Ted Schulhof has served as Clarke County’s girls’ tennis coach since 2008. He joined the program as a volunteer assistant coach in 2007.

In that 2007 season, Clarke County earned a 5-4 win over a George Mason team that went on to play in the Group A state semifinals. Schulhof guided the Eagles to back-to-back winning seasons in 2009 (8-5) and 2010 (10-6). His most recent team went 3-11 in 2019.

Prior to coaching at Clarke County, Schulhof was the first boys’ tennis coach at Manassas Park in 1976. He also coached boys’ and girls’ tennis for 14 years at Herndon High School beginning in 1989 and coached an individual district champion in girls’ tennis.

Schulhof is a 1970 graduate of The Lawrenceville School in New Jersey. Schulhof played tennis for Lawrenceville and was on a team that won an independent school state championship in 1970.

Schulhof played one year of tennis for the University of Redlands in California. He graduated from George Washington University in 1974 and received his master’s degree from the University of Virginia in 1978.

Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Schulhof: Winning the state championship in high school was a lot of fun. We just worked hard and were a strong team. It was fun. My senior year I played No. 4 singles and No. 2 doubles. [As an adult], I won the Prince William County Open tournament in 1977 and the Herndon Open in 1980 and ‘82.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Schulhof: In 1976, I was Manassas Park’s special ed coordinator and it was a brand new school system. I was offered the opportunity to coach, and I was like, ‘Heck yeah.’ That was a hoot, because we had no courts and had no home matches. I had to borrow a pickup truck from one of the parents to load all the kids in the back of the covered pickup truck so we could drive to matches. Every kid lost every match other than the very last match. I remember our boys winning some matches, and to see the thrill in their faces still sticks with me, how happy they were. They learned a sport they knew nothing about and were part of a team. The whole season was a lot of fun. The kids responded and learned a lot. Just to see the joy in the parents’ faces was rather remarkable, too.

Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?

Schulhof: The guy I learned tennis from [in New Canaan, Conn.], Norm Holmes. When I was a kid, my father was a member of a tennis club [where Holmes was the pro], so I was fortunate to learn early and play in tournaments. He was just a really solid guy. He didn’t get too high on winning or too low on losing. I would like to think I’ve carried that on.

I’ve also been a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor at both Herndon and Clarke County, and I’ve tried to use some higher principles with how I coach. When I was young, I was a little bit more of a hothead, and I’ve learned to temper that.

Q. What’s the best coaching advice you’ve received?

Schulhof: I can’t really attribute it to any particular mentor. But borrowing it from Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s “Progress, not perfection.” I keep telling the kids, “Are you improving? Have you gotten better since the last match?” and telling them, “Don’t be all upset that hey, that wasn’t perfect, because it’s rare that anybody plays a perfect tennis match.”

Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?

Schulhof: I’m old school, and I go by the rules. Tennis is self-officiating. If a ball is 99 percent out and 1 percent in, it’s in. Unfortunately, there’s a mindset of, “When in doubt, call it out.” The rule is, if you’re in doubt, you give your opponent the point. It’s been a challenge to play with kids that cheat. You see a mindset on certain teams that winning at any cost is more important than doing it the right way.

And that’s really hard, because your natural response is “cheat back.” But doing that doesn’t make you any better than the people doing it. Both players are going to make some calls that are wrong, and it tends to even out. But in a close match, when things are continually going against you, and you know a ball is in and it’s called out, it’s really difficult to stay focused. It’s a real struggle, and it continues to be. But I would like to think at Clarke County, we’re about character and doing things the right way.

And it’s been unfortunate with COVID. Last year I had five seniors that had started in ninth grade, and they were past learning how to play tennis. They were really into the strategy and how to respond in different challenging situations. That was just an awesome group of kids, and it would have been nice to see how we could have done. It was a new district. (George Mason was no longer in the district, and the Eagles would have faced new Bull Run teams like Stonewall Jackson, Page County, East Rockingham and Strasburg’s brand-new program.)

Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Schulhof: My first year at Clarke in 2007, the first time we played George Mason, we beat ‘em 5-4. (Katie Noland and Liese Foust won the decisive match at No. 2 doubles, winning the last five games in an 8-4 victory.) I just remember the shock in [George Mason’s] faces. I wasn’t really clued into how great Mason was at the time. That was really great. Everything that happened had an impact on the final result. It was just really high drama.

Clarke is kind of in a world of its own. Pretty much every team we play is bigger and has more of a talent pool to draw from. (For years, Clarke County and George Mason were the only two schools in the Bull Run District that offered tennis, which meant the Eagles have had to schedule larger schools in places like Frederick County, Warren County and Jefferson County in West Virginia.) But we’ve beaten James Wood, Millbrook and Sherando at least once each, and Central of Woodstock (which has bounced between Class 2 and Class 3). That’s been satisfying.

Probably 90-plus percent of students who come out for Clarke County tennis are new to the game, so it’s really about teaching the fundamentals and imparting a lifelong love of the game. In those areas, I believe we have had great success. You get feedback from kids over the years, and they love it. I try to tell them, whether you win or you lose, you’re still the same person. You come back, and you really do learn more from losses than from wins.

It’s just been fun. I can probably count on one hand the number of kids that I’ve had issues with over the years. By and large, it’s just been a blast working with these student-athletes, and seeing them improve. One girl [in 2019], Reagan Johnson, we really worked on her serve, and when we played Mason, she aced her opponent four times in a row. I told her she had a weapon, use this, and then to see it in a match ... she ended up winning in a tiebreaker, and it was like, ‘Yes!’ That’s the joy of tennis there.

And I also give a lot of credit to the Clarke County coaches for how they coached my sons. My younger son Ben (class of 2007) was on two state championship soccer teams [in 2005 and 2006], and my older son Will (class of 2004) was on the baseball team the last time they went to states [in 2003]. Both of them played at Emory & Henry and were captains of their teams.

Compiled by Robert Niedzwiecki

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