It wasn’t that long ago (actually two decades prior) that playing the Grant High School tennis teams was a yawner for opposing squads. It afforded the visitors a chance to play bottom-of-the-squad players or even JV kids and still come away with a win. That drastically changed when Scott Zerlaut took charge. It took a whilebut the Tigers became aforce in league and regional tennis.
But the success induced a problem: the good kind. Lots more kids in a heretofore wasteland of tennis wanted to play the game. Moreover, they wanted to play in the school program. Scott was in need of help. Consider trying to instruct 70 kids on four courts.
Enter Mark Brock who, as with so many parents, looked at the situation and offered to help. A real estate broker, he could adjust his schedule. He started as simply a van driver to away matches. His son Dominick was playing on the middle school team and Dad, although never a player, jumped in to help supervise.
He soon began showing up to practices to ask questions. He purchased a membership to the closest athletic club and participated in drills that gave him the confidence to feed balls and conduct exercises as an instructor.
Mark enjoyed the experience so much that he volunteered to help the girls team as well even though he had no daughters. This required a bit of sacrifice in that spring is a very busy time for real estate people. Nevertheless, he would come to the courts in midafternoon and often enough have to go back to the office after practice. “He was a staple at practices,” says Scott.
Unlike so many parents who drop out after their kids graduate, Mark stayed after Dominick graduated and went on to play tennis at a school in Ohio. “He almost always shows up to ‘summer hits’ and will rearrange meetings and closings to run things when I am gone,”says Scott. “He is a great motivator, cheerleader, emotional supporter, and role model for our athletes.”
Mark has loaned rackets out to kids who didn’t have them and sold some at reduced cost. He has grips and dampeners always available. He is someone with whom Scott can bounce ideas off and share future plans, discuss doubles combinations, and consider strategies. He makes Scott’s job --- running an increasingly popular program – less lonely. And he willingly does so without a kid of his own on the courts.
The reasons for Grant High School’s success in high school tennis are multi-faceted. The lion’s share belongs to Scott , a Hall of Famer who will soon be the MHSTeCA president. His enthusiasm for the sport and the work he put into it over two decades has taken his alma mater up several levels. So did Scott’s own children whose tennis acumen before they got to high school was the impetus that inspired classmates to take up the sport in middle school.
But make no mistake about it, “Our program has had a good amount of success over the last handful of years and a big part of that is Coach Brock,” concludes Scott.
The spring of 2020 was a disastrous one not only for varsity senior girls who would be denied the opportunity to play one more time for their schools before graduation but also for JV players who couldn’t practice and learn. The result for Bills Riggs’ squad was a return of only three varsity players in 2021. The rest were what would have been JV kids who had a lot of catching up to do.
Enter Kurt Kobiljak who stepped into a significant breach and provided time and enthusiasm. “Day after day, month after month, I would find Kurt at any of our tennis facilities working with players for hours on end,” says Bill. “Sometimes it would be the same players who would come back after working individually to hit in group play. It was not uncommon for one of our players to phone Kurt and ask for help with her serve and he would drop what he was doing to meet with her for a half hour or so to try to correct her issue.”
Kurt would also help with equipment, providing a new grip or racket restringing. He would let players borrow rackets. “If he saw a player who needed a new bag, he would let them borrow one for the season,” says Bill.
In competitive sports, inexperience promotes anxiety. “Kurt has the knack of using the right words to get a point across to a nervous player who has dropped a set or a close match,” says Bill. “His approach has left a kid with the confidence to do better in the next game, set, or match.”
The Kobiljak family’s roots run almost as deep as those of Hall of Famer John Shade who coached the high school teams for 50 years. Kurt’s brother and sister played for John and all of his children have competed for Grosse Ile -- one, a junior, still does. So did Kurt who as a freshman was1S for that traditionally strong team. But Kurt then transferred to Cranbrook in 1982 and won state titles in both singles and doubles under Hall of Famer Don Brown. He then played four years at Albion College, was the team captain, and gained All MIAA Honors.
Kurt also acquired considerable tennis teaching experience. He started as a ball feeder when he was 14 under teaching pro Roger Thurman (a Western Michigan University teammate of Gary Ellis). Subsequent jobs when he grew older included being an assistant at Albion College. He taught tennis at Meadowbrook Golf/Tennis Club, the Farmington Racket Club, Beachview Swim and Tennis Club, Leland Country Club, the Grosse Ile Tennis Center and now Island Athletics. He helped redevelop indoor tennis on the island.
“My goal in teaching is simply trying to get players who come to me more competitive, achieve their level of tennis pursuit, and make sure they have fun hitting balls day in and day out,” says Kurt. These are inspiring objectives in that this is not Kurt’s day job. He has been a practicing attorney for the past 30 years, a busy man who has had an impressive impact on the programs of both John and now Bill.