Bremen tennis’ Wagner reaches coaching milestone

BREMEN — Mark Wagner started playing tennis almost by accident as a sophomore in high school.
Nearly 45 years later, the Bremen Assistant Tennis Coach notched his 300th win as the Lions beat Rochester in the first match of their home tourney Saturday.
“It was a big accomplishment because it not only shows his coaching ability but longevity as well,” said Bremen Head Tennis Coach Andrew Rohde.
While Rohde and his players knew it was coming, Wagner was blindsided by the milestone.
“I never keep track,” he said. “I’m not easily surprised, let’s put it that way, and I was very surprised when they made a presentation during a break in the tournament. I was very surprised; I had no idea I was even close to 300.”
Wagner was himself a player on Bremen’s first-ever tennis team as a sophomore in 1966 and is now in his 21st year as a coach with the boys program. He has been an assistant both under program founder Frank DeSantis and current head coach Rohde, who himself played for Wagner while at Bremen.
“I feel really fortunate to always have coached with the guy who first coached me and then with Andrew Rohde, who was one of my players and now is the head coach at Bremen,” said Wagner. “I don’t know that there are too many people who have coached for 21 years that are in that sort of a situation, so I’m blessed in that regard.”
Tennis has become a lifelong passion for Wagner, but he first stumbled upon the sport as merely a way to fill a requirement for the Bremen football team.
“It’s always been a funny story to me, when I was in high school tennis was in the spring. My football coach Don Bunge had a rule that you had to play a spring sport, and I got cut from the golf team so I decided to go out for tennis,” he said.
“I tell people that I never played a single down in football after I left high school, but I’ve played tennis all my life. I still play today and I coach so tennis has meant a lot. It’s gotten me jobs; it’s gotten me into places I probably didn’t belong because people knew I was a tennis player. It’s just a great sport. You need two people to play, a minimum of equipment, and even short little fat guys like me that are too old can still play.”
Not only has Wagner been a pivotal member of the Lions’ tennis program in his 20-plus-year tenure as coach, he’s also been a big supporter of tennis in the larger Bremen community.
“All we had were two courts at the elementary school when I started,” he said. “We added a third court there and later on we added four courts down at the park. When I came back from law school I was on the park board and we were able to get a grant and add four more courts, so now we have a total of eight courts. I’ve just been blessed to be involved in all aspects of the program.”
As a community coach and a volunteer, Wagner doesn’t receive a dime for his efforts as he balances out his day job as an attorney at Kizer and Neu in Bremen. But not only does he have a love for the sport, it’s his love for the kids that keeps him coming back.
“I’m fortunate because I’m kind of my own boss and can set my own hours. I’ll go in an work early in the morning or on the weekend to make up for time lost, but everybody at the firm is pretty agreeable,” said Wagner. “I come back for the kids. I get such a joy out of seeing kids improve from the time they start with us until they graduate, and I still have kids who come up to me after being out of school for a long time, and they’ll come back and tell you something you remember from the time they were in school.”
And the lessons they’ve learned from Wagner extend well beyond the court, says Rohde.
“It’s a labor of love because he’s never gotten paid a cent for all the years that he’s put in, and he does have a very busy job being a lawyer. He’s totally giving of himself, and it’s very much appreciated, that’s for sure,” said Rohde.
“He is a very giving person, and he gives to me and he really preaches that we should give unto others. It’s kind of the ‘pay it forward’ mentality and he works that into a lot of what he says, and hopefully future generations can really pick up that as well.”