MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2006
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Tom Pullen, Ann Arbor Pioneer||1 - Jeff Miner, Brighton|
|2 - Tom Leyrer, Jenison||2 - Dave Sukup, Forest Hills Northern|
|3 - Charlie Bassett, Spring Lake||3 - Jen Aldrich, Allegan|
|4 - Nancy Brissette, Essexville-Garber||4 - Joe Gentle, North Muskegon|
Tom Pullen, Ann Arbor Pioneer - Division 1
In 16 years of coaching boys tennis at Ann Arbor Pioneer, Tom Pullen’s boys teams have lost 16 dual meet matches. That’s one defeat per year. The last time he presided over a loss was on April 17, 2000. “I’d like to know who beat him,” said Bill McDaniel admiringly. Everybody around the board of directors table laughed.
In fact, it was Detroit County Day, 4-3. Since then the team has won 62 consecutive dual meets. They have also won 50 consecutive tournaments – Saturday, regional, and state. After the last tournament loss eons ago, the squad has put together a 52-match win streak and a 50-tournament win streak that equals 106 contests of one kind or another without a loss.
Six years ago, the team tied for the state title with Brother Rice. Since then Pullen’s kids have won it outright every year, often going away. At the state tournament this year -- not untypical -- the team captured 37 points (the average over the past five years is 37.25). Everybody on the squad got to the semifinals. Six flights (1S, 3S, 4S, 1D, 2D, and 4D) won state championships. Nine kids out of 12 were state champions. Eight of them were either MHSTeCA all-state or honorable mention (the average over the past five years is nine). Six of these players were undefeated. This is a team that set the school record for the most individual wins in one season: 264 matches against 7 defeats (last year, a better squad according to Pullen, they were 262-9). Players on this year’s squad have won 18 individual state titles. Last year’s crew, an older bunch, accumulated 26 state titles before some of them graduated.
It is an understatement to say that Pullen is on his way to posting one of the most successful records in Michigan High School tennis history. Over those 16 years, his boys have won 8 state championships, been runners-up twice, and finished in third once. Even still, though his girls have a higher winning percentage, they have won the state title “only” four times but have been runners-up seven times.
Pullen, who wrestled briefly for U of M in the late 50s and early ‘60s, took up tennis at age 35 as a vehicle for aerobic exercise. At age 40, he and his partner won the city doubles championship, a feat he repeated nine more times. In other words, he can offer his talented charges plenty of worthy practice. He does so at open practices in the summer wherein kids are free to come for one day, a week, or two months. In addition, Tom, a retired dentist, gives private lessons throughout the year for free. Some of the rest of his time is spent making gold crowns for his son’s dental practice, making gold jewelry, and writing short stories.
Tom presides over such a successful program that, given the option of playing USTA qualifiers or playing for Pioneer, talented kids will choose to play for their school even though they understand there will be no compromise in commitment. They know that if they play for Brick (a nickname that goes back to his 5th grade basketball coaching days), they will be most assuredly part of a championship team.
Coaches of successful programs know that it takes a strong will to harness the ambitions of great players and their parents but clearly Tom has been able to instill a sense of team pride and unity that has produced amazing results. This is his third coach of the year award, having won it for the boys in 1999 and the girls in 2003. If wins were the only criteria, he would be coach of the year virtually every year.
Tom Leyrer, Jenison - Division 2
For many old-timers (‘er, vintage tennis coaches), 1977 was a banner year. It was the first time that state competition departed from individual play in which one good singles player and one good doubles team could win a state team championship. Instead we went to the flight system, wherein all players on a team qualified for the final tournament. It was in that year that Tom Leyrer’s Jension squad last qualified. That year the Wildcats scored three points to finish 19th. Twenty-nine years later – a long dry spell to say the least – Jenison players were at long last back. Having dropped to Division 2, they were able to escape the usual powerhouses from Holland, East Kentwood, and West Ottawa and finish second in the regional to Peter Militzer’s Portage Central squad.
