By Michael Johnson
For the first time in 28 years, this spring will be different. Ned Kramer, the long time boys’ and girls’ tennis coach of Case High School, Horlick High School, and yes also Park High School, has retired from coaching. Give the guy a few more years of sleeping late and 10 a.m. tee times, and see if he ends up coaching Prairie and St. Catherine's.
To do anything this long, you’ve got to love it; and speaking from experience, it sure ain’t the pay. Ned Kramer started coaching in 1979 as an assistant coach at Park High School under Bob Holroyd on the now abandoned courts behind the school. Two years later he scored his first head coaching position as Horlick girls’ coach in 1981 and never looked back.
Photo of the 2004 Case boy's tennis team. Coach Ned Kramer is in the back left.
The team building soon commenced. The first order of business was to address the schedule. Many of these teams played few teams outside of the South-East Conference. To produce and support top Racine players the likes of Marie Dennison and Patrick Dwyer, he started to “wiggle his way in” to top invitational tournaments around the state. As the competition got better so did his players. Many of the players were earning seeds at the State Tournament based on their performance against ranked players at the invitationals. The resurgence of these teams earned him the Wisconsin Coach of the Year award in 2001 (as far as I know, he’s the only Racine tennis coach to win this), and double digit honors of All Racine County Coach.
The grueling schedule meant that both Ned and the kids put in a lot of court time. With travel time, it’s not uncommon to devote an entire Saturday to an invitational. The bus leaves at 6 a.m., and returns at 8p.m. (Durham Bus company loved tennis teams). Ned’s philosophy is, “If you put in the time, you’re going to win.” To help his team understand his level of commitment he remarked, “I’ll spend more time with you this season than my own little girls.”
When pressed to remember any highlights, Ned doesn’t have to look back far. During the last four years of coaching, the Case Eagles boys’ team qualified for two of the four Team State Tournaments, to which only eight teams qualify in the entire state of Wisconsin. All three doubles teams qualified for the State Tournament in 2007, a Racine first, and the 4-3 upset over the undefeated Franklin team in 2006. Oh, yeah also that year, Patrick Dwyer, arguably the best player to come out of Racine, took second at State. Not a bad way to end almost 30 years on the court.
Is Ned Kramer through with tennis? Hardly. He’ll continue to coach at Warhawk Tennis Camp at Whitewater this summer, his 17th year doing so. Also, he decided to take a shot at USTA umpiring, so watch your foot faults.
Michael Johnson is a local writer, teacher and tennis coach.