lansing’s Cosette Buckberry who grew up playing with Jim’s daughter and has been Jim’s doubles partner in a mixed doubles league. “I can’t thank him enough for always inviting us to his scrimmage and invitational. He does an excellent job running the tournaments he hosts. In addition, he has built an exceptional program at Mason High School over the years and there is no doubt that they are very lucky to have him as a coach. The incredible enthusiasm that he shares as he mentors, teaches, and coaches his players each time he steps on the court is one of the main reasons why he is very deserving of this special honor.”
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Tom Kudwa, Ludington - Division 3
When Tom Kudwa was inducted into the MHSTeCA Hall of Fame in 2005, his biography chronicled a rags to riches odyssey. In 1977, he started his tennis coaching career in Shepherd with a five gallon pail of balls on one court with a shotput/discus circle painted on one baseline (they had to share the “facility” with the track team). That was then.
By 2005, he was the winningest girls tennis coach in both Shepherd and Ludington High School history. His Hall of Fame article ended with the words: “Imagine starting your tennis coaching career on one court with a single five-gallon bucket of balls. Imagine ending it in the Hall of Fame.”
Tom didn’t end anything at that time. “H of F was never my goal nor a factor in retiring,” he says. “I was still building a program and still had work to do. The past dozen years have been some of the best teams of my career. In fact, 2014 and 2015 were the two best seasons ever. We had our first state champions and our first top five finishes (5th and 3rd). Tying Traverse City St. Francis (#2 in the state) for a regional title in 2015 and almost beating them was awesome since my girls know most of them and know how many play at the clubs in TC year round while we have no clubs.”
Maybe not, but Ludington is now home to the Schoenherr Tennis Center, a beautiful complex with a huge team room, a kitchen, two bathroom, an inseason storage room, and a room for the school’s PE program. The focal point is the stadium court with four levels of concrete seating on each side. There is also stadium seating for the two pods of two courts on each side of the stadium court. There are five additional courts.
Moreover, this facility wasn’t merely handed to Tom. “I began the fund raising in 2006,” he says. It took 1.5 years to obtain $750,000, mostly through face to face conversations. Over $50,000 of work and materials were also donated.
Tom worked with an architect on a design that had to be changed a couple of times. He became the general contractor in charge of procuring over 40 companies (asphalt, glass, electrical, court lighting, fencing, court surfacing, excavating, painting, etc). “The Ludington schools superintendent entrusted me with the entire budget and every decision along the way,” he says. “I was responsible for every decision: color of cement blocks, type of roofing, size of fencing, height of each seat …………” He did all this and more while teaching AP Calculus and Physics.
Tom’s kids have proven to be deserving of such a facility. In the past decade, his teams have captured five regional championships, five conference titles, and made it to the final tournament nine times. This past season - his 40th and last - his squad which included 7 freshmen and sophomores - still won the regional title and gained valuable experience at the state meet. They also won the Allegan tournament, something Tom’s teams had not been able to do in 20 years.
Although Tom retired from teaching HS (AP Calculus & Physics) in 2011, he is currently teaching online algebra classes at West Shore Community College. He retired from coaching tennis after this past season and also gave up boys JV. He still ran the summer tennis academy in Ludington this past summer -- the one that he started in 1999 -- for kids entering kindergarten through 12 and adults.
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Cathy Hassett, Royal Oak-Shrine Catholic - Division 4
Does the influence of a coach make a difference? Consider the career of Cathy Hassett.
When she took over the boys team at Harper Woods Notre Dame in 1997, the squad had never qualified for state competition. After working with them for three years (“good athletes but not tennis players”), they qualified. She continued coaching them until 2005 when the school closed.
She was then hired to coach the girls at Regina High School. Again, the goal was to build the team to the point where they would compete at the final tournament. It happened -- once again -- three years later. They were ranked 6th in the state in Division 3 that year. Daughter Siena, who played on that team, surely helped.
In the meantime, Cathy had been hired to teach chemistry at Royal Oak Shrine. Given that the school is located on Detroit’s west side, she decided to leave Regina to help Hall of Famer Barb Myler with both the boys and girls teams. “What I brought to the table at Shrine was more intense practices, strategy, confidence boosting, and team building,” she says. The result: the 2008 boys squad, which included son John, qualified for state competition, once again in three years.
This past season, the Shrine girls placed fourth in the regional behind Sacred Heart, Flint Powers, and University Liggett, some of the best competition at the regional level. Recent Shrine girls teams have been Division II sectional champions three years in a row and league champions two years in a row.
