“I started teaching in Coach Nykerk’s summer camps during the summer when I would come home from college, “ say Mike Annelin. “I was never one of the stars in high school, but I enjoyed playing the game and always thought he was a really nice guy and a fantastic coach. I figured the combination would make a great employer, and I was right.”
Coach Nykerk” is Larry, three-time coach of the year (1983, 1997, 2007) and a member of the Hall of Fame (1997). ”Once I moved back to Traverse City after graduation, getting involved in tennis just seemed the natural thing to do so I started helping with the Traverse City Central tennis teams,” says Mike.
He was, of course, helping out at his alma mater. “I always played doubles,” he says of his three-year tenure (1997- 99) on the varsity. “We had some pretty talented players when I was on the team, and to be perfectly honest, I was a much stronger soccer player, but always had a blast playing tennis. I gained a lot of respect for Mr. Nykerk during those years since he would always treat his players equally. Even if you weren’t one of the best players, he would make you feel like one.”
“Mr Nykerk” confirms that Mike – who has assisted during the past 12 seasons – has learned this lesson. “He can relate to players in a way that blends perfectly with my veteran and experienced style,” says Larry. “He can be like one of them one moment, and be more like ‘mini-me’ the next. During Mike’s tenure, Central’s girls team finished in the Top Five and the boys team returned to the Top Ten almost every time. He has been a mentor to several doubles teams for several years.”
“His strength at practice is to make drills fun in practice, joining in to play,” continues Larry. “During tournaments and matches, he is able to help players focus on matches and help them adjust to situations.”
Mike plays on a USTA 4.0 team for the Grand Traverse Resort. “I was teaching at the resort quite a bit when I first moved back into town,” he says. “I fed a lot of tennis balls and basically learned the strategy of the game from my colleagues. I now have a much greater appreciation for the game because of Coach Nykerk’s influence and the pros at the resort.”
He also helped out other area high school programs. “I spent a lot of time with players from all surrounding schools (while there), “ he says. I guess now that I think about it, there are some pretty big perks to having very few indoor courts in Traverse City. All of the kids and coaches end up getting to know each other in the off season and even though we are competitive, the kids and coaches are pretty tight.”
But, alas, things will loosen up a bit. Mike, who has sold real estate for the past six years, is taking a break. “Business is the main reason I am getting out of coaching,” he says, “but I also miss time with my lovely wife on weekends. Traverse City is a beautiful place to live, but it can make for some very long away tournaments, many of which are overnight visits.”
The geographical isolation of Traverse City from many of Michigan tennis powerhouses is legendary, as is Larry’s efforts to travel in order to gain experience, play better competition, and improve chances for better state seeds. But the time on the road can take its toll. As a result, Mike will be missed. “Only Cliff Girard, my long-time junior high coach, has had as much impact on our Traverse City Central program as Mike has, and that is a true compliment.”Cliff was presented a Distinguished Service Award in 1997. Now it’s Mike’s turn to take a plaque back to Traverse City.
It is an understatement to say that Gary Ellis is a busy man. As an athletic director, he oversees the programs and problems of a multitude of sports. He manages regional tournaments for both boys and girls, usually every other year. He runs the conference tournament more often than he is supposed to. He is on the state seeding committee and the state rules committee. He is secretary-treasurer of our tennis association. And he coaches a highly successful boys tennis team.
But Gary is quick to attribute much of the credit for Allegan’s tennis success to the help that he gets from assistant coach Tony Fales. “More than once Tony has taken over practice when I was pulled away because of my responsibilities as athletic director,” he says. “To say that he has been a volunteer at Allegan High School would severely understate his role and impact in our program.”
“I went to a school from 2nd to 8th grade that did not have a tennis program,” says Tony. “I moved to Allegan when I was in 9th grade. I was big into baseball, not tennis, because of this. But when I was a freshman, I really got involved in tennis. My little sister, Jen Aldrich (Fales) got involved in the tennis program in Allegan when she was in 2nd grade. I got tired of feeding and picking up her balls and decided to learn to play the game. We would spend countless hours at the courts every night.
“Gary asked me to help out with the summer program when I was a junior in college with the little kids. I have been helping out with the program ever since then. I have been hooked and just can’t get enough of tennis. I’m usually at the courts every night giving lessons or hitting with my two daughters.”
According to Gary, he has the ability to assist the older kids as well. “Tony has a knack for knowing what to say on change-overs, whether it is dealing with the physical or mental/ emotional. There is no doubt that he has been the difference in several close matches over the course of his involvement with our program.” This involvement has been almost a decade in length, Gary says.
