MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2012
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Andy BeDell, Saline||1 - Jim Hanson, Novi|
|2 - Jennifer Aldrich, Allegan||2 - Lenny Waldman, Berkley|
|3 - Mike McGinnis, Battle Creek Lakeview|
|4 - Randy Bye, Frankenmuth||4 - Cliff Perez, Ludington|
Andy BeDell, Saline - Division 1
When Andy BeDell began coaching in Saline more than seven years ago, he set about building a program – both boys and girls – that would be extremely competitive. After all, the bar was already set high, given the strength of nearby Ann Arbor Pioneer and Ann Arbor Huron. Moreover, he was following a tradition of tennis excellence established by the highly regarded Don DiPaolo (Coach of the Year in 1993) whose Class B teams were at the time among the best in the state. DiPaolo’s teams traveled a lot, hence Andy wanted to build a strong schedule that would test his kids. But, of course, in reality he knew that both internally and externally, he didn’t have to go far.
“We build from within,” says Andy. “Saline does not draw the number of outstanding tennis players that those schools (from Ann Arbor) do, yet we work hard year in and year out.”
For example, each spring, Andy runs a middle school program that includes 20 plus boys and girls. He also has a summer program that includes more than 20 Pee Wees, 20 Junior Stars, 25 middle schoolers, and 15 or more high school players, most of whom are at the JV level.
“When I came to Saline, I instituted a no-cut policy for the JV team,” he says. “Each season, we have 25-30 girls, from novices to players nearly at the varsity level. This season, three of our new players on varsity came from last season’s JV squad.”
This past season, Andy enjoyed the services of one elite singles player. “She practiced with the team each and every day, making her teammates better,” he says. “That is the atmosphere that I have always fostered. No one player is more important than any other.”
The results: the Hornets finished third in both the regional and conference tournaments, just a couple of points away from victory in each (Correspondingly, the boys in the fall fell short by one point). It is safe to say that this would be the outcome of many if not most high school tennis teams in Division 1, given the proximity of the Ann Arbors. Saline’s dual meet season was 12-5-3 but because they qualified for the final tournament under the Murphy Rule, they were able to demonstrate how good they really are at the state level with a sixth place finish.
“Andy is in a tough spot with the Ann Arbor regional, but has his team ready to go and without complaint as to his predicament,” says Eric Gajar of Ann Arbor Greenhills. “He’s someone who I find myself rooting for.”
Andy’s overall record with the girls is 86-43. Understandably, his team has never won a conference title but they have captured one regional. Their best state finishes have been third, fifth (twice), sixth (twice), and seventh. They have been to the state tournament six consecutive seasons.
Saline’s coach is no newbie to competitive tennis, having been involved for more than 40 years. He grew up in Alton, Illinois, just a stone’s throw from Belleville (home of Jimmy Connors) and just across the Mississippi River from tennis-rich St. Louis. A product of the then-tennis boom, he was a highly ranked player in the Missouri Valley, played high school tennis, and qualified for the Illinois State Tournament three times. He began teaching tennis in high school, giving lessons for the local parks and recreation department. Hometown boy, USPTA Hall of Famer, and frequently MHSTeCA clinician Jack Groppel was a mentor.
Andy went on to play at Drake University, graduating with a degree in journalism. Working in among other places New York City, he covered the U.S. Open for several years during the ‘80s and ‘90s. He moved to Michigan in 2001 and began teaching tennis at Travis Pointe Country Club, working for USPTA Master Professional Jon Fischer (also one of our clinicians). He spent a year as Saline’s JV coach and varsity assistant, coaching both of his children (“the pleasure and the pain”: his words).
“He is a good guy and I look forward to seeing him and his team a couple of times each season,” says Eric. “Our players know and respect each other, and the match is always competitive and spirited with the results going back and forth year to year. His kids are good sports and I enjoy talking with them off the court.”
Jennifer Aldrich, Allegan - Division 2
When asked what she had learned between the time she received her first coach of the year award six years ago and her second in 2012, Jen Aldrich replied: “I’ve learned to be patient, to celebrate with the girls every day, every accomplishment. I find something to celebrate every day with them.”
