The talk of the town: A Blue Earth icon
In the basement of Harold Schroeder’s Blue Earth home, there are too many plaques to count. A room once known for its daily operation as a tennis shop a fitting monument in the house of a local coaching legend is littered with awards. Its material glow of accomplishment spills upstairs, where shelves are lined with additional trophies and a dining room table plays host to scrapbooks of triumphant newspaper clippings.
Not even the boundless collection of memorabilia, however, encapsulates a lifetime of historic achievement by Schroeder, whose decades-long presence as Blue Earth’s tennis coach literally corresponded with the foundation of the program he led from 1955 to 1991.
With a July 2 tennis players reunion fast approaching, Schroeder hopes to bask in some conversational nostalgia with some of the many athletes he took under his wing over the years. No matter the turnout of the event’s anticipated Hamilton Hall crowd, though, there is no understating the impact that Schroeder had as a personal success story but also as an icon of the BEA community.
Three state tournament titles, 22 regional championships, four Minnesota Tennis Coach of the Year awards and a 1993 induction into the state’s Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame would seem to suggest that Schroeder was born to coach tennis, let alone craft an entire school’s involvement in the sport. But at the beginning of his illustrious career, that was not necessarily his thinking.
“I?came from Rochester,”?Schroeder said, “and I?played baseball there.”
While he added that he often found interest in “whatever sport was in season,”?his days on the diamond were marked with serious investment.
“I played with some state champs,”?he said, “and at one point, I?was being watched by the St. Louis Cardinals.”
After graduating from Rochester High School, though, it was off to Rochester Junior College, now known as the Community and Technical College, for the longtime Blue Earth Area coach. And post-high school, Schroeder was faced with a blatant predicament:?His new school did not offer baseball.
Lucky for future generations of Blue?Earth athletes, Schroeder’s predicament also served as his route to a profound journey on the tennis courts.
“I saw a bulletin for a tennis meeting,”?he said, “and that was my only outlet, so I?went with it.”
It was not long afterward that Schroeder found himself at the forefront of BEA sports.
“At first, after college, I?thought I?would go to the service,”?he said. “But I?wrecked my knee playing football.”
Ultimately, after a little over two years at Mankato State (now known as Minnesota State University, Mankato), he found and landed an opening in Blue Earth as a math teacher. Little did Schroeder know that the job would take his tennis connection to another level.
“During my second year,”?he said, “I?got called to the office, and they said, ‘We have some boys wanting to start a tennis team, and we saw you were once a captain yourself. Would you consider helping with it?'”
As his lofty resume showcases, Schroeder ended up helping quite a bit. In aiding the arrival of tennis at school, first with a boys team and later with one for the girls, he undertook responsibility not only as the teams’ first-ever head coach but also as one of the chief organizers of the program. Everything from fundraising to court maintenance, then, was in his hands. If it meant holding practices in the streets of town, so be it. If it meant getting on his own hands and knees after a week in the classroom, he did not hesitate.
“Every Sunday for awhile I?spent repairing nets,”?Schroeder said. “We had one of the first ball machines in the area, too, after I?split the cost of it with the superintendent.”
Raising Blue Earth tennis from the ground up was a serious time commitment, but it also allowed Schroeder to develop a true appreciation for the sport, not to mention the lives it touched over many years. Estimating that he coached “thousands”?of students over his 37 seasons of work, he put BEA on the map while emphasizing that “you won’t play without good grades.”
Twenty-five conference titles and eight individual state championships were just a few of the other milestones of Schroeder’s teams, which included the only public Class-A school to win a title with no divisions between big and small schools and churned out alumni like Scott Jacobson, the longtime women’s tennis coach at the University of Nebraska.
“We were known around the state,”?Schroeder said, smiling as he recalled old victories over schools in Duluth and Minnetonka. And while he took pride in offering inspiration to other small-school teams, his passion for the game grew international legs when he crafted his basement into his own tennis shop.
These days serving as a shrine of sorts, the basement was, at one point, as active as Schroeder’s instruction on the courts. With student tennis rackets often in need of fixing, Schroeder took it upon himself to open his home for business.
With some help, he placed an ad in a tennis magazine, and before long, Schroeder was fielding repair requests from tennis players overseas.
“We had one from India, another from Bangladesh,” he said. “We were fixing rackets from 36 states and six countries.”
Just like that, Schroeder had simultaneously become a tennis legend in Blue Earth and a tennis businessman well beyond the small town in which he fostered his career. Now, more than a decade after retiring as a coach, a title he also held for several other school sports, he has more time to relax, to spend with family.
But the unlikely relationship he formed with tennis has also proven to be an everlasting one.
“Some of the coaches still come and talk to me, ask for advice,”?he said. “And I talk to some of the players.”
When time permits, Schroeder said he still attends most of Blue Earth’s tennis matches, now hosted at courts emblazoned with his last name. And while his tennis shop is no longer in operation and he is no longer overseeing the school’s tennis program, his door is always open to those who want to discuss it.
“Whenever someone stops over,”?he said, “they always think of some specific memory and say, ‘Do you remember this, Mr. Schroeder?'”
He always remembers. For Schroeder, a bigger challenge would be trying to forget any of the moments during his revered journey moments that shaped his life and shaped the history of Blue Earth tennis.
In the off chance that Schroeder cannot recall any of his poignant triumphs?
A glance in the basement, or perhaps upstairs, would solve that pretty quickly.