Andes serves up a tennis ace; USTA pro loves coaching

By John Bernhardt

For Mark Birman the spring of 2008 has been a tennis homecoming of sorts. Birman, a United States Tennis Association (USTA) professional in the over-40 age category, learned to play tennis on the courts in Fleischmann beginning in the summer of 1971. This spring, Birman has returned to those courts as coach of the Andes Central School’s upstart tennis program.

The Halcottsville native is a certified tennis instructor on the USTA registry. About a year ago, Birman began teaching tennis to Dale Fetterman, a 14-year-old student whose family owns a second home in Roxbury. Birman enjoyed that experience so much he completed the required work to earn his instructor’s certification.

In February, Birman read a story in the News that reported Andes Central School did not have the numbers to support traditional softball and baseball programs. When Birman read that ACS would be starting a tennis program to fill the void, he pounced. Weeks after inquiring about the possibility of coaching the team, Birman was appointed the new team’s coach.

Birman is having a blast. “I can’t say enough about how I’ve been received in the school. Everyone has been so friendly and warm and incredibly supportive.”
When it comes to coaching his Andes squad, Birman has only one rule, “Respect the game.” Showing respect for the game touches every area of play; making honest calls, playing fairly, showing a pleasant, joyful attitude on the court, and respecting your opponent are all connected to Birman’s mandate. “These kids have been great. Since day one, I have never once had to reprimand anyone for behavior that was less than exemplary,” Birman praised.

The first-year Andes coach is optimistic about his team’s potential. Birman is impressed with his team’s skills relative to the amount of time his players have had on a tennis court.

Senior Taylor Murray plays in the number one slot and has accomplished a feat in his first year Birman can’t match. “Taylor was down four match points in a row and was returning serve. Each time he came back, finally breaking his opponent in that game and eventually winning the match in a tie-breaker.”

Justin Weaver shows solid potential in the number two position. Birman calls the junior his probable number one player next spring.

Birman is impressed with the level of commitment and improved play of another upperclassman, Ted Stong. “Teddy’s focused effort and work at practice is attributed to his improving results in contests,” noted the Andes coach.

Birman smiles when he talks about a promising group of underclassmen.

According to Birman, Eric Reed is one of the harder-working kids on the team. The freshman has won three matches, in spite of the fact that this is the first time he has played tennis.

Another freshman, Tyler Fairbairn might have what her coach calls the “classically best stroke on the team.” Birman emphasizes that Fairbairn is looking more and more like a tennis player every time she plays.

Recently, eighth-grader Sage Beeman, won his first match. “Sage is a fine athlete and a joy to work with,” explained Birman. “Sage puts in a lot of practice in his free time.”

Two junior high school girls team to play doubles rounding out the Andes team. Birman labels Marissa Hennings and Kelsey Little as two exceptionally hard workers with a ton of talent. “If she continues to focus on her game, Marissa will finish high school as the Andes career win leader,” predicted Birman. “She’ll hold that distinction until Little graduates the following year,” finished the Andes coach.

The fledgling squad’s first victory in a contest last week got their new coach looking back over his long career and many accomplishments associated with tennis. “Winning that match at Stamford and the way these kids are learning may not have been the greatest accomplishment of my tennis career, but right now I can’t think of anything any better.”