|Erik Kahn, Holly
|Lee Keating, Clarkston
|Tom Osbeck, Chelsea
Often times, a successful varsity tennis player has difficulty leaving the program once he graduates, especially if he played for a venerable program such as the one located at Holly High School. Varsity coach Will Sophiea describes Erik Kahn as a Holly tennis legend. From 2007 – 2011, he was a league and regional champion at No. 1 doubles and a two time league and regional champion at No. 2 doubles. “He is known by many former players and coaches in our program as one of the best doubles players to ever come through Holly,” says Will. In his senior year, he was awarded the Coach’s Award, the top achievement in the Holly Tennis Program.
And Indeed, it seems as if he never left the program. While earning his psychology degree at Michigan State University, Erik continued to come back in the off season to teach in the annual summer tennis program. In his senior year at MSU, he commuted multiple times from East Lansing to help coach the junior varsity and varsity teams.
One result: In the spring of 2016, the Holly girls tennis team had its best finish in school history, accumulating 19 points at the Division 2 State Tournament. “Erik was a crucial part of this school record-setting season,” says Will. “The Holly girls program is in the midst of the best five-year period in school history, finishing in the Top 11 five consecutive years, the Top Ten the past four years, and back-to-back Top five finishes in 2017 and 2018.”
“While coaching a less talented group than the girls, Erik has brought a mentality of hard work, trust, and dedication to the boys program,” continues Will. This has brought the team considerable success at highly competitive conference and regional tournaments: Four league championships and four state finals qualifications.
Besides the credibility of being such an successful former player, Erik brings the innate ability to be calm while at the same time remaining highly competitive. “He creates great relationships with the players: they respect him and want to play for him,” says Will. “He has developed many young players through the summer tennis program, middle school program, and junior varsity team. Together, this continues to build our varsity teams.”
Erik directs multiple tournaments, organizes fundraisers, and travels across the state with his teams. He works with Holly’s players in the winter as a tennis pro at the Genesys Athletic Club. Thus, according to Will, he has shaped many student athletes into mature adults.
This is an assistant who, given his experience and expertise, could coach a varsity team almost anywhere. Will insists that his dedication to Holly is unwavering but he may live to regret all the praise that he and this article have lavished on this young man, especially when the word gets out at the Michigan Tennis Coaches workshop and subsequent banquet.
One of eight children from the famed Keating tennis family of Birmingham -- six of whom swam in college, three who played college tennis, and three who played professional tennis --- Lee was 1S for Brother Rice his freshman year and then 1D during the ensuing three. Although he didn’t compete for MSU, he and his brother left school for one term to play the U.S. Open Clay Courts before returning to complete their degrees. He also played professional squash, receiving a world ranking of 42 from the World Professional Squash Association. In other words, the man could play the game well enough to be certified as a USPTA Elite Pro.
But all of this activity can take its toll on the body. While recovering from shoulder surgery in 2011, Lee was looking for something to do while he wasn’t allowed to swing or hit. Varsity coach Chas Claus (2016 Boys State Coach of the Year) approached him about helping out. “Lee agreed to take on the inglorious job - complete with its long hours and low pay – and it was the greatest godsend that’s ever happened to me in this profession,’ says Chas.
That’s because he acquired the services of an individual who is not only a professional tennis teacher – he works at Deer Lake Athletic Club in Clarkson –but is “all things to all men.” According to Chas, Lee has the ability to step onto the court with the lowest players on the school’s JV team and patiently guide them through basic skills but yet also get on the court with the best player and give invaluable pointers. “I have never been around a leader who was so adept at encouraging people while also pushing to achieve a level of greatness that they’re unaware is possible,” he says. The result: Four Top Ten finishes in the past five seasons for Clarkston.
Moreover, Lee is an assistant coach who even gives lessons in strategy and execution to his head coach. “I’m a history teacher, not a tennis pro,” says Chas. “As an elite player and lifelong coach, Lee teaches me more about the intricacies and nuances of the game in any given season than I learned in the nine years before he joined us. I have been blessed with some truly outstanding players in the past few years, but without Lee’s presence and influence, there is no way we accomplish what we have.”
