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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 23, 2003

Schwitters retiring after many wins, memories

By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer

For 38 years, if you wanted a tennis coach to scream, micro-manage and run you ragged, you did not go to the University of Hawai'i.

It was not Jim Schwitters' style. It wasn't his way growing up in the Midwest, and Hawai'i certainly didn't turn him into a Type-A personality when he moved here 40-plus years ago.

If anything Schwitters, 65, is more subdued slipping into retirement as the winningest coach in NCAA tennis history. In 38 years, most coaching both the UH men and women, he amassed 1,326 wins.

Not bad for an assured, soft-spoken guy with a deep tan and $15,000 salary his final year. When assistant athletic director Jack Bonham asked him to take over in 1965, Schwitters remembers getting $500. The new coach, the program's first full-time hire, will receive between $33,000 and $55,572.

This was the first year Schwitters didn't teach PE classes as his "primary" avocation. He has worked as lecturer at UH and Kapi'olani Community College and always there was time to play. He was Hawai'i's Player of the Decade in the 1970's and has won more than 350 titles.

Time to relax

Schwitter by the numbers at UH

• Starts as assistant to Gordon Shuman in 1964-65, takes over both teams following school year

• Wins state high school titles as Iolani boys coach in 1971 and '72

• Women's team plays in USTA National Intercollegiate Tournament in 1967, USTA WNIT in 1968 and qualifies for AIAW regionals in 1980 and '81

• Men's team takes eighth in 1968 NCAA College Division Championship and qualifies for 1975 NCAA Division I Championship with first 30-plus win season

• First losing season is 1992-93

• Rainbow Wahine start 50-match winning streak with 5-4 victory at nationally ranked Arizona State in 1981. Go 28-0 in 1982 and 41-4 in 1983.

• Men win 40 for first time in 1983 (48-17) and go 52-6 in 1984, then decline invitation to NIT

• 1990 ITCA Region VI Coach of Year

• Becomes winningest tennis coach in NCAA Division I history on March 19, 2002

• Final record is 1,326-611-15 — 819-411-8 in 38 seasons with men and 507-200-7 in 26 seasons with women (no women's team from 1972-79; new coach in 2000)

When his coaching career was over in April, Schwitters, who announced his retirement at the beginning of the season, looked at longtime assistant Chuck English and said, "OK, that's it, I'm gone."

He now promises only to "do nothing, and not do that before noon" for at least six months.

Schwitters has been around so long he remembers UH without Division I football. The memories are fond because he felt tennis, at that time, was a priority.

"It was a very, very nice situation, very comfortable," Schwitters recalls. "In those days your pressure was pressure you put on yourself to have a good program and do the best you could. I think we're getting away from that unfortunately. All the schools dream of being top 20 now; there's all the money now."

He knew things had changed when the Manoa courts sank into disrepair and opponents passed UH by. Funding and facilities went to other sports. Gender equity issues KO'd improvements. Road trips lasted as long as a month because it was simply too expensive to come back.

"He really is a traditionalist, a strong believer in traditional cultural values," English says. "Jim is kind of a dinosaur. At times he gets very frustrated."

The worse it got, the better the past has been. Schwitters' memories of "the good times" can be incredibly vivid, from the nuance of a stroke to the last player on the ladder of a memorable team. Some of his best memories are:

• The No. 8 "college division" (now DII) ranking "with just a few scholarships" in 1968.

• Athletic directors Paul Durham, nurturing tennis after UH moved up to Division I, and Ray Nagel, following with unrelenting support — and two sons on tennis scholarships.

• Exceptional, and exceptionally tenacious players like Judy Louie, who often played against men in the 1960s because there were so few women's teams, and Tracy Fenelon (1984-85), Jim Murray (1988-89), Joy Minaai (1980-83), Rosie Vera Cruz (1981-84), Chanon Alcon (1992-95) and Antonio Garcia (1999-2000).

• A legacy of scholars. From 1979 to 1984, five tennis players won the Jack Bonham Award, UH's most prestigious student-athlete honor. And, two years ago, six players on Schwitters' men's team received WAC all-academic honors, with two also becoming Academic All-Americans.

Coaching philosophy

Schwitters' coaching style can be described in four words: Roll out the balls. Practices are like matches. His players play non-stop points without the distraction of drills, or anything else.

"Playing for him is like being thrown into a swimming pool," says Rosie (Vera Cruz) Bareis. "If you don't know how to swim, you're going to sink. It worked great for me."

Bareis, a self-described "park rat" with almost no junior experience, didn't know who Schwitters was 25 years ago when he approached her at Diamond Head Tennis Center mumbling about "tuition waiver and books." His "method" of non-stop matches was just what she needed.

She became an anchor on his most successful women's teams, shocked herself by earning a degree and now runs one of California's most active tennis clubs. Bareis has won a basket full of gold balls, emblematic of national age-group championships.

Not one for drills

For those who wanted to have their games broken down, work on drills and conditioning, Schwitters was not the perfect fit. His players were always free to drill and run on their own. Independence was not a virtue, it was a necessity.

Even his words of wisdom and motivation worked with only certain personalities. He raises his voice maybe twice a year and lets his temper flare a little less.

Rose (Thomas) Jones, who with Bareis made up the finest doubles team in Hawai'i history, remembers serving for the match at Arizona as freshmen, and ultimately losing in a tiebreaker.

"We had to drive 2 1/2 hours from Tucson to Phoenix after that and he (Schwitters) was just stoic the whole time," Thomas recalls. "He knew we were just immature freshmen. The first 20 minutes we were very glum, but after a half hour we were singing songs and blasting music. The fact that he could sit through two hours of that ... I'd have been steaming if I were a coach."

Schwitters says his coaching "style" is a conglomeration of all the coaches he grew up with.

His "style" and motivational and recruiting skills point back to his personality. What you see is what you get. If you don't like it — if you want someone screaming in your face and throwing racquets in practice — Manoa was not your best option. Schwitters was the first to tell that to recruits.


"I can be the greatest motivator in the world if a kid has a great attitude," he says. "If they don't have a great attitude, I'm not the cheerleader type. Never have been. That's the way I am in life, too.

"I like a kid that's really self-motivated. I was self-motivated when I grew up. I didn't care what it was. If I was pitching pennies, I wanted to be the best pitcher on the block."

Schwitters' game is legendary in Hawai'i and his knowledge vast. He was an athlete gifted enough to have earned a baseball tryout with the St. Louis Browns (now Baltimore Orioles) and competitive enough to bagel opponents.

"If he could beat me without letting me get a point, he would," English says. "When he gets going, that's it, no letup. That tells you what his personality is like. There's no quit in him."

Until now, when the age of 65 collided with 1,326 victories and a feeling that the "good times" were gone. Schwitters took his racquets and went home. Rainbow tennis will never be the same.

"I really believe that day he said 'I believe you could play for UH' he gave me my opportunity to do something with myself," Bareis says. "I will be forever grateful."