This was indeed quite an achievement. Tom’s regional included Mattawan and Battle Creek Lakeview, squads ranked ahead of Jenison all season. Tom says that he was blessed with a team filled with great attitude and desire. It contained seven seniors who as freshmen assured their coach that they would go to the state finals. “They willed their way to a runner-up finish at the regionals on our home courts,” he said. Big wins came from third and fourth singles as they defeated higher seeded players to reach the finals, while third and fourth doubles went on to win their flights. Their 12th place finish at the state tournament set a record for Jenison Boys Tennis.
“I’ve had some good teams and great players in the past,” said Tom. “This team stacked up very well with any of them.” This is high praise in that Tom has enjoyed 33 seasons of coaching boys tennis at the school. After all, this is a coach who, when he received girls coach of the year honors in 1999, repeatedly exclaimed, “I‘ve got the best job in the world.”
He probably hasn’t changed his mind. After all, Tom says of this past spring’s squad: “Their ability equaled the best. Their academic achievement, sportsmanship, effort, and desire reached a new level.”
Tom probably feels the same way for another reason. As a retired art teacher at Jenison, he has been able for the past four years to spend more time preparing for practices and matches. And even though he is retiring this February as president of our organization, he doesn’t intend to quit coaching anytime soon. Entering his 33rd year as girls coach, he says, “I have no plans to cut back on my involvement with Jenison athletics.” He looks forward to not only continuing coaching boys and girls varsity tennis but also to running the scoreboard for the home varsity football games.His fellow coaches should be happy with this commitment. Tom has become a mainstay in his conference, having assumed the responsibility for organizing boys and girls tennis in the OK Red Conference. Seeding in the conference tournament has become a breeze in that Tom always has everyone’s records. He leads the selection of all-conference in the same manner. In addition, he is fun to coach against, a prime indicator of a good relationship with his colleagues. Over three decades of girls and boys seasons, this genial competitor has become president of the MHSTeCA, a girls coach of the year, a Hall of Famer, and now a deserving boys coach of the year.
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Charlie Bassett, Spring Lake - Division 3
Yes, Virginia, there is life after the Hall of Fame. Actually, plenty of it. Coaches have noted of late that there is more of a spring in Charlie Bassett’s step. “He was like a little kid,” said one coach of Bassett’s enthusiasm this past spring. “He was like a new person.”
After 37 years of coaching, Charlie seems to have received a new lease on coaching life, and if wins are any indication, for good reason. This year’s squad was a good one, one of the best. Perennially strong, they came off what they considered to be a disappointing state tournament finish the previous year. They had won seven out of eight flights at the WWAC meet and captured five of 8 flights at the regional, but given the seedings for the state meet, they were overlooked, unluckily encountered several difficult first round matchups, and finished in 10th place. A year later 9 of 12 team members were back with something to prove.
What they did increased the quickness in Bassett’s step. The Lakers swept all eight flights at the Spring Lake Invitational, a flawless 24-win outing which was a milestone never previously accomplished in the school’s history. The team went on to win two other Saturday tournaments. They also captured all possible points (64) at the WWAC tournament and then won the regional championship with 21 points against second-place Petoskey’s 15. However, disappointment again loomed as every Laker ran into a top-four seed in the second or third round. “They played well,” said Charlie. “If they play well and they come up short, that’s all I can ask.”
This is indicative of Charlie’s positive attitude. Spring Lake players have played well for Coach Bassett for almost four decades, a span in which his teams have won 17 conference championships, 12 regional titles, and qualified for state competition 22 times. His best state finish was third. He has hosted more regional tournaments than the number of years most coaches have coached. He was voted boys coach of the year in 1988 and girls coach of the year in 1980. He has been a member of the MHSTeCA since its inception and was our president from 1985-86. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Above these honors is a coach who has his priorities straight. When players, coaches, and parents discuss Charlie, they don't spend much time on his achievements. Instead, they talk about his positive attitude toward competition and his emphasis on proper behavior. Parents and players laud his emphasis on sportsmanship. One of his players once wrote: "I never threw my racquet; I never swore on the court: I never yelled at my opponent, simply because he taught me that was wrong." Such words are a fitting summary of a man who, in the words of another player, "puts more emphasis on sportsmanship, good attitude, and proper behavior than on winning." As Charlie himself has said, "The important thing is to play the best that you can every time and the winning will take care of itself." He deserves a coach of the year for longevity alone. But, of course, he gets it for much more.
