With the abrupt departure of Bethel College men’s and women’s tennis coach Richard Southern this week to take over as head coach of NAIA power Arizona Christian, a pair of BC tennis legends have been pressed into action to take over the helm.
Former BC coach Marty Ward and former player and coach Angela Bontrager (nee Broadhagen) will be filling in on an interim basis to complete the fall season.
Ward coached Bethel from 1985 to 1999, building a program that won 10 men’s Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference titles and and 11 women’s KCAC titles. His men’s teams qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics National Tournaments, while the women qualified six times.
He was a combined (men and women) 306-124 in dual meets, 185-14 in conference play. He was a 20-time KCAC coach of the year and was twice named NAIA District 10 coach of the year.
Ward was inducted into the Bethel College Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
Bontrager played for Bethel from 1996 to 2000 and served as head coach from 2001 to 2003. She was a member of several championship teams and a national qualifier during her playing days.
Ward recently retired as a professor of teacher education at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. He held that position since leaving Bethel. He has been playing occasionally on the Texas men’s senior circuit.
“My youngest son (Ryan) became a very good player,” Ward said. “He played a national schedule. I ended up doing tennis with him. As I did with (former Newton High and BC player) Jarod, I played some Father-Son tournaments. Then he went to college and dental school and I was pretty busy with my job. When Ryan went to dental school, I stepped out as department chair and played the 55 and over division in Texas for about four years. I played, but I didn’t coach any teams.”
Ward said he came back to the Newton area because he has family here.
“When I got back here, I was asked to help with some camps, working with juniors,” Ward said. “That was pretty good, since I had to start rethinking some things. … I’m stepping in to help them through the fall season. I’m happy to be working with Angie again. We’re both doing this to help out the Bethel tennis program. I’m not going to become the new coach.”
Bontrager left as Bethel coach to take time to raise her family. She also worked an elementary school teacher, but is now a full-time mom.
“The last 12 years, I have been in Wichita,” she said. “I was a second-grade teacher. The last nine years, I have been a stay-at-home mom. That takes up a lot of my time. About seven years ago was the last time I played on a competitive team. I played USTA women’s team tennis, but three kids have gotten in the way. I have been hoping to get back into it. Maybe this can jump start it.”
Ward and Bontrager will be coaching the team through this weekend’s Intercollegiate Tennis Association-NAIA Regional Individual Championships in Maize as well as dual meets against Baker Oct. 4 at home and sister school Hesston College Oct. 8 in Hesston.
The Threshers open the main season March 20 at Sterling. BC athletic director Tony Hoops said he hopes to have a permanent coach in place by the end of November.
“I’m very impressed with the players,” Ward said. “They are a very positive, hard-working group. It’s fun to be around them.”
“The men are very decent,” Bontrager said. “The top doubles team, it will be interesting to see what they do this weekend. I’ve been out of it so long, I don’t know all the competition, but up and down the line-up, they look strong. The women have some good players too. They have some potential all around. It will come down to how much they are willing to work.”
Ward returns to a program where the tennis facility is named after him. Recent upgrades include a new clubhouse that was completed last spring. The courts also received recent renovations and landscaping.
“Coming back here, it doesn’t seem all that different,” Ward said. “Having this facility in this setting is fabulous. This is a fantastic place to play and practice. and be a part of the program. It’s a park-like atmosphere. It’s beautiful. This facility is really well-built. The design is great. These courts are new and well-built. There isn’t a crack in them. It’s a big honor. I poured myself into tennis here. I loved it and am grateful for the honor.”
“It’s great to be back on the court,” Bontrager said. “I love being back with Marty. It’s fun being out there. I’m still learning. You never stop learning. I’m hoping the kids soak up everything he says.”
Ward said his goal is to help the players grow their game in the short time he’s with them.
“I would like for the players to view this time as very important and as a stepping stone to a successful spring season,” Ward said. “I’d like to see them work hard these next two weeks and set some goals. … I like to help a player become his own best coach. I’d to help them with goal setting, self-awareness and understanding. A coach can have some impact, as with anything, it’s about what a person puts into it. I’m here for a short stay. I hope they can find a new coach who wants to have a great program at a great college and want to be here for a while.”
“I hope the players know how lucky they are to have Marty here,” Bontrager said. “It’s tough to have a coach resign in the middle of the season. I told them Marty is the best there is. He still has it. If you listen to what he says and work hard, they will improve. They still have to put forth the effort, but they got a good deal with him.”
Ward said he stayed in touch with a number of his players, including several who became coaches.
“To have a successful program, you have to dig in and get to work,” Ward said. “Recruiting is part of it. Development is part of it. Facility management and maintenance is part of it. Fund raising. It isn’t any one thing. You do have to have good players to have a good team.”