Mark Schuering has done just about everything an amateur tennis player can do in Quincy.
He's a seven-time Quincy city singles champion. During his playing days at Quincy College, he won the District 20 championship and a bid to the NAIA National Tournament in Kansas City in all four of his years. He was inducted into the QU Sports Hall of Fame in 1985 and also is in the Quincy Notre Dame High School Sports Hall of Fame. He's held various position with state and regional organizations affiliated with the United States Tennis Association.
Now at age 64, Schuering is now trying something new. He was hired in June as the coach of the men's and women's tennis teams at Quincy University. The former Illinois circuit judge also works part-time as a certified mediator when he and his wife, Kate, are not following the exploits of their 14 grandchildren.
You retired as a judge in 2010. How have you filled your days since then?
I'm a certified mediator. I was a certified mediator when I was a judge, because I would conduct my own settlement conferences when the case permitted. I have a private practice of mediating, but it's very much part time. I was involved volunteering in tennis, and my wife is an avid gardener, and we've been doing a lot of that. We did a lot of travelling. In 2016, i decided to stop teaching a course or two at QU so I could pick up and travel and wouldn't be tied down during those semesters.
So how did you end up coaching college tennis?
If you turn around and look at the pictures on that wall, one of the guys in those pictures is Frank Longo. He was my tennis coach at Quincy College. In 1970, I was recruited to attend Illinois State. The coach from there came down on two different occasions. He was a chain smoker. Back then, you didn't sign papers, but I had a full ride, so to speak, to go to ISU. During my senior year, about three weeks into May, that coach died of a heart attack. I was very much looking forward to playing for him. The fall before my senior year, Coach Longo said, "I know you're going to Illinois State, but if things ever change, I just want you to know we want to have you at Quincy College." I kept calling ISU trying to find out what was going to happen. The coach had a large recruiting team coming in. A graduate assistant was going to handle the team. He said he would let me know in August if I would have my scholarship. He said the same thing to other players. I quickly called Coach Longo. I said, "Well, what do you think?" He said, "No problem. Come ahead." I know Coach Longo was known as a soccer coach, but when Marty (Bell, the athletic director at Quincy University) hired me as the tennis coach, I asked for some advice. He said 90 percent is between the ears. Even though Coach Longo wasn't into grips and technique in tennis, he knew sports, and he knew competition. He would watch my matches, make a mental note and then motion me over and say, "This is what I'm seeing." I don't think he was ever wrong in four years. He was great to play for. (When the job became open) my wife's words were, "You didn't really have a choice."
Why get into coaching now?
I had talked to (former QU tennis coach Bill) LaTour when he stopped coaching because of a change in job responsibilities. He had done 15 wonderful years here. I knew Bill was looking, and that was a time I couldn't have considered. When Marty first contacted me, I said I didn't think I would do it. Then he asked if I would be on the search committee with John Moore, and we'll talk about who we might be able to get. What started out as looking for a coach turned into being Coach Moore and myself. I talked with Bill about time and hours, and John is a huge help. He was a Division I golfer. You go back to that "90 percent is between the ears," and he knows competition. Then we had dumb luck. (Assistant) Mark Marsot retired and moved here from Keokuk, Iowa. His two daughters played with two of my daughters. He calls and says he'll come out to help. (Wednesday night) was his first practice because I was in Petersburg doing a mediation, and I've had the players come up to me saying what a great practice it was and how organized it was.
How did you get involved with tennis as a kid?
I was a bored 12- or 13-year-old kid who lived a block from Reservoir Park. I was fourth string on the basketball team during my eighth grade year, and we only had three strings. I happened to play tennis because I hung out up there. You'd see players like Bruce Johnson and other top players in the city and watch them by their example, and you learned. I had no formal training. It was kind of by osmosis. My older brother Don played basketball. My brother Rick wrestled. The opportunities for my sister, Sue, were very limited, but she was very athletically capable. Tennis happened to be my interest, just out of boredom.
