Tale of the Week - For Lauer, Tennis is Not Just a Sport
Athletics - posted on 9/6/2005
At Lakeland College's annual Opening Ceremony, the Rev. David Lauer stood before the entire school leading the Lakeland community in prayer.
The next day, Lauer sat in his office in William A. Krueger Hall and spoke with a smile that never seemed to be wider and recalled memories that never seemed to flow so fluidly. But this time, Lakeland's campus minister was talking his other passion - tennis.
Lauer, who was ordained as a United Church of Christ minister in 1966 and named Marjorie and Richard Leach Professor in Theological Studies at Lakeland in 1977, retired as men's tennis coach during the offseason to focus on his academic work as chair of Lakeland's Humanities Division.
Ben Oestreich '02, an assistant women's basketball coach and athletic recruiter at Lakeland, will take over as head men's tennis coach.
Asked to reflect on his long career with Lakeland's tennis program, Lauer shared memories from his playing days as a child along with those from his 37-year career as the college's men's tennis coach.
When Lauer became Lakeland's tennis coach, only men played intercollegiate athletics, only football and basketball had full-time coaches and faculty filled the remaining coaching spots. Last season, Lauer and Michael Devaney, Lakeland's women's tennis coach, were the only full-time faculty head coaches remaining.
Lauer compiled a 104-141 record at Lakeland, including three Gateway Conference championships in 1970, 1971 and 1975.
"I can't change that, it's on paper," Lauer said, laughing about his record.
While the record won't rate him among the nation's top tennis coaches, players for decades have been drawn to Lauer's respect and love for the game, and the personal connections he shared with his teams.
When he was inducted into the Lakeland Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993, a former player, Doron Green '70, a captain and team MVP for three years including the 1970 conference championship team, spoke at his induction.
Lauer's best coaching memories center on his players. One that immediately came to mind was Turki Berrada's third-place finish at last year's Lake Michigan Conference tournament.
"He didn't win first place, but it was his last match that he could play for Lakeland, and he played the greatest match of his life," said Lauer, becoming more animated as he spoke with reverence for Berrada's performance. "(His opponent) didn't have a chance. It wouldn't have mattered if he played that match against anyone in our conference."
But Lauer's memory of individual matches isn't limited to recent players. He recalled sitting down with a former player some years ago who had only played one year at Lakeland before transferring.
"We got out the scorebook, and we went through every match, and I don't mean generally," Lauer said. "We had the scores, which he had forgotten, but I hadn't forgotten. I can do that with everybody who ever played here."
It is fitting that Lauer's players have become like family to him, for tennis was always a part of his family.
"My mom was a champion tennis player," Lauer explained. "My dad played, but he was not a champion. When I was young, the first thing I saw were my mom's Silver Cups. Those were the trophies they gave out.
"I remember watching her play, while I was on a blanket next to the tennis courts in the evenings in the summer, and we had our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and our Kool-Aid. I grew up with tennis."
Following his parents' lead, Lauer took up tennis, although his home court was often a line drawn across the garage for the "net" and volleying back and forth to himself.
Despite being introduced to tennis as a child, Lauer said he tried his hand at other sports, but after less-than favorable results drifted back to tennis.
"Because I grew up with tennis and it ran in our family, I think what I did is rebelled," Lauer said. "So in high school, one year I was on the track team, and was not very good; one year I was on the golf team, and was not very good; one year I was on the baseball team, and I was so bad. They had me in right field and that's the place in high school where nobody hits to."
Lauer attended Heidelberg College in Ohio, graduating in 1963, and instead of playing for the college's tennis team, he made it a hobby.
"[Tennis] was what I should've been playing all the time; it was the only thing I had any talent for," he quipped. "I wanted to be a pitcher, but I couldn't. I didn't have a fastball, but I could serve, and you could take that at any element. In track I threw the discus, but I wasn't very good, but I could hit a tennis ball.
"I came to figure out that I should play tennis because that's what ran in the family, and that was what ran in me, too."
He continued the family tradition when he married his wife Lynne, an instructor of biology at Lakeland, and even further when their children, Jon, Ethan and Elizabeth, were born. Now ages 35, 33 and 22, the Lauer children have brought tennis into their families.
"I'm glad they didn't go through that rebellion," Lauer said of his children, "because they all played in high school and they all played on their college teams, and they had a great time on their college teams. But I guess it worked out as a coach."
Two weeks ago, the Lauer children and their significant others joined their parents for what the kids call the Lauer Open, a fun tournament within the family.
"[Jon and Ethan's] wives play too, and Liz's boyfriend sort of had to mandatorily take it up just because he was dating her," the Lauer patriarch said.
Lauer might be stepping aside as Lakeland's tennis coach, but the game has been in his life since birth, and will continue to be there "as long as I can hold a racket," he said.
He certainly wouldn't want to leave the Lauer Open one player short.
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