Although an outsider might question the need for patience, there is certainly plenty to celebrate. This past season, Jen’s girls went undefeated in the conference, won the regional title capturing seven of eight flights and finished fourth at the state tournament. The entire team was First Team All conference and First Team All County. “We always seem to celebrate with ice cream,” she says. “It was a very close team this year, probably one of the closest that I have ever coached.” That is especially good news (although not for opponents) in that 10 of the 12 are returning.
Moreover, this isn’t simply the pinnacle of a long struggle uphill. Jen’s teams have finished runner-up in the state twice, once in 2006 to Holland Christian and once in 2008 to Cranbrook Kingswood. In eight years, her record is 85-10-7. Her kids have won the conference championship every year. They have qualified for state competition every year. They have won the regional title three times.
When Jen received the Girls Coach of the Year award back in 2006, she had only coached varsity tennis for three years. However, she had received valuable training from Hall of Famer Gary Ellis for seven previous years (she was Assistant Coach of the Year in 2003). In that first trio of years as varsity coach, her team had enjoyed a 23-3 won-loss record, had won the conference title three times, and had finished sixth, fourth, and second at the state tournament.
This, of course, is not surprising to insiders. Jen was and is an accomplished player, having played 1S for Allegan all four years, winning the conference title in three of them. She was a state finalist her senior year and still holds the school record for the most 6-0, 6-0 shutouts with 34. She went on to play four years at Western Michigan where she won 181 matches, No. 5 on the Bronco win list.
And then she came back home to guide the next generation. She teaches 6th grade math, science, Spanish and computers at the Middle School. “Crazy schedule,” she unnecessarily reports.
Allegan High School has all the ingredients of a very successful high school tennis program starting with an athletic director who happens to be a Hall of Fame tennis coach as well. Then there is a girls coach who was a star player for her alma mater who went on to significant success on her college team. Then there are excellent assistants, Jen Conrad and Judd vanMelle. “Players were able to get much more attention and instruction with those two at practices and matches,” says Jen.
Furthermore, there is a 12 court facility with an alley from which you can coach matches on every court that speaks eloquently to the importance that Allegan places on tennis. On the premises is a building that contains a coach’s office, a concession stand, a conference/team room, a storage room, and two rest rooms. It has a porch area where there are picnic tables and the tournament table. In other words, 200-250 kids in the summer program learn the game under the best of conditions.
Finally, there is support from a community that has embraced tennis over many years. “It’s amazing in our small town,” says Jen. “Without the constant encouragement from community members and the parents, we wouldn’t have the success we do. I’m very fortunate to be able to coach in Allegan.”
Jen knows she was fortunate to have Gary as a high school coach, one “who got me enthused about tennis from a young age.” She also learned a lot as a player from WMU’s Betsy Kuhle. “I observed her style and learned more about the game as a player that is helping me now,” she says.
Jen also praises Hope College’s Jorge Capestany as “a great encourager and mentor to me.” Jorge worked with Jen as a junior player. “I respect Jen on many levels for her commitment to the game,” he says. “As a coach, she is dedicated beyond measure. She is constantly setting an example of what her players should aspire to. She is hard working and organized and offers her players many programs to participate in and become better. She conducts herself with class on the sidelines and does an incredible job of offering balance and perspective to her players and their parents.”
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Mike McGinnis, Battle Creek Lakeview - Division 3
“I have more grey hair now!” says Mike McGinnis when asked the difference between the last time he was named Coach of the Year (Boys, 1999) and this past girls season. “I don’t think I have changed much and that may be a problem,” he continues. “Over the past several years, I believe the student athletes have changed. I am seeing fewer athletes out for tennis because there are fewer multi-sport athletes. They are specializing in one sport and doing it year-round. So numbers are down totally and you have to tone down the demand and intensity of the non-athlete.”
Numbers may be down but the results of Lakeview tennis show little difference over the past decade or so. Back in 1999, Mike had already established Battle Creek Lakeview as one of the emerging high school tennis powers, both boys and girls. After the first struggling year, the team had gone on to compete at the state tournament every season, often finishing in the top 5. Early on, he had kids winning flight championships.