Talk about what you've done in tennis besides play the game.
I've spent probably 27 or 28 years in tennis organization. I'm active with the USTA at the district level. I was president three times, not because I was that good or popular but because they couldn't find anyone else to take it. I spent six years on the board of directors for the USTA Midwest Section in Indianapolis. We grew from an association 30 years ago that had $250,000 for a five-state region that now the budget is in nine-million dollar area. As much fun as I had with the organization, I wanted to do something closer to home. One of the persons on the board suggested I take this PTR (Professional Tennis Registry) class because i was going to teach tennis in the grade schools. I took that 10-and-under PTR class and it flipped on its ear what I was teaching when I was a student in high school. I've counted up that between 2014-16, we have presented tennis in grade schools to 2,400 kids. We've got an army of people to do it.
So do you have time for this new gig?
Coach Longo was there for me. I think he would have haunted me after what he did for me if I didn't do this. That would have been tough. My wife said, "Go for it." It's a two-month slice out of our lives. There's practice in the offseason at the indoor club. We have matches in February. My wife and I will be looking for some warm weather. We are supposed to be retired. Then basically it's March and April. I'm all in. My learning curve is like way up here.
What did you find out you weren't prepared for as a coach?
Recruiting. I knew that was going to be a challenge. I knew we were returning five women. There was no one in the pipeline to replace the three we lost. You should travel with seven players minimum, eight preferably. The men returned seven, and I was able to recruit two good freshmen. We're going to graduate three or four in May. Coach Moore has put in a lot of the hours. I would be embarrassed to say the number of phone calls, text messages, emails and recruiting services that we have looked at and gone to. My five daughters knew where they were going during their junior year in high school, or certainly by their senior year. So from a practical standpoint, you want those highly-organized athletes who probably have already picked where they are going. We're still looking for one or two for January. Australia's summer starts in January when their school year ends. I got a call from Australia the other day. Coach LaTour and I had a theory that we'd like to see more students who we've had a chance to look at and meet. That's tough to do over video with international students.
What have you learned about recruiting?
Bill did my first tryout in July with a player we did sign. I was so quick to say, "You take this tryout over. You did it for 15 years. I don't know it. Teach me." At one point, he told the player something he wanted to change about his game. It was to hit more of a flat serve. The recruit said, "Yeah, I'd try that." I asked Bill, "What was that question about?" He said coachability. If the kid pushes back, maybe he's not coachable. Now I've got that in my tool case. This is all brand new. I've been involved in tennis for years and played for years, but this is something I've never done.
How long do you think you can do this?
As soon as I decided to step up, and people like Frank did it when I was here, it was like, "OK, I'm in." I can't be a caretaker coach for one year. I told John and Marty that I'm in for two years minimum and four years as an assistant. Any recruit I see, I'll be here for four years. I think you have to make that kind of commitment to stabilize the program.
Tennis seems to be enjoying a surge in Quincy these days. Where did that start?
July 13, 2015. If you recall, we had a little windstorm in Quincy. I was doing the Park District program in Quincy that day. We're on the court. Luckily, some parents came up to me and said, "Uh, Mr. Schuering, I think we better call it a day." Because of two parents, we got all the kids out of there. My teachers got out of there. I was driving a little pickup truck filled with tennis balls with trees falling down all around me. The next call I get, I believe, is from (executive director) Rome Frericks saying the Park District program is cancelled for the summer. I believe he also told me that they were really sorry, but we have to let the tennis community know that because of this, we can't fix courts 3 and 4 or courts 8 and 9 at Reservoir. Courts should be done every 5-7 years, and these courts probably had 10-12 years on them. They needed to be resurfaced. That doesn't even count courts 5-6-7.
Is that when the Raising the Racquet fundraiser started?
