MHSTeCA COACH OF THE YEAR - 2021
(click on coach's name to read more about them)
DIVISION - COACH
DIVISION - COACH
|1 - Eric Bracciano, Lake Orion||1 - Brian Miska, Troy|
|2 - Shane Dilloway, Traverse City Central|
|.....Tom Osbeck, Chelsea|
|4 - Crystal Lowe, Portland||4 - Scott Symons, Saginaw Nouvel|
Eric Bracciano, Lake Orion - Division 1
In the spring of 2021, Eric Bracciano enjoyed the success of “the best Lake Orion’s girls team that I have coached.” His kids were one match away from qualifying as a team for the state tournament (Bloomfield and Clarkston stood in the way in his traditionally difficult regional). The Lady Dragons were also one match shy of winning the league title as well but his 1S actually won the regional singles championship by defeating the Bloomfield 1S in the final match.
This was well-deserved. Eric gets results the old-fashioned way: He earns them. But too often, he doesn’t get the entrance-to-the-final-tournament reward.
Consider: Eric has his hand in more than one local tennis pot. In addition to coaching both the varsity boys and varsity girls tennis teams at Lake Orion High School, he oversees the middle school tennis team which trained 60-plus kids this past spring.
In the wintertime, he is a part time pro at Deer Lake Athletic Club in Clarkston. In the summers, he is the Director of Tennis at Oakhurst Country Club, also in Clarkston. In addition, he runs the Lake Orion Parks and Recreation Program. In terms of tennis, he is seemingly everywhere.
More importantly, the area kids know him and his expectations. He is the coach they want to play for. But he can also be the victim of his own teaching prowess. After all, he has a significant hand in training so many of the Clarkston players who come back to keep his team home in early June. “He has become a staple for tennis in both Oakland or Genesee County over two decades,” says former Holly Coach Will Sophiea. "The impact that Eric has had on hundreds or more young people in his area is immeasurable.”
“I do my best to share my ideas with other local coaches in terms of how to start their own respective middle school programs and also summer programs, so that all tennis communities can thrive and grow,” says Eric. “It gives me great pleasure to see growth in tennis in all areas, and I want to always be sure I am doing my part to help grow and improve our sport.”
“He is a great friend to many in the coaching community and continues to make Michigan tennis better as a whole,” affirms Will.
Moreover, this teacher is also a player. After enjoying so many sports leading up to high school, he settled on soccer and tennis (he took his first group lesson in his freshman year). He must have adapted quickly in that footwork is so essential to excellence in both sports.
Eric played 1S for the school’s JV team his first year before advancing to the varsity 2S position the next. In his senior season, he made it to the quarterfinals of the state tournament at 1S before losing to the eventual state champion.
He didn’t get a chance to play in college because U of M Flint had neither a varsity nor club team but he certainly made up for it after graduation. He has won over 60 men’s singles and doubles titles playing on the USTA Men’s Circuit.
“He plays tennis at a high 4.5 level,” says Troy Athens coach Andrew Shipp. “He is a great model in terms of showing his kids how tennis can be a wonderful sport throughout life.”
While Eric was teaching in the Lake Orion district, the boys tennis job opened up. “It was a natural fit,” says Eric who was an English major with a math minor and has a Master’s degree in educational leadership. He currently teaches math at Grand Blanc High School.
Eric has been an MHSTeCA board member since 2012. “His opinions and contributions are always thoughtful and respected,” says Andrew.
“His teams always play with great sportsmanship, and he drives them to work hard in the off-season to perform well in-season, continues Andrew. “He is a fun coach to work with and a great coach to compete against.”
Cosette Buckberry, East Lansing - Division 2
Growing up in East Lansing, Cosette Buckberry was the kid on the other side of the fence wishing she could be out there on the courts having fun with the others. At the time, she was watching Haslett High School’s Henry Brunnschweiler, the director of the Todd Martin Development Fund of Lansing, instruct her older sister and brother on the fundamentals. “I was too young to enroll and participate according to the camp guidelines,” she says. “Henry noticed me and told my mom to sign me up anyway. He allowed me to participate, giving me an opportunity that created my passion for tennis.”
“Cosette was 5 years old at the time,” says Henry. I noticed she always had a ball of some sort in her hand….so one day I gave her a tennis ball and told her she should try her hand at tennis. Cosette took me up on the offer, and within a couple of years she was showing incredible potential.”
