This tribute to Rod McEachern is published with the permission of the author, Greg Tunnicliff.
It was supposed to be a temporary gig for Rod McEachern.
It ended up being a 32-year passion for the Bay City native.
Former Lapeer High athletic director Jack Fitzpatrick hired McEachern as the Panthers’ boys tennis coach, on a temporary basis, before the start of the 1958 spring season.
The reason for the temporary hire was twofold.
First, McEachern had never played tennis before, and secondly, Fitzpatrick needed time find someone with more experience to take over on a permanent basis.
Fitzpatrick never found a more qualified coach, and McEachern went on to become an icon in Greater Flint Area high school tennis.
He coached boys and girls at Lapeer High, Lapeer West and Lapeer East from 1958-89, and he ranks second on the area’s all-time victories’ list with a 445-159 (.756) overall dual-meet record. He is one of only two tennis coaches in area history to win a state championship, having led Lapeer High’s boys team to the Class A title in 1971.
McEachern died on Feb. 14 at the age of 90. (Rod’s obituary)
While McEachern’s boys teams at Lapeer High were competitive right out of the gate, they did not really hit their stride until the early 1970s.
McEachern led the Panthers to three straight Class A regional titles from 1970-72 and a second-place finish in 1973.
The 1971 team finished with five points in the state tournament at Kalamazoo, tying it for first place with East Grand Rapids, Holland, and Kalamazoo Central.
Besides the 1971 squad, the Panthers’ finished in fifth place in Class A in 1972 and 10th in ’73.
The Metro League first started a tennis league in 1973, and McEachern led Lapeer to the first two league championships.
He had one league champion at No. 1 singles in his son, Brian McEachern, and one runner-up in Tom Sirovey in 1975.
Lapeer High split into Lapeer West and Lapeer East at the beginning of the 1975-76 school year, and Rod McEachern led West until the end of the 1989 season.
He posted an area-record 338-109 (.756) dual-meet record coaching boys.
McEachern coached girls at West from 1975-82 and at East from 1983-87, leading both schools to a combined 107-50 (.736) overall record. His West’s teams fashioned a 66-34 (.582) mark and captured back-to-back Metro championships in 1979 and ’80.
He mentored three girls to Metro No. 1 singles titles in Jenny Walker (1979), Andrea Walker (1980), and Ann Walker (1982). McEachern moved across town to East in the fall of 1983, and he led the Eagles to a 41-16 (.719) overall record in five seasons at the helm.
He coached three girls to Metro No. 1 singles championships in Anne Ewing (1983), Julie Bates (1985) and Eike Wehling (1986).
McEachern guided Wehling to a runner-up finish at a Class A regional tournament in 1986, making her the first girl from either West or East to qualify for the state tournament.
McEachern became the first area coach to be inducted into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1991.