There has been no let-up since then. For 20 consecutive years, Mike’s boys have won the city championship while the girls have failed in this endeavor only once. In the competitive SMAC 16-team conference, Lakeview has taken first “a few times.”
“We have won our share of regionals in both boys and girls,” he says, “and have qualified for state each year except for three or four times. When we go to state, we have finished in the top ten every year except for a couple of times. We have never won state but have finished 3rd in the girls a couple of times and finished second in the boys twice.”
Mike characterizes this past season as “good – almost great.” The SMAC is comprised of St. Joe and all of the Kalamazoo area schools including Portage Central, Mattawan, and Sturgis. Mike’s team finished second in the conference tournament by one point to Portage Central whom they beat 5-3 in an earlier dual. His kids also finished second in the regional, again to Portage Central and again by one point. Mike laughs at his state finish, 9th to Portage Central’s 11th.
To be sure, it is a friendly rivalry between two excellent programs. “Mike’s teams are always well-prepared and obviously well coached,” says Peter Militzer, himself a former Coach of the Year. “His doubles teams use sound strategy and are always tough to beat. We see them often, and usually by the end of the season, our players are looking to see where Lakeview has set up their tent so we can set ours right next to it. The players then share food, blankets, sports drinks, etc. Sometimes they get too chummy and we have to remind them that we are at a tournament and that Lakeview could be our opponent next round.”
Indeed, Mike has his kids at a level where they can compete against almost anyone. A highlight at the state tournament was that two of his unseeded doubles flights knocked off a #1 seed and a #3 seed. He credits several excellent assistant and JV coaches with maintaining a level of excellence. “Also in the area are some very good teaching pros and summer camps, along with my summer camp,” he says. “This along with great supportive parents and kids starting from an early age creates some very good tennis players.”
Indeed, Mike has enjoyed the services of some exceptional players, two of whom were named Mr. Tennis (Andrew Jung, 2007) and Miss Tennis (Maggie Remynse, 2008). But as a player who himself came to the game late in life, he admits that he identifies more with the kids who are not the best on the team. Coaches praise him for working so diligently with all his kids, not just concentrating on the upper level players. He can be seen working with a JV or 3D player as often as with his better kids.
Mike worked in management at Post Cereals for 28 years and then took an early retirement package. “My wife and I and our three kids all graduated from Lakeview and I know most of the teachers,” he says. “So when I retired, I started to substitute teach at Lakeview to also stay in contact with all the kids coming up and promote tennis to them.”
In addition, his “retirement” includes service to the MHSTeCA in that he will become president at the General Membership meeting on Saturday, February 9, 2013. To further add to his responsibilities, he is vice president of the Michigan High School Coaches Association, a situation he got into by being in the wrong place at the wrong time as executive board members were trolling for candidates. “I didn’t jump up and down yelling ‘pick me’ – in fact I was new and just trying to understand what was happening and laying low,” he says. “By process of elimination, I was spotted. But in the first two years of service and attending two banquets while introducing several award winners and Hall of Fame inductees, I have had the opportunity to meet several great coaches in other sports.”
And they have had a chance to meet him. “Mike is the same person win or lose,” says Peter. “He is a gracious winner and on the rare occasion that we beat them he shows an equal amount of class.”
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Randy Bye, Frankenmuth - Division 4
“In 2003 after 35 years of having football dominate my coaching duties, I left the program and took a leap into coaching a girls sport,” says Randy Bye. “Whatever it was that steered me to the game of tennis was the best coaching decision I ever made.”
Actually, there were a couple of factors involved in the decision. “If my daughter had not played tennis in high school, I would never have considered attempting to coach the sport,” he says. She played for a Frankenmuth team that qualified for the finals her senior season on points and played into the quarterfinals at 4S.
In addition, Randy had acquired some skill when a student at Alpena High School in that a friend played on the team and taught him the game. “I decided to take the job even though I had no experience and bluffed my way through the interview,” he says. “They were desperate for a coach. Not only did I not own a tennis racket; I had not played tennis in 30 years.”