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Nancy Brissette, Essexville-Garber - Division 4
If there were ever a positive force for high school tennis in Michigan, the role model would be found in Nancy Brissette. “Wonderful kids. Wonderful parents,” she says in summarizing the boys ‘06 season. To be sure, she had the good fortune to coach good kids this past spring. Their academic all-state average was 3.6. Many were outstanding musicians. All were involved in some form of community service. Seven of the 12 seniors were, in themselves, outstanding leaders. Those who did not go on the spring break band trip took a training vacation with Nancy and her husband (and three other parents) to South Carolina where they rented a house and practiced for three hours each morning.
This kind of dedication and hard work paid off. After all, along on that trip were 1S, 2D and 3D teams, and half of the 4D team, as well as two JV players. The result was a surprising 6-1-2 record, as well as a second place finish at Garber’s City by the Bay tournament. The 2D and 3D teams which went on the spring training trip won their regional flights, as did 2S. That same 2D team defeated the #1 seed at the state tournament, a first time feat in a storied Garber tennis history that was established by Hall of Famer Harold Holcomb. The 1S player defeated the defending regional champion at the regional.
What may be even more impressive is that every parent attended both the regional (which they won for the first time since 2000) and the state tournament, the latter being located across the state in Holland. The team finished 13th , having won six matches. 90 people attended the end-of-year banquet, a testament to their approval of the school’s tennis program and, of course, its coach.
All but one of Nancy’s players have not had formal training beyond Nancy’s summer clinic, which is run for 3 to 4 weeks through the Community Education Program. “I work together with Garber tennis players who have graduated and we teach about 150 kids – from three-year-old Pee Wees to high school – each summer. I just love the Pee Wee class: it takes me back to my days as a kindergarten teacher.”
The phrase “takes me back” has implications. Nancy retired from the classroom last June after 33 years, 29 of them in the Essexville Hampton School District. She taught every level from preschool and kindergarten to 8th grade. As a result, she already had an excellent relationship with the kids that came to play for her at the high school level. In addition, she offers free co-ed team nights in the summer where the kids drill for an hour and then play until dark.
Although she has retired from the classroom, Nancy plans to continue coaching tennis, a welcome transition into a more leisurely lifestyle that minimizes the void in that she will continue to meet with kids. To be sure, however, she will keep busy in that she also assumes two important positions: president of the Michigan High School Coaches Association in 2007-08 and president of MHSTeCA in Feb. 2007.
Being president of two coaching associations is significant. In addition, Nancy serves on the state seeding committee for the girls season, an arduous task that demands not only considerable energy but the trust and respect of colleagues. . “She is a very efficient organizer,” says Tiger Teusink, himself a member of the committee. “She is extremely fair and her integrity is of the highest level,” says Tiger Teusink.
Indeed, Nancy may exclaim: “Wonderful kids. Wonderful parents.” But they, in chorus with her colleagues, would respond: “Wonderful Coach.”
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Jeff Miner, Brighton - Division 1
In 2004, Brian Martin was voted boys coach of the year for his work with the boys of Brighton. This year, Jeff Miner gets the award for what he does for the tennis team in the fall. Jeff is Brian’s JV coach in the spring. Brian, in turn, is Jeff’s JV coach during the girls’ season. Translation: Brighton tennis players get very good coaching.
And good coaching translates to Bulldog wins. Under Jeff’s leadership, this year’s squad won two Saturday tournaments, finished second in their conference, qualified for state competition (the fifth time in the past six years) by finishing second in the regional, and notched a 13th place finish in the final tournament.
Before Jeff arrived in Brighton 10 years ago, the program had produced some good players, but the team was not playing Saturday tournaments. As a result, the kids would annually go to the Ann Arbor regional to face competition they hadn't seen all season and lose badly. One of the first things he did was start adding Saturday tournaments, and he continued to upgrade them throughout the years. It was helpful that for the 1999 season Brighton was moved out of the Ann Arbor regional. That change gave the Bulldogs a chance to start qualifying for state on a more regular basis.
