|Juan Guerra, Midland Dow
|Jesse DeBoer, Allegan
At age nine in Sao Paulo Brasil, Juan Guerra, at the time a committed soccer player, was watching a tennis match on television and was entranced by the ease and grace of Marcelo Rios. It looked like so much fun that he asked his father’s permission to have a lesson. He was instantly smitten with the game to the extent that he signed up for tournaments right away and lost his first six matches 6-0, 6-0 (full disclosure: so did the author of this article).
When Juan was in fifth grade, Dow Chemical relocated his dad to Midland. “The first thing I did was check out the tennis center which was unreal to me,” he says. “It was how I was able to quickly make friends and start a new life in Michigan.” That new life included lessons at the tennis center and summers packed with USTA tournaments. By the time he got to high school, he was better than anyone else on his team.
He played 1S for four years. From 2006 to 2009, Juan was part of a squad that hadn’t won a state championship in 25 years. To be sure, the Chargers were good but it wasn’t until his junior year that they were contenders, finishing in 4th place that year. As co-captain in his senior year, he and his teammates fulfilled a dream, going 19-1-1 and winning “states.” by a convincing seven-point margin. Moreover, both he and his fellow co-captain led a team that enjoyed the help of a brother. “The common goal and just the process of hard work brought our team together all that year and developed resilience and a family atmosphere,” he says.
After earning an economics degree and playing tennis for Denison University, Juan spent four years on the East Coast as a data analyst before returning home to Midland. He immediately reached out to Terry Schwartzkopf, his coach at Dow all four years – three as varsity – “ to see if there was any way in which he could use me.”
Without hesitation, Juan became a volunteer assistant coach who was at every practice, working with individuals and with groups. “He understood both the expectations of the program and the energy that needed to be dispensed by the coaches,” says Terry. “In fact, he reinvigorated me and reignited the fire of coaching in me once again. With his help, we were able to take a ragtag bunch of guys, seven of whom were seniors who had never played varsity, and secure a fifth place finish at states. I believe this to be one of the biggest achievement of Dow high in the past 20 years, even more so than some of the state championships and none of that would have been possible without Juan’s added leadership. He inspired, taught, and comforted.”
Even after securing a position at Dow’s Global Analytics Dept. in the fall of 2019, Juan remained with the team, clearing his schedule by starting to work early so that he could be at the courts by 4:30. “He give players an hour and a half of his time each practice,” says Terry. “He has accompanied us to Saturday tournaments and led practices on days for which I could not attend due to illness, seed meetings, or other professional responsibilities.”
He must have really really enjoyed the experience. In the summer of 2020, Juan quit his day job and became a full time pro at the Greater Midland Community Tennis Center. “I decided to follow my passion for coaching,” he says, “and could not be happier to be able to do it at the tennis center that I grew up in as well as work alongside Coach at the school I went to.”
“In truth, Juan was not only a piece of the foundation that built this program, his loyalty led him to return to this team in the capacity of a coach, inspiring the next generation and reawakening the spirit of coaching within me,” summarizes Terry. “In lieu of receiving no compensation and sacrificing time in order to remain a part of this team, this is an honor that will speak to his dedication.”
The MHSTeCA board established the Assistant Coach Award in 1982 to honor individuals who love the game so much --- and often enough had such good experiences in their respective high school programs – that they felt a need to give back regardless of lack of pay or recognition. Moreover, they knew they would have fun amidst the satisfaction of helping out a most worthwhile endeavor from which they benefitted.
Many past recipients of our Assistant Coach Award have returned to their respective alma maters to contribute. Ron F Landfair played for Lansing Catholic in 2004 – 2007 and then stayed to help out his namesake father. The same with Audrey Shade who worked with her Hall of Fame father John at Grosse Ile. Scooter DeMore also played for John and then assisted. Kim Ng at Riverview worked side-by-side with her Hall of Fame mother Jan Gottlin. Eric Kahn played for Holly and then came back to aid Will Sophiea. Kelli Shinabargar was a state champion at 3S in 1976 for Holland High School before returning to assist the legendary Tiger Teusink. All of the above have Assistant Coach Award plaques in their trophy cases.
But, it seems, no school can match the Allegan program for athletes who first played for Tiger glory and then returned to help others do the same. Alva Morgan won the Assistant Coach Award in 1997. Jennifer Conrad did the same in 2011. In the middle of those two date-wise was Jen Aldrich who went from Allegan to stardom at Western Michigan and then returned to assist Hall of Famer Gary Ellis. For her exceptional service, she received an Assistant Coach Award in 2003. Ms Aldrich then went on to much success at the varsity level when Gary stepped down. She earned a Girls Coach of the Year Award in 2012.
In that same year, the tennis gods rewarded Jen with the services of Jesse DeBoer who (surprise, surprise) once played for the Tigers. Jesse was an instructor in Allegan’s summer program before departing for Spring Arbor University where he worked his way up to the 1S and 1D positions by his senior year. This means that he returned to Allegan with even more knowledge of the game. That was eight years ago.
“He brings calm, humor, and dedication to the teams he coaches,” says Jen. “If a player asks to stay after practice or to hit extra, it doesn’t matter what day or time it is, he will. If you drive by the Allegan tennis courts, you will more than likely find him there hitting with a player. It may even be late at night with the lights on. If a player asks for additional time, he always finds the time and a way.”
With Jessie’s help, Allegan has maintained the success that they have grown used to during Gary’s era. Conference and regionals titles, and trips to the state finals abound. “He has been a huge part of our success,” says Jen. “He has advised, inspired, motivated, and comforted countless players for years. Jesse has had to lead practices or run scrimmages and matches when I have been absent due to illness, seed meetings, or parent demands.”
As is the case with many assistants, Jesse receives no compensation from the district. Regardless, “He has been a huge part of our success,” says Jen. “Jesse’s loyalty led him to return to the program where he began many years ago. He is now inspiring the next generation of youth in our community.”