A sign advocating good sportsmanship and a persistent son are just two of the reasons Bob Walrath is the new Solanco High School tennis coach.
An impressive resume didn't hurt.
Walrath brings a wealth of experience to the post. He coached the boys team for 29 years and girls team for 26 years at Cortland (N.Y.) High School, where he worked as a counselor. Walrath coached individual and team champions there.
Walrath served as a chairperson on several committees and worked as a professional tennis umpire.
So how did a longtime upstate New York coach wind up at Solanco.
It's a truly interesting tale.
The story begins more than 40 years ago when Walrath's wife, Judy, was based in South Carolina while serving in the military.
On trips back to New York, the history buffs made excursions to sites such as Harpers Ferry and Gettysburg. During one of those escapades, the Walraths traversed through Lancaster County and never forgot how beautiful they found the area.
They bought a house in Strasburg in 2011 and rented it out for four years. When Bob retired from Cortland High in 2015, he, Judy, and their daughter, Eden, the youngest of the couple's six children, moved into the house. Eden will be a freshman at Lampeter-Strasburg this fall and is trying out for the Pioneers' tennis team.
The Walraths' son, Seth, lives in Lansdale and works in Junior Development for the United States Tennis Association. Privy to high school coaching job openings in the area, Seth repeatedly encouraged his father to pursue a position. Realizing he still had to desire to coach, Bob eventually caved.
"I sent a letter to four schools just to get Seth off my back," Bob said.
One of those schools was Solanco, which was in the market for a new coach after Todd Brown stepped down following last season.
Two years earlier, Walrath visited Solanco to attend a junior high track meet to watch Eden compete.
"I was so impressed with this school," he said. Walrath spotted a since-removed sign promoting good sportsmanship. "I thought, 'Man, this is great'," he recalls. "'I told a friend, of the more than 100 schools I've been to, this was the best sign I've seen."
Something else he witnessed stayed with him. Solanco students were cheering on Lampeter-Strasburg runners.
"This is awesome," Walrath thought. "Nobody does that. I like this place."
He learned he got the coaching job during the final week of last school year. With practice starting this week and the first match scheduled for August 20, there isn't much time to work on skills and strategy before the season begins.
"That's kind of immaterial," Walrath said. "It's more about creating a family atmosphere, not the tennis stuff. I know I can coach tennis and I know they can learn."
Although tennis became huge part of his life, Walrath did not play in high school. He participated in football, basketball, baseball, and track instead.
He first fell in love with tennis while he was also falling for Judy. They spent many dates playing tennis. (Judy prevailed, Bob admits.) The couple also played miniature golf when finances allowed it. The golf dates also proved to be a harbinger of Walrath's time in Lancaster County. He works as a manager at Village Green two days a week.
At Seth's urging, Walrath elected to get back into coaching. "For me to coach again, it was going to take this type of situation," Bob Walrath said. "I look forward to coaching against one of my kids. Tennis has been wonderful to my family."