Although this is Jeff’s 10th year at Brighton, but it took him longer than that to get there. He played his high school tennis at Portage Central under Don Stowe Sr., son of the legendary Allan Stowe of Kalamazoo stadium fame. Don had returned from a coaching hiatus in Jeff’s junior year and midway through that campaign, the team snapped a 57-match losing streak (this is not a misprint). The very next year, the team qualified for state competition.
Don’s positive style of coaching was contagious. Jeff assisted Coach Stowe during his college years at University of Michigan and then became the head coach at the Leelanau School as part of his first teaching job in 1987. He remained there for three years before returning to Kalamazoo to get a Master’s degree. During that time, he helped out Don once again before returning to Leelanau where he was the tennis pro at the Omena Yacht Club, located at the tip of the Leelanau Peninsula. The club, by the way, had only one tennis court which had been carved out of a forest on a hilltop. The owners had left one of the stumps in the court when they paved it, and it served as a net post.
During the winter of 1995-96, Glen Arbor received 240 inches of snow and thus, the Florida Keys started to look good to Jeff but he got sidetracked by a job offer teaching middle school history in Brighton. As it turns out, the school system got an experienced tennis coach as part of the bargain. The result is a decade in which Brighton girls have earned almost 100 wins, three conference championships, one regional title, and five trips to the state finals. This is steady achievement worthy of the appellation: Jeff Miner: Coach of the Year.
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Dave Sukup, Forest Hills Northern - Division 2
This past fall, Dave Sukup’s Huskies won all eight of their dual meets. They won every Saturday tournament (6) that they played in. They won the OK White Conference Championship. They captured the regional title. And then they went on to become state champions. A perfect season if there ever was one.
But not unusual. After all, this year’s state title was the fourth in the past five years for Forest Hills Northern girls. In addition, since 1999 -- when Dave took over as varsity girls coach -- the team had finished as state runner-up twice. In 2004, they were third. Their worst year was 2000: they came in fourth. Over eight years of coaching girls, their record is 60-2-3.
And that’s just in the fall. Over 24 years of coaching, Dave’s boys have captured two state championships and finished in the top five of the state nine additional times. His teams, both boys and girls, have won a total of 26 conference championships (20 and 6, respectively). His overall dual meet record is 292-23-12. On Saturdays, his players have brought home 126 invitational championship trophies.
Why so much success? Part of the reason is coaching experience. Dave has spent 24 years coaching varsity football, 14 as a head coach (he was voted football coach of the year in 1996). He started the school’s swim team and then spent the next seven years as head varsity coach. He coached JV baseball for seven years. He has spent 21 years directing summer camps and 24 years giving private tennis lessons.
In other words, Dave has spent a career learning how to get kids to win. In particular, he can teach strategy, especially to doubles players where there is arguably more to impart. In 2003, for instance, all four of his doubles teams made it to the state finals. He has seen his kids play for the state championship in every singles flight except 1S.
The result is high expectations for the players at Forest Hills Northern who have learned at the beginning of each season that to make the team is to automatically become a front-runner for the state championship. And for their coach – who is closing in on 300 dual meet victories -- each season brings a similar expectation that the school’s trophy case will need to be expanded not only to make room for more Saturday, regional, and state awards but for a coach of the year plaque.
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Jen Aldrich, Allegan - Division 3
Although Jen Aldrich has coached the Allegan girls for a mere three years, her teams have enjoyed considerable success. This year’s squad went 11-2, won two Saturday tournaments, were conference champions, and then finished second in the regional tournament to Holland Christian, meeting the Maroons in seven of eight flight. They then proceeded to the state finals where they finished second in the state to the very same team. The final point total was 31 for Holland Christian, 27 for Allegan.
It was close: Allegan beat Christian, last year’s state champs as well, in two flights and lost to them in two flights. The Tigers won two state championship flights: 3D and 4D. Six of eight of their flights made it to the semifinals.