That potential translated to monumental success. Cosette played 1S for East Lansing High School all four years and was all state all four years. In her junior year, she reached the state final even though she was unseeded. A gifted athlete, she also lettered in soccer, basketball, and golf.
She went on to play club tennis at MSU and helped her team qualify for Nationals for the first time in school history. This made her especially qualified to be a physical education teacher in the nearby Fowlerville Community Schools, a position she has occupied for the past seven years. But she drives back to her alma mater to coach the school’s girls freshman basketball team. And, of course, there is tennis.
This past spring’s squad, consisting of seven seniors, captured the Capital Cities Conference, notable because East Lansing finished ahead of Okemos. Although her kids ended up behind Okemos at the regional, they came in 12th at the final tournament. “The seniors were a very confident group and helped lead the team by spreading this confidence,” she says. The result was a team that went undefeated in dual match play and won two of the five tournaments they entered.
“At the beginning of the season, we discussed playing each match for the 2020 seniors who did not get a season,” she says. [Furthermore], “our school went into a one-week pause right after spring break. Considering how quickly the team came together to play their best tennis after not playing tennis for two
weeks made it a very memorable year. They practiced with a purpose each day and it showed in the matches.”
“She is very approachable as a coach, and spends a good amount of time on the practice courts with her team,” affirms Henry. “I know this because I often drive by their courts. One of her best assets as a coach is her ability to be friendly and approachable, but still push her players to be the best they can be on the court by setting a positive tone.”
Cosette played for Lisa Semerly in her junior and senior years at East Lansing, then became Lisa’s varsity assistant following graduation. She then spent four years as the junior varsity coach. When Lisa left, Cosette was the natural choice to take the job in that she was a former star player and a current coach. “Her impact was immediate, as she brought much more energy and invested much more time in helping build the East Lansing program,” says Henry whose teams have been the friendly victim of Cosette’s prowess.
The same can be said for former Girls Coach of the Year Jim D’Angelo of Mason. “I've known Cosette Buckberry for roughly 20 years, dating back to her junior USTA playing days,” he says. “I also had the good fortune of playing adult 'travel team' tennis with her as doubles partners for a few years. She was a great partner - supportive, fun, competitive, and enthusiastic. Not surprisingly, she instills these same qualities in the doubles teams she coaches, making them very difficult to beat.”
“Cosette is a wonderful coach who is dedicated to and genuinely cares about her players,” continues Jim. “In the years I have had the pleasure of coaching against her, she has proven to be a very fair and ethical coach. She is a high quality person and a credit to high school tennis coaching.”
“Coaching against Cosette is a very positive experience,” echoes Henry. She is extremely fair as a coach, making sure to provide the rival team with access to everything they need from court space to warm up to providing available snacks to their opponents.”One indication of a truly good human being is that you don’t mind losing to her. Cosette has coached against her brother Gary when he was at Lansing Eastern and against sister Colette when she was at St. Clair Shores South Lake. “It is always good to have the bragging rights in the family,” she says. “It makes for a good dinner conversation when we all get together, and we enjoy sharing memories about when we did play each other. They were okay with it.”
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Greg McManus, Whitehall - Division 3
After directing the Whitehall boys team for 11 years, Greg McManus received his first Coach of the Year Award in 2018 in recognition for what he had accomplished for over a decade at his alma mater. It took a mere three more years to receive his second distinction, this time for the girls. That’s because colleagues have come to appreciate the work he has done in resurrecting a tennis program that had lapsed a bit after Hall of Famer Dick Morley retired.
Case in Point: In the spring of 2021, his Vikings went 8-1-2, losing only to North Muskegon (who tied for 3rd place at the D4 state tournament) twice. A turning point was when they finished tied for second with Mona Shores in a super competitive City Tournament behind North Muskegon.: the final score was 43-41-41. In addition, “When we won our tournament that had Spring Lake, Coopersville, and Cadillac, we knew we had a team that could qualify for State,” he says. “We also won the Fruitport Quad with Fruitport, Ludington, and Cedar Springs. Those are normally tough teams for us in our regional.”
And qualify they did. They took 2nd place in their D3 regional behind a very strong Holland Christian squad which finished in a tie for sixth place with Grand Rapids Catholic Central at the final tournament. Greg’s kids finished in 15th, not a Top Ten result but “the girls played well and the doubles had some nice wins.”