More importantly, Lee sees the bigger picture, valuing the person over the player. “He cares about them, gets to really know them, and keeps checking on them long after they have graduated,” says Chas. “This has had an incalculably beneficial impact on the culture of our program.
Lee has also contributed his expertise and experience to the new Everest Collegiate girls program. In 2011, he agreed to take charge of their fledgling D4 tennis team which, not surprisingly, has shown improvement every year. The past two years, the Mountaineers have finished 1st in their division twice, either 1st or 2nd in the league, 3rd in the regional twice, and 13th or 16th at the final tournament. This from a school with a very limited number of athletes.
In other words, the Clarkston area has been blessed with the presence of a tennis professional with not only vast knowledge and experience and but also one who has terrific rapport with his players. This can be difficult to achieve if the coach is not a teacher in the school who deals with the kids throughout the day. It is also can be difficult if you are running Keating and Associates, a multi-faceted business located in Clarkston offering a variety of financial services at the same time.
“Lee is an invaluable asset both to our players and to me,” summarizes Chas. “I have the greatest admiration for him.”
The stereotypical assistant coach is valuable because:
- He arrives early and stays late. He sets up and takes down. He tosses out the balls and picks them up after practice.
- He arrives early and stays late,He does some of the mundane work, such as rol-drying and sometimes snow shoveling.
- He feeds balls endlessly, especially to those kids who are struggling to learn the game.
- He takes care of the record keeping.
- He helps run tournament sites.
- He covers and coaches those sites when the varsity coach can’t be two places at once. (Can he ever?)
Even if Tom Osbeck does none of the above (highly doubtful), he adds a special gift to the Chelsea tennis program. “What Tom brings to the program will never really be measured with data, with scores, and with wins,” says girls varsity coach Matt Pedlow. “I think that the number that speaks volumes is the fact that we have a JV team with over 25 girls each season. That’s 25 girls in a school of 830 students that have 23 varsity sports to choose from.”
“If you’ve ever met Tom, you get the immediate impression that he’s always happy and always positive,” continues Matt. “I’ve never heard him say a bad word towards any of our players and his coaching demeanor never changes. He is as positive and encouraging when he is cheering the No. 1 doubles team at the state tournament or his 9th doubles team on a late Wednesday evening.”
This behavior is infectious, both for coaches and players. “Tom has changed the way I coach,” says Matt. “He’s changed the way our players act and he’s certainly had an impact on any volunteer coaches we’ve had over the years.”
Tom is a Washtenaw Intermediate School District Special Education teacher for young adults with disabilities which might explain his ability to empathize. Consider:
Recently a former player who is now in college wrote a letter to Tom. In it, she described not making the varsity team as a senior and being upset, not because she didn’t qualify amidst the top 12 but because she felt she had let Tom down. Tom talked to her about mentoring the younger players because this kid was a natural leader. “What we didn’t know at the time was that this young lady was going through a really tough senior year and that Tom’s words were exactly what she needed to hear,” says Matt. “Looking back, she writes that Tom telling her she was a leader and the he didn’t want to lose her from the program made her feel as though she truly had a purpose.”
As many experienced coaches know only too well, “You often don’t know when you do your best work.” Kids remember the darndest things and often enough what you as a coach say makes a mountain of difference. Although Tom has ended his third consecutive year as undefeated in his boys JV program, he knows that the relationships created are more important. Certainly, setting a high expectation of behavior is as necessary as is “doing it right.” But Tom maintains a “happy to be here” and “it’s always about having fun” to the expectation of winning.
In other words, he both sees and lives the bigger picture and he has been doing it for over a decade. Tom grew up in Grand Haven playing the game both there and in Virginia. He became involved in helping the Chelsea tennis program when his daughters joined the team. He assisted first in the girls program and then two years later, the boys.
That was 12 years ago, 12 years of continued support for a program that rubs shoulders with those in the Ann Arbor vicinity. Small wonder so many kids there play so well and so happily. All you have to do is note the trophy in the photo above.