The Lady Bears tennis team wrapped up a third-straight state championship over the weekend — a bittersweet moment as the girls said goodbye to their coach.
The Mount Airy tennis team loses two starters and a part-time starter to graduation, but will return a deep and talented roster next year.
The squad will have to defend its conference and state titles without Coach Scott Kniskern, who is stepping down to spend more time with his family.
Kniskern and his wife Andrea had their second child this year, and he considered not coaching this season.
After much deliberation, Kniskern told his team at the start of the season that this would be his last for the foreseeable future.
He isn’t closing the door on returning to coaching at some point, but he figures his free time will be taken up with his kids. Rather than coaching high school tennis, Kniskern said he might want to coach youth soccer or basketball.
When the children reach middle school or high school, then it might be a good time to return to prep coaching, figured Kniskern, 39.
Whether he ever returns to the helm or not, Kniskern’s place in the record books is firmly established. He passed 100 career wins last year and put together a Northwest Conference winning streak of 58 matches over multiple seasons.
After a decent rookie year, Kniskern has won five-straight conference coach of the year awards. His six-year record is 123-15.
Kniskern attended the old Jones Elementary School as a child before moving out into the county later on. He graduated from North Surry, but still had a lot of friends in the city.
Seven years ago, Scott was living in Philadelphia while working for the U.S. Tennis Association. He was in charge of setting up and overseeing all the amateur tennis events in a three-state area.
While living there, he fell in love with future wife Andrea.
There were some parents of girls on the tennis team that reached out to Kniskern about returning home to coach, he recalled. He knew that Andrea’s family was based in the Philly area, but was intrigued about returning to North Carolina.
Kniskern said he wasn’t necessarily looking for work in Mount Airy, but Andrea thought it would be nice to be close to his family since she would be so far from her own.
The coach has created another family with the tennis team.
He has spent a lot of extra time working with the young ladies and taking them to clinics so they can get better, said athletic director Donald Price.
“We’ve been very blessed to have him as part of our coaching staff,” Price said.
Mount Airy has set a high standard with its men’s and women’s programs over the past two decades, and Scott has done a great job keeping that tradition going, he said.
For the seniors on the squad, the Bears went 90-7 over their four years. That comes with at least 20 wins in each season and no more than two losses in any season.
“All the kids and parents have really appreciated him and benefited from their time with him,” said Price.
“Scott has really been a great asset to Mount Airy’s tennis program,” said Jade Hughes, a 2013 graduate. “I know the team will be sad to see him go, but he has invested such time and effort into this team that I feel that for him to invest his time and energy into his family now is only fair.
“This championship legacy he has left behind will forever be immortalized in the memories of all the players from the past six years, and especially those on the three state championship teams.”
Jade Hughes won two championships and was on hand Saturday to watch younger sister Bree earn a third ring.
“Scott was one of those coaches that not only analyzed how you played the game, but was a constant encourager as well,” she said. “He made it a point to truly know his players, and made his presence and support in the other aspects of our lives well known.”
“He has a willingness to work with girls who are very ambitious,” said Price. Tennis is a stalwart program, and the girls have a desire to be the best not just locally but across the state.
“He bought into that idea and has continued that approach. It is difficult to replace a person of his devotion, competitiveness and desire to excel.”
One of the coach’s most-overlooked talents is getting such a large group of girls to come out for the team every year even though half of them don’t get into the starting lineup.
The Bears’ second unit is good enough to beat many teams, but the reserves are outside the fence cheering on their teammates with good sportsmanship.
It takes a unique person who can communicate and coach these particular skill sets, said Price. As athletic director, Price said he is amazed at how that rare coach comes along that can grab players’ complete attention and get the best out of them. That’s every coaches’ dream, he said.
Price said he knows that Kniskern has said he is done, but he refuses to take his resignation until at least January.
Coach Mac (Julian McKenzie) at North Stokes retired eight times before it took, Price noted. While he has listened to coaches who are interested in the job, Price expects Kniskern to have a change of heart before next season.
Kniskern said he told the girls that he isn’t dying or moving away; he will continue to come out and support the team at matches.
Kniskern remains chairman of the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Commission and a member of the Mount Airy Sports Hall of Fame Committee.