But what Randy had to offer was a vast amount of coaching expertise. In Frankenmuth, he was a proven entity, having worked with the JV football program for 25 years. And he offered sorely-missed continuity. “The team had skilled athletes but difficulty keeping a tennis coach,” he says. “I was the fourth coach in as many years.”
Randy is not the first coach of boys to be so pleasantly surprised when taking on a team of young ladies. They proved to be good, smart kids who listened and expressed appreciation. For instance, of his top three players from this year’s squad, two were twin sisters who moved to Frankenmuth as freshmen with no tennis experience. Another took up the game because her older sister was a former player. “They are typical of the type of player I have coached over the past nine seasons,” he says. “All three were members of the National Honor Society and all three earned academic scholarships/endowments to attend college.” The twin sisters will be attending Harvard this fall.”
And they can play tennis. Randy was pleasantly surprised two years ago when his group qualified for the 2011 finals after having lost eight seniors on the 2010 regional championship team. “With nine players returning from the previous (2011) season, I knew we would be a solid team this year,” he says.
He was right. His Eagles went 10-1, captured a quad tournament title against Flint Kearsley, Bay City John Glenn, and Brandon, won the conference, and came within a three-set regional final match of tying for the title with Saginaw Nouvel. The team went on the finish 11th at the state.
This success is not unusual for the Eagles. Frankenmuth plays in the Tri Valley Conference which has been in existence for only seven years. During that time span, Essexville Garber has won it in 2006 and 2009, Hemlock in 2008, Chesaning in 2011, and Frankenmuth in 2010. In the seven seasons that Randy’s squad has qualified for the final tournament, his girls have finished second in the regional five times, placed third by qualifying with 18 points once, and won it once.
“Unfortunately for Frankenmuth, the girls finals are always played the day after our graduation and all night senior party,” he says. “Because of the date, we always play with most of the team being up all night and then traveling to the finals site and playing all day with no sleep.”
“When two teams are traditionally at the top of their league and regional and very competitive, it can sometimes cause unhealthy animosity,” says Essexville Garber’s Nancy Brissette, whose team was always one of the two. “That was never the case when Randy was coaching at Frankenmuth. This was the direct result of his excellent sportsmanship and teaching. He was also one of those coaches who didn’t complain when things didn’t go just right at a tournament.”
“Randy knew how to recognize a girl’s strengths and turn those strengths into weapons on the tennis court,” adds Nancy. “Frankenmuth will surely miss their classy coach who goes out in style with a Division 4 Girls COY.”
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Jim Hanson, Novi - Division 1
Understandably, Jim Hanson commands a lot of respect. After all, he has coached high school tennis for 33 years, 14 at Livonia Clarenceville and 19 more at Novi High School (63 seasons). Overall, his teams have compiled an admirable 521-235-22 record. His Novi boys have captured 19 conference titles and four regional championships. They have made 11 trips to the Division 1 state finals. In 2011, they finished 4th in the state. In each of the three years previous to this, they placed fifth.
Jim has not gone unrecognized. He has been voted state coach of the year twice, once for the girls in 2005 and once for the boys in 2002. However, what might be just as impressive is that since 2004, he has been voted Regional Coach of the Year by his colleagues at that tournament an astonishing 11 times (five for boys, six for girls). Four times, he was both Regional Boys and Girls COY in the same year.
But possibly the best evidence of respect surrounds the fact that this past fall, Jim didn’t even coach his kids at the regional but yet his colleagues still voted him coach of the year. Just prior, he entered the hospital for kidney surgery. Assistant Dan Lowes and JV coach Chris Hayward directed the team. “They did a fantastic job with no drop off in leadership, coaching, or team focus during this time,” says Jim.
The results support this. Novi finished the state tournament in a tie for second place with Brother Rice. Six of the Raiders’ flights made the semifinals and four were in the championship match. Novi enjoyed one state championship (4S over Ann Arbor Huron) but lost to Huron at five other flights. “They deserved to be the MHSAA Division One State Champion as they won these important head-to-head matches,”he says.
