When head coach John Broder seeks to account for the success of his tennis program at L’Anse Creuse North, he immediately looks to the addition of Peggy Jones to his staff. Peggy, whose three sons had been excellent players at the varsity level, has taken John’s JV girls, most of whom had never picked up a racket prior to high school, and turned them into competitive tennis players. “The effects of her teaching,” John says, “ have led my varsity to one league championship and two additional co-league championships in the last five years.”
But Peggy’s focus, according to John, isn’t on winning. Her goal is “to get as many tennis rackets as she can into the hands and hearts of kids of all ages.” Therefore, Broder, Jones, and Company started a tennis camp for girls and boys, grades 3-12 and have run it for the past five years. The program has grown from 45 kids the first year to 90 kids the past two summers.
Peggy has also taught tennis for the Chesterfield Parks and Recreation for the last several years. She started a tennis camp for 4-9 year-olds this past summer at a new indoor tennis facility in Chesterfield. This provides not only a potential life-long love of the game for lots of kids but also a feeder system for area high schools other than L’anse Creuse North, in particular Anchor Bay. “The desire for exposure to tennis for kids and adults in the community has interested me so much that it takes up most of my court time,” she says.
And, so it seems, it has always been so. Peggy began coaching a local team and teaching lessons when she was sixteen. As a youth, she played USTA and recreational tournaments throughout the summers but even though she was a gifted athlete who earned nine varsity letters while at Grand Valley State University, none, ironically, were in tennis. Later, as a Therapeutic Recreation Major she was able to take developmentally and physically impaired kids onto tennis courts. She describes the experience as “pure joy.”
“I am just a part of a team,” says Peggy. But colleagues would differ. “She does a better job with her JV team than some coaches do with their varsities,” said Mt. Clemens Hall of Famer Don Wisswell. “Whatever is needed, she’ll do.”
At the time that Peggy was informed that she is to receive the Assistant Coach of the Year award, she didn’t even know it existed. Now, in tangible form, she does.
The stereotypical high school assistant tennis coach is a former player or enthusiastic parent who seeks an opportunity to contribute in order to get back into the game. As such, there is often a learning curve wherein the well-meaning adult has to learn how to cope with a variety of challenges that adolescents (defined by some as “a different form of insanity”) present.
Not so with Chuck Parker who came to work for Varsity Coach Peter Militzer. Prior to helping out at Portage Central, Chuck was an assistant in Otsego and the varsity coach at Paw Paw High School. Thus he came to Portage with both expertise and experience.
“We had always had a summer team program,” says Peter, “but Chuck made the program better in his first year. He instituted new ideas that made an immediate positive impact.”
“He also took it upon himself to toughen up the schedule,” continues Peter. “We have a stronger dual match schedule. He takes them to more tournaments and now hosts two invitationals each spring and fall, where he personally mans the grill and cooks the food for all the players in each tournament.”
In Chuck’s JV matches, everybody plays. This isn’t unusual if you have a small JV team or have 12 courts, but Portage has 8 courts. Last fall, he coached 48 girls. Peter says that Chuck’s demeanor has a lot to do with the number. Portage Central’s JV numbers have increased steadily since he took over the job. Which, of course, translates to better varsity teams as well.
Chuck took up the game 18 years ago, at age 42, and quickly got good enough to play on the 3.5 Men’s Travel Team at the Kalamazoo YMCA.. He volunteered to help the high school team at Otsego when his son went out for varsity but couldn’t take the head coach’s job when it became available because his position as a freelance writer and photographer for the Kalamazoo Gazette (which covers the Otsego district) presented a conflict of interest. However, he coached two seasons at Paw Paw before stepping down because of a torn ACL, the 40-minute commute, and the fact that he was missing out on his own kids’ tennis experience in Otsego. Later, he jumped at the opportunity to get back into coaching when he learned that Peter was looking for a JV/Assistant Varsity coach. “I admired Peter and welcomed the chance to learn from him,” he says.
And vice versa. In his five years working with Portage Central, Chuck has instituted several ideas new even to the Mustangs’ experienced coach of the year. After all, Chuck has a Master’s degree in education, was principal of a Catholic school, and sometimes contracts with schools to work with individual students. In other words, Peter is fortunate to have such a capable coach by his side. What’s more, he knows it. The assistant coach of the year award makes it public.
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