His advice always came with a smile and sometimes a corny joke.
Whether extolling simple advice like the highest percentage shot is the one over the net or encouraging players with stories about his own failures, Ron Shanander roamed the tennis courts at Stanwood High School with a smile for the past 17 years and groomed many young players.
“Every year you came to play tennis and you see three things: people playing tennis, Coach (Trudy) Abrams and you see Coach Shanander. He was a staple of Stanwood tennis,” said Stanwood senior boys tennis player Eric Saekow.
The longtime tennis coach left an indelible mark on a program that is now trying to find its way without him. Shanander died at the age of 71 on Dec. 27 while on vacation in Mexico.
Last Friday the Spartans girls tennis team played its first match without him.
“There’s just been so much support from everybody,” said Stanwood coach Trudy Abrams while she watched her girls’ first matches of the 2013 season. “We’re all sad but we’re all here playing for Ron.”
The Stanwood girls tennis team will have a memorial ceremony before Friday’s match against Arlington to remember its longtime coach.
Shanander moved to Washington from Oregon in 1965 to take a job as a Spanish teacher at Sedro-Woolley High School. Out of need, the college football player became the school’s tennis coach and a love affair was born. He would go on to lead the girls tennis team to three state titles (1983, ‘84 and ‘86) and a runner-up (‘85), all this after leading the boys tennis team to a runner-up finish in 1974. The Shanander name ruled the 3A girls tennis ranks in the mid-80s with his daughters Cathy and Patty winning a doubles title in 1984 and Patty winning singles state titles in 1985 and ‘87. In between, Cathy beat Patty for the 1986 title.
Shanander retired in 1995 but couldn’t stay away from the courts. He joined longtime coach Bill Walker on Stanwood’s staff two years later and then co-coached the Spartans with Abrams after Walker retired in 2006.
“He had a way with kids. He had a great sense of humor,” Abrams said of her co-coach, who coached her daughter at Stanwood. “He was always smiling. Just real positive with the kids. We’d be sitting here and a kid wouldn’t be doing anything and he’d say ‘Grab your racket and let’s go play.’”
It wasn’t just his own players that Shanander had an effect on. He also took time and had a real ability to talk to opposing players as well.
“I always remember my girls would comment about how he’d give them pointers in constructive ways and that was a reflection of his literal love for the game and the players,” said Arlington tennis coach Sean Cunningham. “He was tied in with Stanwood for the remainder of his career but he really loved tennis and really loved seeing players develop.”
Part of that development included helping his players develop a sense of humor. Most of Shanander’s advice came with a wink and a smile and helped keep a light-hearted mood around the Stanwood courts.
“Some of the stuff he said didn’t seem like it would be helpful at all but when you listened to him, you realized he knew what he was talking about,” said Spartans senior Elle Shaughnessy. “Like when he said ‘If you want to win, hit it in.’ Then you’re just thinking that and you keep your rally going. It may have seemed like he was joking but it worked.”
A lot of his advice also didn’t pertain to the tennis court. Shanander was known just as much for his life advice, something parent Debbie Wolf said she wasn’t expecting when her children Jonathan and Christine joined the tennis teams after being home-schooled.
“As a parent not knowing what to expect, he exceeded all of my expectations,” Wolf said. “Off the court he was hugely affirming. It was much more than tennis. He had so much wisdom that he imparted to Jonathan. He always had a broad viewpoint.”
Unlike members of the girls team, Saekow, Jonathan Wolf and the players on the boys team were fortunate to get one more season with Shanander this past fall. Saekow said he was honored to get one last season with his longtime coach and that one moment sticks out. Trailing 5-1, Saekow remembers Shanander coming over to him and telling him to just keep going. Saekow came back to win the set and the match.
“He taught you more than just tennis. He taught you how to live, how to carry yourself,” Saekow said. “He’d keep telling you in the same constant, friendly voice. He was just there for you and gave you great advice. One of the things he always said was ‘Keep it going, keep the point going.’”
Saekow spoke at Shanander’s funeral this past winter and Shaughnessy read a poem written by former Stanwood tennis player Megan Lalone.
For Shaughnessy, Friday was her first match playing in the No. 1 spot vacated when Lalone left for Boise State. She said that Coach Shanander was on her mind after she fell behind early in the match.
“The first set didn’t go well but second set I thought ‘Let’s just play Ron’s game and hit it back’ and it went better,” Shaughnessy said. “Just lob it back. Just keep it going. That’s something he instilled in all of us: If you’re having an off day you just want to get it back.”
This spring Liz Currey, who learned the game from Shanander, has effectively taken her mentor’s place on the Spartans coaching staff. She helped coach with Abrams and Shanander four years ago and left to coach at Lynnwood before returning this spring to coach the Stanwood junior-varsity team.
“Throughout my coaching experience I can kind of hear him in my head,” Currey said. “I remember the things he said like ‘Just get one more ball back in the green’ or ‘You only have 20 shots to get the return of serve in.’ I find myself thinking of the strategies and I think ‘Where did I learn that? Oh yeah I learned that from Ron.’ So it’s kind of nice because I think about him often.”
She’s not alone.
The Skagit Valley Tennis Association (SVTA) has announced the formation of the Ron Shanander Tennis Scholarships. Two student athletes each from Stanwood and Sedro-Woolley will be eligible for $250 scholarships for tennis lessons at the Resilience Fitness indoor tennis facility in Stanwood. Donations can be sent to SVTA, 4902 Seacliff Lane, Bow, WA 98232 or via the website at skagitvalleytennis.com.