This is, to the say the least, a good year, but not unusual. In three short years, Jen’s girls have won 23 dual meets against only three losses. The team has been conference champion all three years, 2nd in the regional to you-guessed-it, and qualified for state competition all three years. In 2004, the Tigers were sixth in the state. Last year, they were fourth.
It would be easy to conclude that Jen’s success is simply the result of inheriting quality tennis players from Hall of Famer Gary Ellis who had to give up the job three years ago when he became Allegan’s athletic director but insiders know that Jen has more than paid her dues. She was Gary’s assistant for the previous seven years and still helps him out in the spring. Furthermore, over the years she has been a staple in the school’s summer program. She was so vital to the success of Allegan tennis that she was awarded MHSTeCA’s Assistant Coach of the Year Award in 2003.
She has also provided a stunning example of what an Allegan tennis player can do. After all, Jen, a 1S for the Tigers all four years that she was in high school, won the conference title three years. She was a 1S state finalist her senior year and holds the school record for most shut-outs (6-0, 6-0) with 34. She finished her senior year with 97 career wins at 1S, No. 3 on Allegan’s all-time list. She then went on to Western Michigan where in four years, she won 181 matches, No. 5 on the all-time Bronco Win List.
Thus, Jen came back to her alma mater as a tennis legend, but certainly hasn’t rested on her laurels. She is in her fourth year teaching math and science to 6th and 7th graders in Allegan. The mother of two small children, you would think she would be slowing down a bit. But look at the record, listen to glowing remarks about her from colleagues, think again, and hand her a coach of the year award.
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Joe Gentle, North Muskegon - Division 4
One of the finest compliments that can be bestowed on a coach is: “He is the same person, both in defeat and in victory.” In 1995, Joe Gentle won the boys coach of the year award with one of the best teams in the state: the Norsemen tied Grosse Pointe University Liggett that year for the state title. In 2004, he was again voted boys coach of the year even though his team that year was 3-6-2 and had placed sixth in their regional. Through it all, he was the same hard but gracious competitor.
In the fall of 2006, his sixth year as girls varsity coach, the team finished at 7-1-1 and won one tournament, the Petoskey Invitaional. Their only blemishes were a 5-3 loss to Grand Rapids Catholic and a tie with Whitehall, both matches played without Joe’s 2S.
“Last season (2005), we had most of the same players and had a very good season,” he says. “We had been ranked in the top ten all season but underachieved in both the regional and state tournaments. We ended up 12th in the state tournament. We made it a goal to play well all the way through to the end of the season this year.”
Goal achieved: Joe’s team won the regional with 27 points (four flights were regional champions) and then finished third in the 2006 final tournament with 20 points, two behind second place Ann Arbor Greenhills. “The girls put in extra effort in order to have a strong finish this season,” he says. Four of his flights made it to the semifinals and the No. 1 doubles team won the state championship.
Directing the North Muskegon girls has been an easy transition for Joe in that he had been the team’s assistant coach under Greg Wieman and thus had already spent considerable time with many of the players. In addition, since 1989 he has been heavily involved in the summer program, an activity that currently fields approximately 150 kids, and thus he is a fixture in the tennis community. “Without the summer program, it is doubtful that North Muskegon would have high school tennis teams,” he says.
Years ago, Joe brought a solid tennis program to the area. Growing up in Rochester, he started the game in junior high, played first singles at Rochester High School, and then taught in summers at the Bloomfield Tennis House and the Beverly Hills Racquet Club while attending U of M. He later spent time in Chile establishing, among other activities, a community tennis program. After spending seven years in industry, he went to work in North Muskego as a computer instructor in the school (he is currently the school system’s technical director). His tennis experience made him an obvious choice to direct the boys team, a job he started 17 years ago.
But he does more than that. Joe has managed six regional tournaments in his six years of coaching girls tennis. Additionally, for seven years he has been a member of the state seeding committee, an arduous task that takes both stamina and integrity. He is also a member of our association’s board of directors. He does all of this in a quiet, self-effacing, but competent manner, one that inspires confidence. It is not surprising that his colleagues would honor him with yet another (count ‘em: three) state coach of the year award.
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