But to be sure, second place in the state is not to be sneezed at. Moreover, Jim got to enjoy the lead-up to the last two weeks. His kids won five invitational tournaments, capturing every flight in every tournament (all quads) except one. They won 122 of 123 of these matches. Competition included Grosse Ile, Utica Eisenhower, Bloomfield Hills Andover, Grandville, Troy Athens, Battle Creek Lakeview, Cranbrook Kingswood, Grosse Pointe South, West Bloomfield, Traverse City Central, and Port Huron Northern. In other words, stiff tests.
Growing up in Hillsdale, Jim learned the game “by hitting a white ball with a wooden racket” (his words). When he was 12, his family moved to Chelsea where he continued to play, sometimes in local and state tournaments. He played baseball at Chelsea High School because the school didn’t have a tennis team.
His first teaching job was at Livonia Clarenceville, starting in 1968. He taught chemistry and general science there for 15 years and coached the boys tennis team for 14. Although his kids didn’t ring up fantastic numbers (boys 66-117; girls, 2-16 over two years), they did place 2nd in the Wayne Oakland County League in 1971 and 2nd place in the Metro West in 1980. Livonia Clarenceville no longer has a tennis program.
In 1983, Jim switched jobs, moving to Novi High School to teach chemistry and advanced placement chemistry. He not only took over the boys program but also coached the girls to 19 conference titles, five regional championships, and 11 trips to the state finals. His girls have finished either 4th or 5th in the state five times since 2004.
But perhaps even more important, Jim earns the respect of his colleagues with how well his skilled tennis players behave. “Since I’ve come to know Jim since our days of competing in the old
KVC, I’ve been impressed with his teams’ talent and more so that talentcombined with an overall team of class act behavior, “ says Sean Beacome of Lakeland High School. “This is a direct reflection of Jim’s leadership. He’s a teacher and commands that respect, yet he’s a gracious and personable coach. I’m glad to know and compete against him.”
“After fifteen years of competing with Jim and his Novi teams, the best compliment I can pay him is that he would be my first choice to coach my own kids,” says Brighton’s Jeff Miner, himself a COY (Girls, 2006). “He is very competitive and hates to lose but is always gracious in victory and defeat, though the latter doesn’t happen very often with his team.”
“Several years ago during a dual match between our teams, a situation arose that called for a line judge,” continues Jeff. “Jim and I flipped for it, and he lost. A couple of my parents questioned whether he would be impartial, as his own team was playing. I told them that if anything, it was going to help us. I knew Jim would bend over backward to be fair, and if any team was going to be given the benefit of the doubt, it would be mine.”
“Although he retired from teaching several years ago,” concludes Jeff, “he continues to educate not only students but adults as well. He is truly deserving of this honor.”
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Lenny Waldman, Berkley - Division 2
“Berkley is truly a unique little district where academics usually take the higher honors over our sports programs,” says Lenny Waldman. “With only one high school, two middle schools, and four elementary schools, we do not always have a large pool of talent to choose from. My attitude is that if you don’t get talent in sheer raw numbers as in a big district, you have to grow it and cultivate it.”
Thus, even though he has access to only six courts, Lenny is a participant in the USTA No-Cut Tennis Team policy. “We do our best to never turn kids away,” he says. “With more players than space, we get creative and find ways to promote our sport with these limitations in mind.”
Colleagues agree that he does a very good job. “As a coach, he has steadily improved the Berkley program while giving great guidance to his players, but he also teaches life lessons, and he always has the bigger picture in mind,” says Andrew Shipp of Troy, himself a COY last year. “Win or lose, Lenny is always a joy to coach with.”
“His team came on strong at the end of the season,” echoes Rochester’s Jerry Murphy, Hall of Fame Class of 2010. “Lenny is a very friendly guy who obviously works hard with his players, as is evident by his rallying them to their top ten finish at this year’s finals. I know he is always complimentary of the opposing coaches and their players, and in return he is well liked and respected by our league coaches.”
Lenny began as an assistant coach at his alma mater 10 years ago while teaching in the Social Studies Department (he has been there 18 years). He grew up in North Oak Park, once a bastion of excellent tennis, which was one of the areas that fed the Berkley School District. “While I enjoyed tennis in high school, I was an All-County Track and Field athlete which forced me to choose between the sports,” he says. “I spent one year with varsity tennis and three with track and field.”