But coaches appreciate Greg for much more than the fact that he produces strong squads. “We all want to win but Greg sees the big picture,” says Grand Rapids South Christian’s Chuck Pothoven.
“He is always quick with an encouraging word to opposing players, win or lose,” adds Grant’s Scott Zerlaut. “He is super competitive but will not sacrifice doing things the right way to gain an advantage. His players take care of their business on the court. There isn’t any gamesmanship or sportsmanship issues from his players, fans, or parents. We just get to coach and the players play.”
“The culture [at Whitehall] is very positive and I try to continue what Mr. Morley started and ingrained in me,” says Greg. Indeed the school’s present coach is also a former player for the Vikings who compiled a 34-3 record in two years at 1D. He and his partner were semifinalists at the state tournament in each of those two years, achievements that made him an all-state player. A walk-on for the Grand Valley University team, he played singles and doubles there for three years while pursuing a manufacturing engineer’s degree. He then worked for Howmet Aerospace, a manufacturer of military and commercial castings for seven years before volunteering to help Coach Morley with his summer program.
West Michigan is blessed with a trio of coaches who lead small schools with an eye toward not only tennis excellence but fine sportsmanship. They are Grant’s Scott Zerlaut, Hall of Fame class of 2019, Cory Liverance of North Muskegon, and Greg.
“Greg's program is the standard that many small school programs hold themselves to in West Michigan and it is personally great to have a natural local rival that demands the best out of your players without letting the negatives that competition can bring out in people come to the forefront,” says Cory who was himself a Coach of the Year in 2020. I personally believe that is due to Greg, his demeanor as a coach and a person, and the way he conducts himself and leads his program. He does a great job of demanding the most out of his players while preaching good sportsmanship.”
To be sure, the man who demands good sportsmanship also wins. Since 2010, his girls have qualified for state competition five times and this year with a 1S qualifier Together, his boys teams have been at the final event nine times since 2008 with a singles qualifier this year. His boys and girls programs have enjoyed a total of six Top Ten finishes during these years.
Greg gets help from Tom Sheesley who was a D1 collegiate baseball player back in the day. Tom took up the sport when his daughters were going through Greg’s program and uses his position as a middle school teacher to promote the sport. “Tom adds a dynamic to coaching that is helpful since he has coached baseball, basketball, and football,” says Greg. “He is high energy.”
Greg adds a combination of experience and relative youth to our Board of Directors, a position he has held since 2018. In a multi-faceted way --- victories, sportsmanship, and leadership -- he has contributed to the improvement of our sport.
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Tom Osbeck, Chelsea - Division 3
When Matt Pedlow stepped down as Chelsea High School’s varsity girls coach, the job went to Tom Osbeck. He may have felt a bit of pressure. After all, the team had achieved substantial success in the past, therefore there were expectations. He was not placed in a position where he needed to rebuild.
But through no fault of his own, his brief tenure didn’t get off to a good start. The spring 2020 campaign was cancelled due to Covid. It was a bitter disappointment in that Tom labeled the prospects “promising.”
However, except for those seniors who were deprived of a chance to triumph, the rest of the crew made up for that emptiness. In this past campaign, Chelsea’s girls won four of the five tournaments that they entered, swept every match at the conference tournament and did the same at the regional. The Lady Bulldogs then finished third at the state tournament, five points behind the winner. The fact that the state champion was Detroit Country Day and that the state runner-up was Cranbrook Kingswood --- both perennial powers who happened to be private schools – makes this outcome even more impressive
As it turns out, “the tournament they took second in was possibly the most meaningful for their growth as a team,” says Tom. “We traveled over to the west side of the state to do battle with Cranbrook, Forest Hills Eastern, and Grand Rapids Christian teams. The day provided some great tennis and once the nerves settled down and they got into some close competitive matches, they realized that they can compete with anybody. That was a turning point for our season.”
Ability to compete with the best in the end? Consider: “When the Lady Bulldogs went to the State Tournament, it was hard to predict what our chances would be,” he says, “but the girls played so inspired. As a team throughout the previous years, we were successful but did not have many times of second-day play. [This year] our first state champion of the day was our Freshman 4 Singles. That was followed by our 4 Doubles Freshman/Sophomore duo. Then our unseeded 3 Singles Senior took down the number 1 seed for the Championship Crown. This was our best finish in Chelsea history.”