Yes. I wish I could tell you who started it, but we all got together and said we didn't want to go another three or four years without getting our courts done. Monica Hinkamper, Todd Willing, the entire QTA (Quincy Tennis Association) board, Pattie Paxton, Theresa Quintero, Randall Egdorf, Skip Wilson, Julie Gunn ... just a whole bunch of people started this fundraising. We said we would do a silent phase and raise $8,000 to $10,000, and we'll go public and get two courts done. If we get lucky and get $14,000 or $15,000, we'll shoot for the other two. When we got done with the silent phase, we were close to $20,000, and then by the time we were done wit the public phase, we had raised $40,000. Not even on our wish list was replacing the rusted fence around courts 1 through 4. That catapulted everything. That bubbled up all this energy. If the tennis people could raise the money, the Park District's agreement was to resurface courts 5, 6 and 7 this year, which they have done. We got the fence done. Then we did a strategic plan. All these people came willingly with all these ideas. It just morphed into, "What do we need to do to raise the bar for tennis in this town." The most exciting thing for me now is to see middle school tennis happening.
So how did middle school tennis get started?
I had talked with (Quincy School Board president) Sayeed Ali. One of the things he advised was, "Do it right from the beginning." Our plan was to do it in the spring of 2018, but I got a call from our executive director in Marion, Ill., who said, "I've got a $3,000 USTA grant for a middle school tennis program. Do you want it?" So now middle school tennis is at Quincy Junior High School. (QHS coach Mike) Terry and (QND coach Ben) Klingner said they were getting ninth graders out didn't know the proper grips, they don't know where to stand, how to keep score or do a tiebreaker. We do a real good job with 10 and under kids, but we've got this sixth, seventh and eighth grade group that the tennis wasn't getting to them. When I went to the School Board meeting with Klingner, we had talked with (QJHS assistant principal) Rick Owsley. He helped make it happen. The School Board said, "How much is it going to cost?" I was able to say, "Nothing." Several School Board members said, "Good answer." That was probably the fastest approval ever at a School Board meeting. I've got a seventh-grade granddaughter at St. Francis, and she said, "What about us who aren't at QJHS?" My dauhgter, Julie Schuetz, and I are now the co-coordinators of the non-Quincy Junior High School program. That team is going to be the called the Hotshots. Lisa Schwartz and Lisa Bearden will conduct the program at Quincy Junior High School. The middle school programs intended to give the kids a chance to compete. If they want formal tennis instruction, they need to keep involved with Todd and Monica at the Racquet Club.
Has tennis ever been healthier in Quincy?
In the 1970s, Mike Terry and I enjoyed the heyday of tennis. Tennis was so big. (Bjorn) Borg, (Jimmy) Connors, John (McEnroe), (Billie Jean) King, (Chris) Evert. That's also when the Racquet Club started. Then we had this, not a down period, but not the excitement we've seen. It's funny how a few cosmetic things can rev things up. I've been doing tennis for 50 years, and it's pretty fun right now.
What have you learned about coaching college athletes?
These kids are such good athletes. Marty said good athletes make a coach look brilliant. They hit the ball so hard, and they get to balls that are unimaginable. The one thing I hope to bring to them are things like constructing a point. One of the players last year, he won a first set against a very good player, but in the second set, instead of doing what he did in the first set, he's just sitting on the baseline and exchanging ground strokes. I'm like, why would he do that? I'm jazzed to see if I can help there. This team has come out just blasting. The level of enthusiasm is great. Sometimes I think we don't give today's kids enough credit. I see a little of my coaching role is to put the pieces in place, let them do their thing and step back. There's a time to coach and a time not to coach. Most coaching gets done in practice at this level.
How is your game?
This has not helped my game. I was working out twice a week. I had played the last couple of years in a national clay court for 60-and-over tournaments in Florida. It's fun. I enjoy the competition. I'm going to be on the court a lot, and I have all these grandkids, so I'm thinking if nothing else, I'll get into good conditioning just doing the job.