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June 11, 2001

Game, set, career . . .

By Eric Rangus


Don Schroer’s office in the P.E. Center is painstakingly organized, but relentlessly cluttered.
Trophies from his men’s tennis team’s many University Athletic Association (UAA) titles sit chronologically across the top shelf of his bookcase. His three diplomas (including his doctorate from Indiana University, a degree he earned while on a leave of absence) are nicely situated on the wall near the doorway.

Then there are the stacks, from floor to ceiling in the closet, of t-shirts—souvenirs for the hundreds of young tennis campers who will descend on the University this summer, many of them spilling onto the sofa facing Schroer’s desk.

And there are the boxes of tennis rackets in between the sofa and the desk, some needing to be restrung, some ready for battle. Yes, Schroer has his organizational skills down pat. But then, he’s had more than 30 years of practice.

Following 31 years as head coach of Emory’s men’s tennis team, Schroer stepped down at the end of the 1999 season. He compiled an all-time record of 503-288, making him the fifth-winningest men’s coach in Division III history. Since its creation in 1988, his squads won every UAA title, save for a second-place finish in 1989. (“We should’ve won it; there was no reason to lose that,” he grumbles to this day.) And, in 1996, the Eagles finished the year as Div. III

“It was a little awkward, but I wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought I might be,” Schroer says of his postretirement lifestyle. “Now I’m very comfortable with the idea of not coaching and, in fact, enjoying my free time. When you’re coaching, you’re really not in charge of your own time.”

Although technically retired from coaching, Schroer hardly spends his newly found time lounging about the fishing hole. He teaches racket sports as an associate professor in the Department of Health, Physical Education and Dance. He is a tennis instructor for Evening at Em-ory classes—one of the program’s most popular offerings.

“What we’ve found is that people are attracted to the sport because they want some exercise, they want to feel good about themselves, they want to accomplish a skill, and they want to become involved with friends in a like experience,” Schroer says.

Every summer since 1968, he’s run Emory’s tennis camp, the oldest in the Atlanta area and one that draws young players from across the country. For four days, boys and girls between the ages of 5 and 18 come to campus, rackets in hand, ready to hit the courts. This year Schroer is leading eight separate sessions from June 4 through Aug. 3. In between, he runs three Nike camps, which are for more elite players.

In all, he teaches 300 to 500 students a year. Between 30 and 50 percent return for another camp and many of his instructors are former campers themselves.

“Every year is a new creation,” he says. Schroer has a daily outline of how to run camps, but he adjusts it each year to accommodate the new group. And it’s no easy task; the regular Emory tennis camps require a 12- or 14-hour plan, while the Nike camps must be administered 24 hours a day.

Growing up in Seymour, Ind., about an hour south of Indianapolis, Schroer played tennis. But in high school his sport was football, which he played all four years, earning a scholarship to Valparaiso University in the process. He also played four years of baseball and basketball.

As an aside, Schroer recalls his senior year in 1958, when a young boy of 5 or 6 who lived down the street would come out to watch every practice. He’d be dressed in a helmet and shoulder pads. The boy, Johnny, was made the unofficial team mascot. It was the first step in what would be a long career in the spotlight for the lad. His last name? Mellencamp.

After graduating from Valparaiso, Schroer and wife Peggy moved to Los Angeles, where he taught high school and coached not only football but tennis, which reintroduced him to the sport.

After five years, the Schroers soured on California and looked to move back East. Don applied for several jobs and got the call back from Emory.

“I think I went to college with the idea that I would go into education and coach,” Schroer says. “You know how it is when you are in college—maybe I should do this, maybe I should do that—but I always had it in the back of my mind that this is what I wanted to do.”

Earlier this year, several of Schroer’s friends and colleagues got together to honor the coach upon his retirement.

Six months in the making, a who’s-who of the athletic department (Sports Information Director John Arenberg, current men’s tennis coach John Browning, office manager Joyce Jaleel, Professor Clyde Partin, golf coach Mike Phillips and women’s tennis coach Amy Smith) set up a celebratory dinner honoring Schroer in Cox Hall, March 24.

Close to 150 guests, including 40 former players, returned to Emory to honor their recently retired coach and mentor. They came from all across the country—California, New York, Ohio, Florida—and they came from all points in Schroer’s career. Players spanning each of Schroer’s five decades at the University spoke.

“It was just awesome,” Schroer says, clearly moved by the memory of the evening.

“It was a tremendous reflection on Don,” Jaleel says. She served as the driving force behind the committee’s effort to put on the banquet. “I wanted to honor him in the best way. We wanted to pay very special attention to him. He means so much to me, he means so much to Emory, and he means so much to his alumnus players.”

But how long does Schroer plan to coach in some capacity? “Forever.”

“That’s tough,” he continues, contemplatively. “I don’t have a closing date. I definitely want to teach as long as I can because I really enjoy it. Emory is a great employer, and it provides me with a great routine.”



Back to Emory Report June 11, 2001