Given such a splendid season, Tom was voted Co-Coach of the Year. But after serving as a varsity coach essentially for only one year? The other Co-Coach is Greg McManus of Whitehall who has led his varsity girls for 12. One might conclude the wrong thing about how deserving Coach Osbeck is to receive such a distinction.
Think again. Tom started working with Chelsea’s JV girls in 2004. From then until he took over the varsity, the girls captured four regional championships, won nine consecutive SEC championships on the way to a total of 12 since 2005, went to the state finals nine consecutive times, and registered four Top Ten Finished at “States.” But to repeat: the best finish ever was this year’s 3rd place.
“What Tom brings to the program can never really be measured with data, with scores, and with wins,” said then-coach Matt Pedlow who at the time was referring to the MHSTeCA Assistant Coach Award winner (Matt might want to amend that comment).
Instead Matt points to a positive, happy-to-be-here vibe that is infectious. “Tom changed the way I coached. He changed the way our players act. I never heard him say a bad word against any of our players. 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 weekday evening.”
He was just as effective coaching the boys. As assistant to two-time Coach of the Year Rahn Rosentreter for eight years, he was there to help the Boy Bulldogs capture eight league titles, bring home two regional trophies, and participate in the state championship tournament seven times. “Tom’s approach was as a father-figure,” says Rahn. “He made sure that all the players both male and female remembered that they were on the court to have fun.
Alas, Tom is stepping down from tennis coaching, to be replaced by two-time Coach of the Year Rahn. In other words, another smooth transition with nary a bump.
But Tom goes into a retirement not just with fond memories of a spectacular one-and-done season. “The biggest reward for coaching has been the amazing young people that I have been able to see grow. I hope that I have made an impact in their lives as much as they have richly made in mine.”
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Crystal Lowe, Portland - Division 4
In his storied career as the varsity boys and girls tennis coach at Portland High School, Hall of Famer Jim Niebling recorded 18 league titles and nine regional championships. His kids finished fourth in the state four times. Then he retired after 30 years of service, many of them as a MHSTeCA board member.
These were big shoes and Crystal Lowe, his assistant, was not eager to fill them when Jim retired three years ago. “I had spent 20 years as a JV coach and really felt that was the best fit for me,” she says. “I enjoyed the JV level. I enjoyed pushing the players who were varsity potential while also encouraging those who just wanted to play tennis for fun to stick with it and enjoy learning this lifelong sport. And I enjoyed the ‘no pressure’ aspect of being a JV coach.”
But Crystal spent the fall of 2018 as Joel Cross’ JV coach and varsity assistant of his boys team and changed her mind. “I just felt that someone who connected with the returning girls players needed to be their coach,” she says. “I spent some time thinking about the connection I had with those returning players who were once my JV players and decided maybe I should give it a go.” It was also with the blessing of both Jim and Joel, the latter even agreeing to be her JV coach for the girls.
At first glance, it seems a bit unusual for a varsity coach with a mere three years’ experience to be selected as a state coach of the year. However, Crystal Lowe’s tenure in the Portland High School tennis program cannot by any stretch be described as “mere.” After all, her two decades working in Jim’s program were so well thought of that she was given an Assistant Coach Award by the MHSTeCA in 2015. Therefore, to say that she was prepared to accept the challenge and step up a notch to the varsity spot gets a 15-yard penalty as a flagrant understatement.
Indeed, she led her squad to its most successful outing the very first year out of the gate (see Tom Osbeck again). In 2019, every flight won a regional championship and set two school records: eight league champions and a 3rd place finish at the final tournament. In her mere three years, she has notched two conference championships and two regional titles.
This spring’s campaign ended with a 12-1-2 record and a Saturday tournament triumph. Her kids were so dominant in the league that all eight flights were again conference champs. Seven of those flights won regional championship medals and the team carried home the regional trophy with 22 points, Chesaning being a distant second with 12.
“At the final tournament, we went in with 4 seeded flights,” she says. “We finished tied with North Muskegon for 3rd (highest finish ever by Portland tennis - boys or girls). My 1 dubs were semi-finalists and my 3 singles was a finalist.”
The Portland Raiders are used to being dominant in their neck of the woods (see first paragraph) but this two-year record is extraordinary. Moreover, “her most notable attribute is the way in which she always makes the players she coaches love to be there every day,” says Jim.
Yes, learning can be fun, even if you don’t realize how much you are learning because you are having so much fun.But in Portland, so is winning.