What is all the more remarkable is that Cathy has done this in all three venues under less than advantageous resources. “In some ways, the only real challenge I’ve had over the past 19 years is finding tennis courts to practice and having home matches,” she says. “The schools that employed me as their coach did not have tennis courts on campus, so each year finding courts to practice was a task. We’ve always practiced at public courts and the maximum amount of courts has been four. This year we only had three. You have to employ a lot of creativity under these conditions when organizing and implementing practices.”
Growing up in New Orleans, she got her start in tennis when someone gave her an old racket and she proceeded to hit thousands of balls against a wall and practicing her serve for so many hours “that people would ask me to play.” “It led me to local USTA tournaments,” she says. “I haven’t stopped since.”
Although it is a truism that the best players don’t necessarily make the best coaches, it doesn’t hurt if the coach presents a good example. Most certainly, Cathy can play. In 2009-2010, she was ranked No. 1 in the Midwest for 55 singles and had a national ranking of 52 for age 50 singles. Currently at age 63, she is playing on a 4.0 team.She is also retired, at least from teaching and coaching. That is, if you call “retirement” working 14-hour shifts as a medical technologist at Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe (She received a degree in the field from Loyola University while at the same time practicing with Tulane tennis players). But perhaps she can pause long enough to reflect on the monumental improvements she has made at three different high schools and enjoy a well-earned Coach of the Year award.
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Chas Claus, Clarkston - Division 1
When Chas Claus took over the Clarkston tennis program from Kevin Ortwine (who himself was a Coach of the Year in 2003) 15 years ago, he was told that one goal was to teach players to be unafraid to play anyone. “Kevin noted that there were certain teams against which we ‘played scared’ and accepted defeat before the match began. He wanted all 12 guys to walk on the court carrying themselves like they expected to win.”
Chas set about rectifying this. “Looking at our schedules of years ago, we tended not to play tough opponents or tournaments,” he says. “In 2015 and 2016, we traveled to tournaments as far north as Traverse City Central and as far south as Ann Arbor Pioneer. When host schools had teams drop out of quads at the last minute, we got calls from such powerhouses as Cranbrook Kingswood and Midland Dow. I’m quite proud that we have grown into a program that elite teams view as worthy opponents.”
This has put Clarkston tennis “on the map,” in the opinion of their coach, sufficiently so as to have tennis powers come to Clarkston. “I’ve played in his tournament the past several years and came away with positive experiences,” says Eric Gajar of Ann Arbor Greenhills. “Each time we've battled less than ideal weather conditions, and he handled it gracefully with the athletes’ best interests in mind. We've gone indoors to play, which he threw together in the moment. He's organized, respectful, and an all-around good guy.”
Invitations to compete at Clarkston have been accepted by Detroit Catholic Central, Stoney Creek, Rochester Adams, East Lansing, and Grand Rapids Christian. This is the kind of competition that sharpens and improves.
Clarkston has qualified for the state tournament three times in the past four years. “Qualifying for the first time was very exciting,” he says, “but I find even more satisfaction in the fact that it wasn’t a one-time thing. An expectation of working hard enough to go to the state finals has become a part of the Clarkston tennis culture.” This year, the Wolves finished in seventh place.
Actually, Clarkston has only to enter OAA Red Division play to compete against the best. The conference is that strong. The Wolves finished 5th in their conference but 7th in the state. Consider that conference champion Bloomfield Hills finished second in the state. Troy High School finished second in the league and 3rd in the state. Then there is Groves, Seaholm, Troy Athens, and Clarkston: each of these teams made it to the state finals.
One advantage that Clarkston enjoys is continuity. Ortwine, who himself played for the Wolves, coached Chas during his last three years of high school and then directed the team for six years afterward. Kevin hired his former player as a JV coach in 2003 and then passed the torch the following year.
[As a history teacher in the school, a former player, and a JV coach], “I consider myself blessed to have the advantages of being in the same building as my players, having them in class, being able to check in with their teachers, and that sort of thing,” says Chas. I think that my daily proximity with them, year-round, has helped build the camaraderie of the team.”
He also gives back, having hosted the regionals the past five seasons. For the past two seasons, he has directed an 8-team invitational, pulling together some of the best local teams. “He does so with the utmost professionalism, organization, and fairness,” says Holly’s Will Sophiea who has assisted Chas in hosting the tournament.
Finally, he has the advantage of rubbing shoulders with some of the best around: West Bloomfield’s Greg Kopec (2005 Boys COY), Rochester High School’s Jerry Murphy and Rochester Adams’ Al Must (both 2010 H of F), Troy Athens’ Andrew Shipp (2011 Boys COY), Troy High School’s Brian Miska (2015 Girls COY, and Bloomfield Hills’ Greg Burks (2015 Boys COY).But make no mistake about it, these are not only his colleagues but his peers.