A major account manager at Advanced Imaging Solutions, Tony adjusts his work schedule, often at an inconvenience to himself, in order to attend practice virtually every day and be at all matches and tournaments. He is a volunteer. As such he says he owes much to his wife Kelly and daughters Regan and Addison who both support and sacrifice so that he can have time with Allegan tennis players.
“Gary has become a great friend and mentor through the years,” he says. “I wish I would have played tennis in high school for him and gone to battle on the courts for Allegan. I try to share with kids that if you work hard, have integrity, stay mentally tough, and have fun, you will be successful in anything you want to accomplish in the future.”
“What he has done has been remarkable,” concludes Gary. “He has made it possible for me to continue coaching and be AD, and still continue turning out the teams that we have had.”
In 2003, little sister Jen Aldrich received our association’s assistant coach of the year award. Now it is big brother’s turn. In 2006, Jen was Division 3 varsity coach of the year. Perhaps when Gary retires? “He would love to (become varsity coach) and it would be great,” says Gary, “but it wouldn’t work with his ‘real’ job.”Therefore Tony’s contributions will remain limited to being an assistant coach of the year ..... until his daughters reach high school age.
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There are advantages to working in a Portage Central program. In theory, you are counseled, trained, and mentored by a stand-out coach who happens to be not only a coach of the year but also president of the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association. You work with highly trained players who benefit from the tennis-rich atmosphere of the Kalamazoo area. The fruits of your labors can be measured in lots of victories and annual trips to state competition. Sometimes you go on to become a varsity coach in another district (2006 Assistant COY Chuck Parker is now varsity coach at Otsego and was Coach of the Year in Region 26 this past fall).
But Peter Militzer hastens to reverse this sense of benefit, describing the help of volunteer assistant coach Steve Rodia as invaluable. “He fills several roles for our team,” says Peter. “He is at nearly every practice. He drives one of the team vans to away matches. He is always available to coach during dual matches and tournaments. He has even filled in as Head Coach in the rare instance when I could not be there.”
According to Peter, the level of expertise does not go down when Steve takes over. “His knowledge of the game has helped our team immensely,” he says. “As a player and coach, he has an uncanny knack for remembering details of past matches and is extremely helpful in planning current and future strategies.”
Peter calls Steve “a tennis advocate,” perhaps a euphemism for tennis junkie or our sport’s version of a gym rat. “He plays his season court (permanent court time) once a week, plays a men’s noon drop-in a couple times a week, and he’s a captain of at least three adult travel teams playing men’s, senior men’s and mixed.”
Steve is also well-connected. “I consider myself fairly well-traveled in the tennis world,” continues Peter. “I’m always amazed when our girls team plays someone new and Steve will almost always know two or three of the opponents, their moms or dads, uncles, etc.”
Connected indeed. “I have known Steve several years through high school tennis since we play Portage Central about four times in the girls season and four times in the boys season,” says Battle Creek Lakeview’s Mike McGinnis. Also, Steve and I both have played USTA Travel Team tennis for about 30 years and have met each other in battle. I always look forward to seeing and socializing with him about tennis and everything else. He is a low-key, easy-going guy that you could talk to for hours, and I have at many a Saturday tournament. I wish I had him coaching in our program.”
Steve took up the game when he was ten years old but his high school in northwestern Indiana did not have a tennis team. He played a fair amount of recreational tennis while at Purdue University but didn’t get competitive until he joined an industrial league in Detroit while working as an automotive engineer.
That was then. Thirty-one years later he has played USTA League Tennis at the 4.0 and 4.5 levels, captained teams for 25 of those years (sometimes two or three teams concurrently), and led teams to USTA District Playoffs 11 times and USTA Michigan State playoffs six times.
Steve’s daughter Nicole earned four varsity letters as a doubles player at Central. That’s when Steve got involved in the program. He has served the program as Portage Central’s junior varsity coach for two years and then coached the varsity with Peter for the next seven. “After his daughter graduated, I figured his involvement would end, but gladly, I was wrong,” says Peter.
Clearly, Steve’s considerable tennis and coaching experience (six years of girls AYSO soccer, two years of 5th-6th grade boys basketball, two years of PortageWest Middle School track, and three years of Portage West Middle School intramural tennis) make him, well, invaluable. Such an extraordinary individual deserves an award.
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