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Brian Miska, Troy - Division 1
At the beginning of each season, many coaches establish a Top Ten finish at the final tournament as their ultimate goal. But contrast that with Troy High School. Since Brian Miska took over the boys varsity in 2012, his squad has never finished below the Top Five. However, the male Colts had yet to capture the coveted state championship until this past season (Hall of Famer Fuzz Corey’s girls did it in 2003). And Brian did it the tried-and-true way: team depth.
“To be honest, talent wise this was not a better team than Steve Forman's senior year when we were runner ups [Forman, the MHSTeCA’s Mr. Tennis that year, currently plays 1S for Northwestern University). We had an insane team that year -- just unfortunately Bloomfield also had a really strong team that year too.”
The Colts won this year’s state title with a team in which eight of the 12 kids had played JV tennis. “None came into Troy High as a great player,” he says. “My 1S, who is all state this year, played four doubles as a freshman. We have tons of stories like that with these guys. We even had a couple of kids -- who weren’t allowed to go indoors in the wintertime because of Covid -- practice outside as long as there was no snow on the courts.”
A bit of coaching advice is in order: In terms of psychology at the beginning of a season, you either tell the kids to take it one match at a time (the prevailing approach) or focus from the get-go on winning it all. Brian chose the latter. “I talked about it every day,” he says. “I felt if we talked about winning states every day, that when the moment came to actually win it, we would be expecting it and not be afraid.”
It certainly worked. Troy dominated from the very outset. Brian’s kids didn’t lose a doubles match until October – they were something around 75-0. They were undefeated in duals, captured the OAA Red Conference ahead of Bloomfield High School (no small feat), and won every quad except the one at Ann Arbor Pioneer where it rained and didn’t finish (“but I think Bloomfield would have won that day, he says”). They swept every flight in the regional. It is a testament to the strength of the area that vanquished Troy Athens at that regional finished seventh in the state while Bloomfield, whom Troy beat 5-4 in the conference tournament, finished as state runner-up.
And the team didn’t celebrate until it became official. “Numerous coaches have told me that they were a class act,” says University Liggett’s Mark Sobieralski. “Brian had a well-behaved team in a year where that wasn’t always the case.”
Brian makes his living teaching tennis. He is the junior director and head pro at the Troy Racquet Club. He started on Hall of Famer Warren Block’s JV team at nearby Troy Athens but by his senior year had advanced to 1D under present coach Andrew Shipp. “He was captain of the team at 1D his senior year,” says Andrew. “In the off-season, he works with kids from other schools, not just his own. He demands a lot from his players but they want to work hard and play hard for him.”
Both Andrew and Grosse Pointe University Liggett’s Mark Sobieralski describe Brian’s demeanor as intense. But both have such a congenial relationship after coaching some of the best tennis in the state that they will go out for a beer afterward and talk about the match.
Brian now serves on the MHSTeCA board, a position he assumed in 2018. Given what he does for a living, his input in terms of all state selections is invaluable since he is so well-versed not only in the TennisReporting aspect of match results but also in terms of his knowledge of the UTR, a rating program that establishes rankings for players based on their own tournament results and the results of players they’ve played. Both he and Mark come into board meetings with a trove of information that goes beyond high school results, something that can sometimes be very helpful in terms of choosing all-state teams.For many years, Troy High School has fielded very strong teams that have had an impact on regional and state outcomes, but Brian has taken the program to a new level. Although his kids may not always win it all, they are always in the hunt.
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Shane Dilloway, Traverse City Central - Division 2
Growing up in Traverse City, Shane Dilloway took up tennis at the Grand Traverse Tennis Camp under Hall of Famer Larry Nykerk at the age of nine. He advanced to the point where he was able to play for Larry at Traverse City Central in the early 2000s. “I was an average player in the doubles line-up,” he says. But in summers during his college years at MSU, he instructed beginning players at the Grand Traverse Tennis Camp.
“I developed organizational and leadership skills coaching boys and girls JV tennis,” he continues. Coach Nykerk had retired once, returned to the job, but then was looking to retire again. Shane joined the varsity program in 2013 as an assistant coach. In essence, he was being “groomed” to take over a storied program
It started for him in 2015. Shane led the boys team for the next seven years and the girls squad from 2018 to 2021. “I was attracted to coaching high school tennis because I had originally started a path in the school of education at MSU but changed my major to mathematics,” he says. “Still, the concept of educational athletics was important to me and one of my main tenets of coaching is to give the student-athletes at Traverse City Central the best opportunities to compete on the court and grow into responsible and influential members of their communities as adults.”