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Rocco Giorgi, Gibraltar Carlson - Division 2
Growing up in Allen Park, Rocco Giorgi learned to play at the local swim club, the pro there being Hall of Famer John Shade of Grosse Ile. “From a young age, I picked up the game pretty quickly,” he says. “I traveled around playing big USTA tournaments a lot from 10 and under all the way through 18 and under.” His best Western ranking was 27.
All of that experience paid off at Allen Park High School where he played for Bill Riggs, another Hall of Famer. Rocco was 1S all four years, qualifying to the state tournament with the team his freshman and junior years and as an individual his sophomore and senior years. In his senior year, he lost in the semifinals in three sets. “When I coached him, I kept telling him that one day he would be a coach,” says Bill.
Gibraltar Carlson had no tennis courts until 2003 when the passage of a bond issue provided, among other things, eight of them, even though the school had no team. When Rocco joined the faculty in 2005 as a math teacher, the school also got an experienced player and (Bill was right) a tennis coach. The first teams gathered in 2006-2007.
Given that he started from scratch, Rocco has made remarkable use of the ensuing 11 years. “He took a program that was not on the tennis map and turned it into a Downriver power,” says Bill. Quite right: Carlson’s record is 73-24-7 with three Downriver League championships, four regional titles, and five trips to the final tournament.
This past season’s result was especially gratifying in that the previous team had graduated seven seniors. Nevertheless, the 2016 contingent went 7-1-1, losing only to Trenton (who finished seventh in D3) and tying with Coach Riggs and his alma mater’s team.
“Repeating as Regional Champs this year was a big surprise and a testament to how much these new varsity players improved over a one year period,” he says. “We had thought we had a chance to qualify this year but at the beginning of the season we had no idea we would be regional champs again for a second straight year.” Indeed, the squad won three tournaments: a quad, an 8-team Saturday tournament, and the regionals. They placed second in an eight-team and the league tournament.
Moreover, Rocco has made tennis a popular sport at his school. Tennis was not the sport to play at Carlson until he arrived,” says Bill. “His yearly numbers are through the roof. In a sport that is struggling for participation, that is an awesome accomplishment.” To be more precise, 41 boys participated last fall.
His team competes against Jerry Escheck’s Carleton Airport squad, noteworthy because (1) Jerry was last year’s Coach of the Year and (2) the two of them are doubles partners in the summertime. “Over the past 10 years, I’ve played a lot of USTA Men’s 4.5 leagues over the summer,” he says. “Jerry is the captain of this particular team. I’ve played doubles with Jerry for many years now ... over the summer in USTA leagues as well as in drop-in doubles leagues that he has put on. We have had many successful teams playing out of the Dearborn Racquet and Health Club. We used to make it to playoff every year as well as making it to Indianapolis two times for regionals.”In other words, the Carlson kids have a coach who serves as an example of how to play. His words are backed up by demonstrations on the court. They also have a leader who is a Coach of the Year.
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Dale Cramer, Coopersville - Division 3
Born and raised in Muskegon, Dale Cramer attended Orchard View High School in the early 1960s. “My best friend and I took our basketball seriously and played tennis for fun,” he says. “Truth be told, I was better at tennis than basketball. The two of us ended playing No. 1 doubles on what turned out to be a pretty good team.”
That team was coached by Grand Haven’s Doug Poort, a very good player who distinguished himself at Western Michigan University. “I bought my first racket from him for $35,” says Dale. “A Kramer Autograph. In my senior year, our team won our regional played on the old Moran Courts in Holland. That regional trophy is the only tennis trophy in Orchard View’s trophy case.
“In 1964, singles and doubles were not flighted; the only players who qualified for the State Finals were the champion and runners-up at singles and doubles. My partner and I qualified for the State Finals by finishing as runners-up in doubles.”
However, Dale didn’t do much with tennis in the ensuing years until he started to teach his daughters. His youngest played 1S all four years. “Megan is the reason I was hired as tennis coach at Coopersville,” he says. “We were hitting on the old high school courts when Jim Meerman, then Athletic Director and friend, was driving by. He stopped and asked me if I wanted to coach the boys team. In the spring of 1995, I began my tennis coaching career.”
Although Dale has had some good players and good years since then, he considers the 2016 contingent his best ever. “In 2015, we had 10 sophomores and 2 seniors and won our conference and had a good regional showing,” he says. “The 2016 season saw this group grow up a little. Starting in the spring I had 3 or 4 boys come out after school three days a week to practice. In the summer 8 to 10 guys came out three days a week. This was huge in their skill development. They have become close friends in the process.”
A happy surprise was the addition of a talented foreign exchange student. “He really solidified our lineup,” says Dale. “We would have had a good team without him but better with him. Things can go either way when you throw in an exchange student in the lineup at the last minute. I give all the credit to the boys on the team for handling this in a mature way and accepting Flemming on the team.”
