BEMIDJI -- Mark Fodness is here, there and everywhere when it comes to tennis in Bemidji. He and the sport have become pretty synonymous around these parts.
Between Bemidji High School and Bemidji State, Fodness has coached 39 seasons worth of tennis in the First City on the Mississippi.
“It’s really a lot of fun for me because I do love the sport,” Fodness said. “I love any activity that has kids out in addition to their academics, staying busy, having fun and competing.”
Fodness coached the boys and girls teams at BHS from 1986-93, and he started up again in 2010. The Bemidji State graduate has also coached the Beaver women at his alma mater since 2013.
“There is some carryover between all three,” he said. “… Obviously college athletes are a little different experience, and coaching the (high school) girls and boys is a little different experience. It’s just enjoying what every sport and all the kids have to offer.”
The schedules for each program balance out. The high school girls participate in the fall, the college women run primarily in the late winter/early spring and the high school boys participate in the spring.
“I’ve always loved competing, so coaching is just one more way to compete when your own athletic career is over,” Fodness said.
The New Ulm native started his playing days in baseball, but a friend recruited Fodness to be his doubles partner in junior high. Fodness said that in such a baseball-rich community, he had a better chance to excel on the tennis court. That, plus the opportunity to play with a good friend, combined to win him over.
Fodness eventually earned his bachelor’s degree in social studies from Bemidji State in 1982, and he earned a master’s in curriculum instruction, middle school emphasis at BSU in 1995.
He spent seven seasons at the helm of the Lumberjack programs before stepping down around the same time his firstborn, Kyle, was born so that he could make family a priority. But when Kyle was in high school, Fodness had a window to hop back in.
“Scott Engelstad took over for me, and Scott’s an awesome coach, a great technician of the game,” Fodness said of the 17-year coach. “Lucky timing, I guess. He decided to retire when Kyle was a sophomore. … I had an opportunity to come back to coach a sport I really enjoyed, plus coach one of my kids. That worked out great, and I’ve stayed in it since then.”‘A good leader’
Fodness has made his time count, too. He has compiled 457 career wins between all three programs, but he’s also left an impact on more than just the win column.
“He’s always been a good leader. He has good advice on how to win, even if you have to win ugly,” said Spencer Konecne, the lone senior and captain on this year’s BHS boys team. “He’s been developing the tennis team for so long. He knows what he’s doing.”
Right now, Fodness has the Bemidji boys off to a 13-3 start to the season, and he’s one win shy of 400 in his high school coaching career.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and certainly not just me. I’ve had a series of just terrific assistant coaches,” Fodness said. “Working with so many great coaches has been a lot of fun and really rewarding. I’ve learned a lot from them. … For me, it’s been really gratifying to see how many kids we have brought into the program.”
For players like Konecne, Fodness has been instrumental in developing his individual skill set while cultivating the community’s talent as a whole.
“When you’re working with him, he’s always willing to (help),” Konecne said. “He does a lot for the community. … He’s always been the guy for tennis.”
The summer tennis program is fast approaching, too. About 175 kids participated last year, and Fodness is expecting even greater numbers this summer. Youth players who are interested in the program or receiving lessons can visit bemidjitennis.com.
“Where some of the other communities in northern Minnesota are struggling with numbers, we’re doing really well. We want to keep that up,” Fodness said. “Our goal is to get kids involved in positive, healthy activities like tennis. I think we’re in good shape for years to come.”