He didn’t disappoint. This past season, TC captured its sixth conference championship out of the previous seven of Shane’s tenure. The squad fell far short of capturing a regional crown, thanks to a very strong H.H. Dow team, but qualified as the runner-up.
This means that the Trojans have made an appearance at the final tournament every year that Shane has coached. His teams have brought three regional trophies in those seven years.
Despite Traverse City’s relatively outpost location, Shane toughened his kids the old-fashioned way. “I put together a challenging pre-Labor Day schedule and most flights entered our conference portion of the season with losing records,” he says, “but they gained so much from competing against the teams that are top 10 in the state year after year.”
This wasn’t easy for the coach. Shane’s day job has been working as a dock attendant and dock supervisor at the City of Traverse City’s Clinch Marina. “The job is year-round and requires a lot of attention from April to October which imperfectly lines up with high school tennis,” he says. Having been promoted to managing the facility as the Dockmaster, he finds that he will have to retire from tennis coaching. But he does so having maintained for seven years a distinct continuity with regard to Traverse City tennis.
“Shane’s character and focus on good sportsmanship was reflected in every team he coached,” says Larry Nykerk who himself directed this tennis program for 50 years (this is not a misprint). “TC Central’s reputation for good behavior was as important to him as how well they played -- Competitiveness and Respect -- and each and every player would shake hands and thank the tournament director after every tournament.”
He embodies the spirit of competition,” says H.H. Dow’s Terry Schwartzkopf. “Through the years, regardless of the battles we faced, his players ALWAYS represented their coach in a manner that brought both honor and integrity to both Shane and Traverse City Central. Shane’s accolades and success are obvious, but it is his demeanor, leadership, and ethical compass that place him in the upper echelon of coaches in the state of Michigan.”
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George Earl, Sturgis - Division 3
For over a half century and more, Sturgis High School has enjoyed the services of some extraordinary tennis coaches. The first was Harley Pierce, one of the founders of the Michigan High School Tennis Association who had the distinction of winning state championships in football and tennis, both in the same year. He was followed by Budd Munson whose teams won an astounding 94% of their dual meet matches over more than two decades. Harley was inducted into our very first Hall of Fame class. Seven years later, it was Budd’s turn.
After a one-year Bill Maddock intermission, the reliable Bill Dickey – who served on the MHSTeCA Board of Directors – took over and maintained the program’s excellence. It was George Earl’s good fortune that Bill was on the interview team when George applied for a job as a seventh grade Social Studies teacher. What might have cemented the deal is that the school system also needed a JV tennis coach.
They got a good one. George grew up in tennis-rich Ann Arbor. He started playing the game at age five, took group lessons at age 10 at Brian Eisner’s Liberty Sports Complex and had private lessons with Brian’s brother Dean. He played qualifier tournaments and did well enough to compete in the Western Closed in Indianapolis for at least four years. He was ranked as high as 52 in the USTA Boys 16s and 4th in SEMTA. He played 1S his senior year at Ann Arbor Pioneer on a team that finished sixth in the state and was a member of George Acker’s Kalamazoo College squad which won two NCAA titles. To say that Sturgis got a highly qualified JV coach should result in a 15-yard penalty for flagrant understatement.
After Budd officially retired in 1999, George took over the program and has been the varsity coach ever since. He admits that he doesn’t keep good records but, to be sure, there have been plenty of victories. His boys have brought home regional trophies four times and the girls twice. He has led two Wolverine Conference championship teams. His boys have reached as high as 4th at the final tournament; the girls, 6th. Most years, the Trojans can be found competing in a large important tournament after the regional.
The fall of 2021 was when George reached the trifecta: He was voted Conference Coach of the Year, Regional Coach of the Year, and State Coach of the Year.
His kids captured the conference title, not an easy task given ever-present Allegan who had been champions the previous six years. They did so by winning six of eight flights; the other two of his players were runners-up. Beating Allegan in a dual meet was icing on a cake that hadn’t been enjoyed in a while.
The same applied at the regional. In lousy weather, six of his flights took home medals and the other two were runners-up. This sent the squad to the final tournament, an event in which they are not strangers. The Trojans finished in the Top Ten: 9th.
