GLADSTONE - Twenty-two years in any profession will provide a lot of memories. Rich Trombly certainly has his share, but they don't revolve around coaching achievements.
Trombly recently retired after a nearly quarter-century long stretch as the tennis coach of the Gladstone Braves boys and girls teams, saying that it was simply time to let someone else step into the position.
"I've been doing this for a long time. I've been retired from teaching for for four years and it's just become a little more difficult. You lose contact with the kids," Trombly said Tuesday while driving back to the Upper Peninsula from Arizona. "When I was teaching I would stop and talk to the kids at lunch and other events. It's kind of a lifestyle thing. Now, when the season ended, I was losing contact with those kids. I didn't think I was doing quite as good a job as I had in the past."
GHS Athletic Director Matt Houle issued a statement to the Daily Press, Tuesday.
"Rich has been here a very long time and I've met very few people that have the passion for the sport of tennis that Rich did, he loved the game. For years, he took kids down to Cincinnati for professional tournaments, he taught summer lessons for youth. He just did so much for the sport, especially to teach the sport and encourage kids to be a part of it. A lot of kids are playing tennis today because of Rich Trombly," Houle said.
For Trombly, coaching was mostly about the connections he made with his athletes, teaching them to love the game and hopefully continue it later in life. When asked about some of his more memorable teams in terms of achievement, he said that was never really part of his focus.
"I think each team was different, and I don't necessarily gage by how well they've done in regards to wins and losses. We've had some really really good times with this program and good teams, but some of the most rewarding years didn't involve the best win/loss record, but kids who developed a love for the game, and as tennis players. That means a lot to me," Trombly said.
"I came to realize that kids who had been through the program didn't remember any particular matches, wins or losses. But they always remembered the trips we took and the friendships that developed. Those were the things that became more important than wins or losses.
"If someone asked me today what my win/loss record was, I would have no idea."
Trombly said his athletes helped shape his outlook on coaching over the years and related a story that occurred on a bus ride home after a loss as an example.
"We were playing Ishpeming one year and they weren't that good, but we played horrible and I was crabby. We got on the bus and they were laughing, squealing, having a good time," said Trombly. "At the end of the bus ride, I told them, 'we played bad and you acted like it didn't even happen,' and then I said 'and I commend you for that. Thank you for teaching me this again. It's just a tennis match, who really cares? No one's life is being determined by this. We're there to have a good time.
"One of the most important things for all athletes is the bus ride to and from. That's a huge part of it. Many times I sat in front of the bus and watched them and looked at them, and I shed more than a few tears thinking about how much fun these kids have. It's a special thing."
One of Trombly's measurements of success is that many of his former athletes are still playing the game today.
"I have kids that are 10 years out that are playing, and they continue to enjoy the game," said Trombly. "They've given to me way more than I've given to them.
"This has been a wonderful experience and I'm probably the biggest loser in this, because they'll have someone who will come in and do a great job. I should be the saddest about this."
Trombly said he plans on being around the program in the future, albeit from a distance so as not to interfere with the new coach.
"I'll be there to watch a match and maybe some away matches," he said. "Whoever will take the program over, it will be different, and I don't want kids looking over their shoulders. I'll be watching more from afar than up close, but I'll be at a few matches."
Houle said the open girls tennis position will be posted sometime this spring. Dan Williams took over the boys tennis program last season.