Fifty one years ago, Ned Gardner played on the very first Buchanan tennis team and holds the distinction of recording the school’s first doubles victory. That was in 1957. In ensuing years, he moved to Indiana and worked as a pharmaceutical representative for a hip replacement company, all the while retaining his passion for tennis. When his daughter reached high school age at a school that didn’t have tennis coach, Ned stepped in successfully. Good player. Good coach.
Year later, Ned’s wife passed away from breast cancer. He retired early and returned to Buchanan. That was 2001. He stopped by the Buchanan courts to watch one day and Coach Steve Bender engaged him in a lengthy conversation about his love and involvement in tennis.
From that day, Ned became the varsity assistant. “It is not coincidental that as he started to work with our athletes, we had a tremendous run at the state tournament, including the state championship in 2003,” says Steve. Indeed, during his tenure – 2002-2007 – he helped coach nine 1st Team All-Staters. As Steve’s assistant, the Bucks finished 4th in the state in 2001, 1st in 2003, and 4th again in 2004.
Due to a family situation involving Steve in 2007, Ned took the team to the state finals alone. “This was our weakest team in decades,” says Steve, “but somehow he motivated them to have a great tourney and finish 15th.”
According to Steve, Ned’s specialty is doubles. Since 2002, he has developed three first-team all state doubles teams. “Our team looks to him as the team grandfather,” says Steve. “He is the guts and glory of our successful program.”
Make that verb was. After seven years, Ned decided to step down as assistant coach. Perhaps there is no better going-away present – a bit late -- than a much-deserved Assistant Coach of the Year award.
In terms of experience, it is an understatement to say that the kids on the Comstock Park tennis teams are well-served (pun intended). Their head coach, Ken Hofmeyer, is a 34 year veteran who has been MHSTeCA Coach of the Year twice and is headed for Hall of Fame induction in 2009. One assistant coach, Bill Schaefer, is a well-regarded, much-admired volunteer who moved to the area in the winter of 1993, contributed countless hours to the region’s sports programs, and helped with the high school tennis team in a variety of ways. For his efforts, he was named our Assistant Coach of the Year in 1997.
Now it is Pete Luczyk’s turn. For16 years, he has been a consistent help in several capacities to Ken and his players. “Over the years, Pete has made himself available to help with running regional and conference meets,” says Ken. “He has been a site director at six regional tournaments that we have hosted and has worked in the same capacity in five conference tournaments. He has also given up Saturdays to help run the Comstock Park Invitational. During many of these tournaments, we have been rained out but Pete stays to the bitter end, often staying late into the night until the last matches are complete.”
Pete has also helped with the day-to-day stuff. “He always comes to the indoor practices in the spring when we need extra chaperones at the club to help organize and run drills since we usually have 15 to 18 players on just two courts,” says Ken. “He also helps in August when we are choosing the varsity members for the team during the first weeks of practice.”
In the early days, Pete was the middle school coach for two years before he gave it up to a middle school teacher to help assist with varsity. He was Ken’s first helper when the summer program was started and for the past five years the two have co-run the camp. This means organizing 80 to 100 players from first to 12th grades, ordering T-shirts, collecting money, and making lesson plans together. For all this, Pete takes very little money, a small hourly wage for the summer camp because the profits go to fund the tennis teams. And for over a decade, he has purchased racquets for kids who could not afford them.
Pete played varsity tennis for nearby Rockford during his high school days during the reign of the Jensen brothers. He stays in the game as a 4.0 player when he isn’t teaching geometry and A.P calculus. He joins two other coaches from the same high school in accepting an MHSTeCA honor. This means that Comstock Park players are led by two Assistant Coaches of the Year and one Coach of the Year who is about to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“From my point of view, Jane Robinson is an equal, not someone below me,” says Spring Lake’s varsity coach Charlie Bassett. “Her presence in my program has made me a better coach. She has pushed me to grow, to be creative, to be enthusiastic, and to have fun coaching the game of tennis.”