George describes the second-place teams over which Sturgis prevailed this year as “well-coached.” The feeling is mutual.
Peter Militzer, whose Portage Central teams played Sturgis back in the day, says: “He's a great guy who plays fair while his teams compete hard. His teams match his temperament: even-keeled and gracious, whether in victory or defeat."
Gary Ellis, Allegan’s former coach, adds: “He was very gracious in his wins and championships and also in losses. He was not afraid to take on some of the best teams in the state and use that level of competition to help his teams improve as the season progressed.”
George has received significant help from Robert Taylor and Jeremy Gump which has enabled him to always field a JV team. This is essential in terms of stability and longevity and to be sure, Sturgis tennis has long been known for that.“I really came to appreciate how great a tennis tradition we had and still have in Sturgis, working closely with Budd, Bill and eventually meeting Harley,” he says.” These men have been amazing help and sources of valuable information for me over the years.”
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Scott Symons, Saginaw Nouvel - Division 4
Though a very good athlete, Bob Quinn did not play tennis – at least not the organized variety – in high school. He started coaching the sport at Saginaw Douglas MacArthur in 1972 because the Athletic Director basically ordered him to. He learned quickly, got advice from Jim Teal (Hall of Fame Class of 1990), and went to clinics. By 1979, he had put together “the best team I ever had,” one that finished 3rd in the state in then-Class B.
A senior on that team was 3S Scott Symons, “one of the smartest players I have had,” says Bob. Scott went 23-3 his senior year, losing to East Grand Rapids twice, his last match in the semifinals of the state tournament to the same guy. He went on to play 1S at Ferris State University where, in this very small world, he was once matched against Aquinas’ Mark Sobieralski.
After graduation, Scott established Symons Building Specialties, a commercial grade construction and install company. He didn’t get into coaching high school tennis until 2000 when his daughter made the Nouvel varsity squad as a freshman. Under his leadership, these girls notched three Top Ten finishes in 15 years despite not having courts at the school. In fact, in 2005 they played home matches at five different venues. In spite of this disadvantage, his girls earned 10 trips to the state finals, five as regional winners and five as second place finishers during that tenure
Scott took over the boys team in 2015 and earned four trips to the state finals from then until now. “This is the best boys team that I have had,” he says of the fall 2021 contingent in spite of the fact that he started the season with only 8 players. “There were some crash courses in how to play doubles,” he says. Eventually, he recruited two football players to make up a 4D team, a flight that up until then had constituted a default.
If a coach of the year is measured by how much kids improve from start to finish, Scott gets the award on that criteria alone. Those 4D football players contributed to a team regional championship with a win. They also helped capture the Tri-Valley Conference tournament by adding a point with another win. Nouvel won the league championships, beating John Glenn by one point. His kids had lost to John Glenn 5-3 at the beginning of the season but defeated them 5-3 at the end. 4D makes a difference.
At the regional, Scott’s 2D came up with an avenge-win that meant a two-point swing. His new and much improved 4D – comprised of a running back with good hands and a linebacker with no fear—picked up a point and his 3D reached the regional final. “At the beginning of the year, one of those kids couldn't even reach the net with his serve,” he notes.
But Scott has always made it clear that “The best thing a player can say to me is ‘I had so much fun playing on the team.’” Indeed, even though he had no home courts over the years with the boys, he ran eight-team tournaments and managed four-team events. They usually ended the events by grilling hot dogs for players and parents.
Given that the final tournament was held in Ann Arbor this past fall, “I reached out and set up a tour of Michigan's Stadium, locker room and press box and getting on the field for pictures on the block M. They had a riot. These guys will play a lot of matches and they won't remember a lot of them, but they will remember the good times they had with their buddies. They have to have fun!”
“He has a fun side,” affirms fellow girls coach (for five years) Mike Boyd who is the school’s Athletic Director and erstwhile football coach. One time, Mike found that his tennis bag, required to be lined up along the fence with the others, instead sat on top of the tennis hut. Not to be outdone, this erstwhile football coach once made the girls warm up in football pads and helmets (TV cameras were present).
“Scott is one of the most technically knowledgeable coaches that I have ever seen,” says Mike. “He is patient and kind to players, knowing when to push them to a higher level and when to lighten the moment to relax a player.”“He has taken a not-too-talented group of guys and made them a good tennis team,” says Bob. “He started out with eight players this year, ended with 12, and won both his league and his regional.”
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