Over five years, he has nurtured the program well, especially in view of the competition. Berkley competes in the Oakland Activities Association White Division, a tough conference which includes Birmingham Seaholm and Troy Athens. The Bears finished fifth in the league behind Jerry’s Rochester group.
Thus by the time the regional approaches, his kids have gained valuable experience against some excellent competition. They were 7-4 in duals this past season but they qualified for the state finals under the Murphy Rule behind Seaholm and Groves, the first time since 1999. Not intimidated by the level of play at the state level, they finished in the Top Ten, the first time the Bears have done so since 1984.
Indeed, they have worked their way up. Beforehand, Lenny’s boys had captured four conference championships in the OAA Blue Division. As coach of the girls for the past nine years, Lenny has also taken that team to the state tournament in 2008.
“What is always striking about Lenny as a coach, is his upbeat demeanor,” says Andrew. “Whether he is working with his players, his parents, or his fellow coaches, he is always respectful and positive. You can’t help but smile around Lenny.”
Lenny himself exemplifies the attitude. “I realized long ago as a coach that ‘It is not how much we know that makes us great but how much we care,’” he says. The results of this season are ample evidence.
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Charlie Bassett, Spring Lake - Division 3
In the late 1970s, the first president of our association, Charlie Partin of East Grand Rapids, invited Charlie Bassett to the second meeting of the board of directors, at that time held in the summer at Bill Oliver’s Lodge in Prudenville. A former doubles player at Hastings High School who was also a state champion wrestler, Coach Bassett had learned much of what he knew about tennis from a PE class at WMU taught by then-varsity coach Hap Sorensen. But at the summer meetings, he absorbed even more by sitting by the lake and listening to Partin, Bob Wood, and Tiger Teusink talk tennis.
It didn’t hurt that Mr. Bassett had fielded such a strong girls team (conference champs, second in the regional, 4th in the state) that he was selected as Girls Coach of the Year in 1980. It also didn’t hurt that his boys teams in 1983-86 – anchored by outstanding players Craig Wildey and Jeff VanDenberg – were traveling throughout the state to play the best. At the Saginaw tournament, Charlie would stay at Bob Quinn’s house with Wood and Partin. Even still, “At the beginning, I just listened,” he says.
And made connections. Partin nominated Basset for 2nd Vice President in the early ‘80s. Hence, Charlie was president of the MHSTeCA for the first Hall of Fame induction in 1986 and developed the format for the board meetings. He was named Coach of the Year, this time for boys, in 1988. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1992.
That was 20 years ago, a time when most folks would rest on their laurels, hang it up, and contemplate work well done. But Charlie stayed with it. This past fall, he completed his 42nd year with the boys (43 seasons, thanks to 2007 -- He quit coaching girls in 2009 after 35 years). And on the way, he collected three more state coach of the year awards, this one being his fifth, a record.
Justifiably so. As a boys coach, Charlie’s teams have put together 23 conference championships, captured 15 regonal titles and qualified for state competition 32 times. His girls: 23 conference titles, 8 regional championships and 27 trips to the final tournament. His kids have placed as high as third in the state.
And he served, both on the MHSTeCA board and at regional time where he managed more of the events than he can count (50-60). “When I started doing regionals, I sent a form (players’ records) to Warren McKenzie at the MHSAA and we started using it for the regionals. I felt we needed to have a complete record of all the matches which the players played” (Efforts are still ongoing to put match results online). He also served on the state seeding committee from 1998 to 2001.
But ironically, perhaps the most distinguishing characteristic of Charlie’s coaching was the lack of emphasis on wins. “The important thing is to play the best that you can every time and the winning will take care of itself,” he once said. He summarized his 2006 boys season – one of spectacular success until a disappointing state tournament – by saying: “They played well. If they play well and they come up short, that’s all I can ask.”
Indeed, when players, coaches, and parents consider Charlie, they don't spend much time on his win-loss achievements. Instead, they talk about his positive attitude toward competition and his emphasis on proper behavior. Parents and players alike laud his emphasis on sportsmanship. One of his players 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."