The result was an 8-3-1 season that included a win over Grand Rapids Catholic Central. The squad captured the conference tournament and qualified for state competition with a second place finish at the regional, one point behind Petoskey.
“At the beginning of the season, we talked about goals,” says Dale. The team wanted to repeat as conference champions even though tough programs from Spring Lake and Grand Rapids Catholic Central had been added to our OK Blue Conference this year. And they wanted to qualify for the State Finals. We finished 2nd in our conference behind Catholic Central but did beat them head-to-head and in the conference tournament. And we did qualify for the State Finals.
“I told them they were one of the best teams I had ever coached and had the ability to be the best team I ever coached. The team in 2003 was the best so far, with an 11th place finish at the State Finals and 7 points. So, they set out to do better at the Finals than the 2003 team. We finished 10th and had 8 points. They are the best team I have ever coached.
“Being good on court is important to me but more important is character,” adds Dale. “This team had character. The mother of one of our players suffers from a debilitating disease. They live on 4 acres with lots of trees and lots of leaves. Three weeks ago the boys got together and spent 4 hours raking leaves to help a teammate and his family. These are good kids.”And they have a good coach. “He gives coaching a good name,” says Ludington’s Tom Kudwa. He is patient with his players, encouraging and always very professional. His kids were always great sportspersons and so is he.”
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Mark Sobieralski, University Liggett - Division 4
You’ve got to hand it to Mark Sobieralski, he must love a challenge. Twenty three years ago, he took over the girls varsity squad at storied Grosse Pointe South once led by the legendary Stephanie Prychitko. Stephanie, a Hall of Famer (Class of 1987), dominated Class A girls tennis both under the old system and then under the all-flights arrangement: 16 league titles, 15 regional championships, 11 state championships, and a great 273-28 win-loss record.
Although Mark hasn’t replicated those feats, his teams have done very well, thank you very much. Since 1993, they have added three more state championship trophies to the school’s display case and three more runners-up, all in Division 1. Always a force in this highly competitive division, they have finished in the top five 16 times.
Perhaps even higher expectations accompanied his next challenge: taking over the University Liggett boys program once directed by MHSTeCA founder Bob Wood. Over the years, Bob’s boys had captured 27 state titles, but the team hadn’t won another since 2002.
It didn’t take long. After Mark started at Liggett in 2014, his kids came close: state runners-up in his first two years. In the third, fall 2016, they broke the ice, ending Ann Arbor Greenhills’ run of eight consecutive state championships.
Mark accomplished this the same way that Bob had done it for some many years: he scheduled tough teams regardless of class. “We defeated three teams ranked in the top ten in Division 1,” he says. “We play a difficult schedule and this helps prepare us for the D4 state tournament.”
“I consider him the Tom Izzo of high school tennis coaches in that he will play anyone, anywhere,” confirms Greenhills’ Eric Gajar, winner of the aforementioned eight state championships (they won a ninth a bit earlier).
It doesn’t hurt that Mark had a ton of experienced players coming back from the previous year, offering great balance and depth in both singles and doubles. It also doesn’t hurt that he enjoyed the services of Hall of Famer Chuck Wright, “a great asset who is wonderful.”
The folks at Liggett undoubtedly knew what they were getting when they hired Mark. A full time USPTA teaching professional at nearby Wimbledon Racquet Club, he was the MHSTeCA Girls Coach of the Year in 2014 and in 2000. He was inducted into our Hall of Fame in 2004. He was named National High School Athletic Association Coaches Coach of the Year in 2009.
He was also Coach of the Year in 1991 when he led the Warren Mott team before coming to the Grosse Pointe area. While he was at Mott, his teams captured 11 conference championships (six in boys and five in girls) and he guided Dave Gennero to the Class B 1S state championship in 1992.
Mark has often made presentations at our workshop, always in regard to doubles strategy. “His doubles guys know where to be and how to play the game,” says Eric. In that the state final outcome was close -- 32 points to 30, third place was 23 -- both coaches agree that the turning point came down to a 2D semifinal match. The two teams had split during the season series and in that third crucial match, it went to three sets. “Most felt that whoever won that match would also win the final (which proved true) and carry their team to the state championship,” says Eric.
“We have a great respectful rivalry,” says Mark. “Both teams hang out and talk to each other after playing. All three years I have been at Liggett, we have taken a picture with Greenhills at the state finals with our hardware.”
“They were gracious winners in victory,” says Eric. [Moreover] “I’ve seen Mark get after parents who are not doing things the way he would like. Sometimes powerful parents.”It’s a good thing that as top flight competitors, they are also friends. Mark will take over as president of our association on Saturday morning, Feb. 4th. Eric is his 1st vice president. There is little doubt that they will have a superb working relationship.
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