Tennis icon stepping down as coach of TC Central boys program

Larry Nykerk

TRAVERSE CITY — Larry Nykerk made sure to emphasize he isn't leaving — not completely.

The Traverse City tennis icon is stepping down from the boys side of the Traverse City Central program, however, after 40 years, over two stints, at its helm.

Nykerk, 69, will remain the head coach of the Central girls program, continue to run the summer tennis camps and still support the boys program.

Nykerk previously stepped back from the boys program in 1999 before returning in 2007 at the urging of parents and assistant coaches.

“It’s nice to phase out from boys a second time,” Nykerk said. “I do view it as a retirement.

“It’s a hard (decision), I guess, (to choose which side of the program to leave). It’s the time of year. If I step away from boys, I will have August and September and some of the best months in Traverse City. We are in California in the winter. Those are the months I will have free by not coaching boys.”

Nykerk’s numbers as a coach certainly earn him the right to enjoy some free time.

He is the winningest tennis coach in Michigan with more than 1,000 career wins, earning him a place in two halls of fame — the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association (1999) and Traverse City Central.

He has been named Michigan Tennis Coach of the Year three times, was a finalist for National Coach of the Year in 2011 and routinely has kept both Central tennis programs ranked in the top 10, if not higher.

“I admire and respect the countless number of hours and complete selflessness coach Nykerk provides our student-athletes, our tennis program, and Central High School,” Central High School athletic director Mark Mattson said in a press release. “Larry’s experience after 40 years of coaching is a huge asset to our program and we are fortunate that we won’t lose him entirely.”

Accolades aside, Nykerk said it has been about the kids from the very beginning, many of whom now have children of their own being taught the sport by Nykerk as well.

“The bottom line goal is having an effect on each and every kid that you coach,” Nykerk said. “I love Traverse City. I love Traverse City Central. My blood is black and gold. I support Central in just about everything. I feel privileged to work with such great families and great kids, working with a game I love. It’s been a great, great run for me.”

No announcement has been made about who will replace Nykerk as the head boys tennis coach. A message to the Central athletic department was not returned, but Nykerk said he hoped to be involved in determining who his replacement might be and that he has a particular candidate in mind, though he wouldn't divulge who that might be out of respect for the hiring process. 

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