At the spring 2009 tennis banquet, Suzi Olds, who had played for Charlie three decades prior, was asked to speak to the youngsters. “Even though it has been 30 years since he was my coach,” she said, “the lessons he taught me are with me always. And girls, I can assure you that your time with Charlie will always be with you, too.”
Undoubtedly, Suzi spoke for two generations of Spring Lake tennis players -- both boys and girls --when she concluded: “I believe that the greatest compliment you can ever receive is to be told that you’ve made a difference in someone’s life. Well, Charlie, I speak not only for myself but for hundreds of young women when I say my life is different because you were my coach, my mentor, and my friend.”
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Cliff Perez, Ludington - Division 4
In the fall of 2010, Cliff Perez fielded a team that included eight sophomores and subsequently won only two dual meets. “I was giving Knute Rockne speeches every day after the match,” he said. [I was saying] “that if we hold on to the philosophy, we will prevail.”
Ludington followed up that tough season the ensuing year by capturing its first regional title in a quarter century and then going on to finish 15th at the state tournament. And the best was yet to come.
By virtually any account, his boys enjoyed a dream season in fall, 2012. Ludington, ranked No. 8 in Division 4 early in the campaign, downed then-ranked No. 2 Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett 5-3 and co-No. 10 Almont 6-2 to finish first at the Almont tournament. The Orioles then stayed on a roll by beating Division 3 No. 9 Spring Lake 5-3 to go to 8-0 overall.
In fact, no other Ludington team had accomplished so much. Cliff’s kids went undefeated in duals (9-0), won the Coastal Conference, took first place at the Ludington, Traverse City St. Francis, and Grand Rapids South Christian invitationals, and captured the regional title. They went on to finish third in the state, thus tying for the best finish in Ludington history with the 1973 and 1978 squads which were coached back then by Howard Jensen.
What is impressive is that the team didn’t simply waltz through against lesser-lights. Cliff sought out stiff competition. In all, the squad played in seven tournaments, finishing third on Saturdays at Portland, Cadillac, Hudsonville Unity Christian, and Traverse City Central. His dual meets included contests against University Liggett, Armada, Almont, Portland, Kalamazoo Christian, and Traverse City St. Francis, all squads to be found in the MHSTeCA rankings. The victories against Liggett and Almont occurred after the team traveled four hours across the state to compete in the Almont Invitational. Indeed, they had come far, literally and metaphorically.
“We have no indoor courts to play in the winter, nor teaching pros in our town,” Cliff says. “We do things the old fashion way: outwork our opponents.”
That includes recruiting 20-24 kids to keep a JV team going. Cliff also runs a middle school recreation tennis program in the spring which attracts 40-50 kids. Finally, he runs a summer tournament and three weeks of summer camps. He has hosted two USTA tournaments.
“Each season that our school has had a middle school team, Cliff has organized and hosted a culminating tournament for our league,” says Joe Gentle of North Muskegon. “I have never been to Ludington for any event, both boys and girls, and not seen him on the court working with players.”
“He has worked hard to build his program,” confirms Scott Zerlaut of Grant. “He started a middle school program for the West Michigan/Lakeshore area that has benefited all the schools. He has run USTA tournaments during the summer and gets a lot of kids out for summer lesons in Ludington.”
All of this hard work has paid off in the long term as well. Cliff’s dual meet record is 88-32-13 over 14 years since taking over for Hall of Famer Tom Kudwa (Class of 2005). His kids have won five conference titles, captured two regional championships, and qualified for state competition five times.
A two-time state qualifier in wrestling at Adrian High School, Cliff didn’t play high school tennis. After graduating from MSU, he took a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Desert Storm. Upon returning, he coached volleyball, track, and basketball before returning to Michigan where he teaches Middle School PE and Health in Ludington. He has been the high school’s wrestling coach. In other words, the man knows how to coach. It doesn’t hurt that his JV coach is Hall of Famer Tom Kudwa although Cliff returns the favor in the spring, serving as Tom’s JV coach.
“Cliff has been a dominant force in the conference every year since I’ve been coaching in it,” says Scott. “He is gracious and humble in victory and defeat.”
Lately, there have been lots of the former.