This is high praise in that it comes from Charlie, a Hall of Fame coach (Class of 1992) who has led excellent teams at Spring Lake for forty-plus years. But even still, his generous words have the ring of truth. After four decades, it is natural to get stuck in a rut and to lose enthusiasm. Lesser men would have hung it up a long time before.
But Charlie recognizes that he is fortunate to have the assistance of a remarkable woman who has, among other things, pushed him (kicking and screaming?) into the 21st Century of tennis coaching wherein some high school teams even have their own Web sites. “She communicates all messages to the players via the Internet,” says Charlie. “Every Sunday evening after we talk about the upcoming week – what we are doing, the time the bus is leaving, the matches we have, and so on – she sends the players an e-mail with all the details.”
Her efforts on the court have also paid dividends. “We are 1st or 2nd in the conference yearly,” says Charlie. “We have qualified for state many times over the years.” Indeed, although she has been working with the boys for only three years, the team has finished 9th, 8th, and 9th .
Jane has also helped out with the Spring Lake girls as well. Over the nine years she has been with the program, the numbers have increased annually. For instance, in 2006, 28 girls returned to the squad and 28 incoming freshmen signed up. “She is passionate about the game,” concludes Charlie. “She would be an excellent head coach anywhere.”
Jane came to the game relatively late in that there was no girls tennis team at Fremont High School when she was growing up. She started playing when her youngest child entered elementary school and as a result, she became a charter member of Norton Pines Tennis Club in Muskegon where she got good enough to play competitive tennis “with some success” (her words) and thus played on the women’s travel teams. She gained experience in coaching during a two-year stint with the Grand Haven Junior High boys tennis teams and helped with lessons at the club. “With my children having graduated, I thought it might be fun to become involved in a school sport again and accepted Charlie’s offer to help out,” she says.
Lucky Charlie. “Every time we play Spring Lake, either in a tournament or dual match, Jane is there working the sideline, focusing on the players and, I presume, giving good coaching advice because Spring Lake usually kicks our butt,” says North Muskegon’s Joe Gentle (who is our second vice president and a former coach of the year). “As an example of her commitment, this past winter we started an area-wide USTA-sponsored tennis association that is mainly concerned with promoting youth tennis. Both Jane and her husband are charter board members,” Joe continues.
For her excellent efforts and expertise, she becomes a member of yet another club, this time comprised of MHSTeCA Assistant Coaches of the Year.
To say the least, tennis at Birmingham Seaholm is competitive. The kids can play and the parents expect a lot. “As a coach, Paul does it all,” says Keith. “During practices, he can plan and run drills with the whole team or pull a player aside and work with him/her on a specific stroke or strategy. During matches, Paul does a great job of giving focused, understandable advice and keeping the players positive. Off the court, he completes all of the Player Information Sheets and is regularly bringing in tennis/sports articles to help the players develop mentally.”
Keith adds that although Paul is 70 years old, “He can hang with most of the varsity boys and girls doubles players. Some of the big hitters will outhit him once in a while, but it usually balances out. It is great watching him outsmart the younger players as they pound ball after ball into the net.”
“Statistically, Seaholm tennis teams have never been better than they have been in the last several seasons,” continues Keith. “Before Paul was coaching, Seaholm had finished 1st or 2nd in the state only once in school history. In the past six boys and girls seasons, Seaholm has finished first or second in the state four times.
By virtually any measurement, this is an extraordinary record, and Keith is quick to give his assistant coach plenty of credit for it. “For 11 seasons, Paul has been at practices whether they are at 5:00 a.m. or in freezing cold weather,” he says. “For a majority of these seasons, he was an unpaid volunteer. Recently he has received a modest stipend to show the program’s appreciation for all of his hard work.”
Yes, Seaholm tennis is successful, and not simply because of its extraordinary won-loss record. After all, as a member of the USTA no-cut program, the combined boys and girls tennis program fields over 100 kids. And more to the point, it is coached by both a Varsity Coach of the Year and an Assistant Coach of the Year
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