Chuck Enge remembers the first comment he ever made to his tennis players as head coach at Riverside Brookfield High School in Illinois.
“If you don’t play summer tennis, you’re not going to be on the team next year,” Enge warned. “Keep that in mind.”
Five rising seniors decided to test the first-year coach. When spring came, he asked them, “Did you play summer tennis?”
“‘Goodbye.’ I kicked them off the team. They complained: ‘We’re the best players!’ I said, ‘Yeah, but you’re not willing to work at it,’” said Enge, a 55-year USPTA member. “So I brought up freshman and sophomores and in three years we had a championship team.”
It’s been more than 50 years since he followed through on that promise. His career of half a century earned Enge a spot in the Illinois High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame. But more — it started a ripple that has touched countless lives and spanned three generations with the USPTA.
And it earned him a fitting moniker: Coach.
For the players that did play summer tennis, making the team wasn’t their only reward. To escape the Chicago cold, each spring break, Coach would rent a Winnebago and, with their parents’ permission, take his boys’ or girls’ teams on a tour of colleges around the country. Forty-five times, he took his teams to Florida, Texas, California and everywhere in between. Sometimes, in August, they’d tour the Midwest. Two practices a day and plenty of fun.
Coach always made a point to treat his players like family. For decades, Coach has run his own tennis business, using college players as assistants. One day, an assistant from Argentina was having dinner at their home and told Coach he was enjoying himself.
"How so?" Coach asked.
"No cell phones at dinner," he responded. "We talk the whole time!"
Our fun thing
It should come as no surprise, then, that after a childhood surrounded by tennis, Coach’s son, Scott, followed his father’s footsteps.
Scott played collegiately at Emporia State in Kansas. After college, he taught in public schools and became a head coach, winning three Kansas state high school championships in 25 years. He has been named USPTA High School Coach of the Year twice in his 31 years as a USPTA member.
But he remembered a comment his father made to a friend one day, and it ushered him into an early, if temporary, retirement from coaching.
“The only regret I have is I coached while my son played at another high school and I never got a chance to see him play unless we played against each other,” Scott remembered his father saying. “So when my son started playing high school tennis, I said I’m not going to miss his career.”
Scott would bring his son, Arin, along to tennis lessons when he was a toddler. They would hit together as Arin got older, and Scott was always cognizant of the balance between father and coach. Like his father, he never wanted to tarnish the former for the excess of the latter. One evening, while at dinner with Wayne Bryan, father of Mike and Bob, and he asked him how he managed the balance so successfully.
“You have to find something fun to do outside of tennis,” Bryan said. “Me and my boys have a band. When they come home, we play drums, guitar, keyboard. That’s our fun thing.”
For Scott and Arin, it’s hunting and fishing in the great outdoors. It would seem Scott balanced being father and coach quite well.
Arin played college tennis at Ferris State and Nebraska-Kearney and is now the director of tennis at MVP Athletic Club in Grand Rapids, Mich. He's been a USPTA member for 10 years.
Promises to keep
In 2017, Scott got back into coaching at Ottawa University in Kansas. There, he has continued the familial philosophy his father engrained in him. On recruiting trips, he offers players and their parents three promises.
“Number one: You’re going to get better. Number two: You’re going to have fun at practice. Number three, my most important promise,” at this point, speaking to the parents. “I will treat your child like my own.
“How do you get quality kids to come to little Ottawa, Kansas? You have to treat them like family. That’s something I learned from my dad,” Scott said. “If you treat people with respect, if you have their best interests at heart, and they truly believe that, they’ll follow you wherever you want to go.”
It’s easy for the parents to believe him, because he’s been doing this for decades. As did his father and son. The proof is everywhere.
For his father's 80th birthday, Scott sent invitations to around 100 people. Once word got out, almost 200 people, mostly former players, came to celebrate with their coach.
Those players have their own promises to keep. After they graduate, they are asked to make three phone calls: when they get their first job, when they get married, and when they have their first child. “You don’t have to name them after me,” Scott says, “but I want you to call me so we can celebrate because that's what families do.”
A couple years ago, Scott and his wife, Sandy, were on vacation in St. Lucia. Scott was upstairs when Sandy called.
“She said, ‘You have to meet this young lady, she lives 10 miles from us outside Kansas City.’”
The woman was eloping with her fiancé. When she pointed him out across the pool, Scott said, ‘That’s Matt Pflumm, isn’t it?”
As it turned out, Scott was Pflumm’s elementary P.E. teacher. “Matt came over and said, ‘Coach Enge, what are you doing here?’ He recognized me right away.”
The two couples had dinner several times over the next few days, until finally, Matt asked Scott for a favor.
“He said, ‘I don’t have a best man here. Would you be the best man at my wedding?’”
As Matt and Holly were wed, they had his coach and his wife by their side. Family.
“You never know as a coach or teacher how you affect kids and how important you are in their lives. One of the great honors of my life is to be the best man for a former student,” Scott said. “I taught him when he was 5 to 10 years old. To come back 10, 15 years later and say would you be the best man at my wedding? There’s no greater honor than that."