Earlier this fall, Bassett decided that it was time to call an end to a coaching career that began in 1970. He announced his retirement to his team midway through this past season, and confirmed that decision publicly earlier this week.
Bassett, 69, said it’s his health, not his love of the game, or his enjoyment of being around student-athletes, that couldn’t keep up with the demands of the job.
“I have a hearing problem, and I have a back issue, and I was having trouble staying on the court drilling with the kids for two hours during practice,” said Bassett, who coached the Lakers’ boys for 43 years and the girls for 35, giving him nearly 80 years of combined coaching experience.
“I was having to go sit down because my back was bothering me, and it got to the point where I said, ‘I can’t be the kind of coach I expect myself to be. The kids deserve better than this.’”
So Bassett told his team of his decision following their win over Fruitport on Sept. 19. He declined to confirm his resignation publicly until the Lakers’ season was completed. The reaction was one of stunned silence.
“It was after our Fruitport match, and it was kind of sudden,” said Lakers’ junior Ryan Fedewa. “We all thought we were going to get a big speech, then he started telling us he’s going to retire after this year. It was a shock. We were all having a good time. We had played well. Then this was a shock.
“He’s definitely impacted me, how I think. When we play, it’s all about being positive. I was a head case when I started playing, and he’s helped me fix that.”
Lakers’ junior Erik Johnson said he’s honored to have been coached by Bassett.
“I’ve only played tennis for three years, and he definitely impacts you,” he said.
“I was really depressed,” added Lakers’ senior Patrick Wang. I was glad to have him. I can’t think of anybody else who could do as good a job as he has. I’m glad I had my senior year with him.”
As impressive as Bassett’s combined 78 years of coaching are, his teams’ collective success is perhaps more impressive.
He guided the Lakers’ girls to a fourth-place finish at the Class B state meet in 1979, and guided the Lakers’ boys to third-place finishes in 1996, ’98 and ’99.
His boys teams won conference championships 23 of the last 30 years, and since 1995, his boys team missed out on the state meet only twice.
For all of his efforts, Bassett was named the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association’s Coach of the Year this fall. It’s the second time he’s received that honor. The first was in 1998.
He was inducted into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1992.
The recognition comes as much for the contributions he’s made to the sport as it is for the success of his teams.
“I’ve run over 50 regionals, and I can’t count the number of tournaments I’ve run,” Bassett said. “Those are the kinds of things they’re looking for — what you’re giving to tennis. If you’re just coaching, and that’s the only thing you’re focusing on is your team, you’re not looking at the big picture.”
During his high school days at Hastings, Bassett was an all-state nose tackle on the football field, a state champion wrestler and a tennis player.
When he first came to Spring Lake in 1968, Bassett taught industrial arts and coached eighth grade football and wrestling.
He took over as the Lakers’ tennis coach in 1970 from then-coach George DeVries, and it didn’t take him long to decide that tennis was the sport to which his heart truly belonged.
“I began to realize the value of the game,” Bassett said. “It’s a game that to me really teaches the lessons of life. The match is, what, 45 minutes, maybe two hours long, and you have high moments and moments that are devastating. You double fault, you lose 2-3 games in a row, and it’s how you recover from that.
“I began to realize that it was a way to teach young kids how to experience life. You had a loss, how do you deal with that loss? How do you look forward to the next time you play? To me, the mental expectations of the game became very important. How do you deal with a loss? How do you deal with a win? You have to be humble.”
Bassett’s former players have taken the lessons to heart, including Will Eagan, who played for four years before graduating in 2007.
Eagan first met Bassett when he was just 7 years old, watching his brother, Patrick Eagan, play for the Lakers.
“From the moment I first watched the team play, I couldn’t wait for my next seven years to pass so I could represent Spring Lake tennis and Coach Bassett on the court,” Will Eagan said. “Coach Bassett was an amazing coach of not only the sport of tennis, but the game of life. He was passionate about teaching how to properly conduct yourself both on and off the court.
“I had the opportunity to spend four tennis seasons with some of the best players in Spring Lake history and one of the best coaches in Michigan history. These are memories I will never forget, and have not forgotten to this day.”
Bassett has a favorite quote that he passes along to his players: “Your body moves in the direction of your most dominant thought.”
“This is something I have used in life ever since my first official practice with him,” Eagan said. “If you stay positive and determined, good things will happen.
“He truly cared for every one of us, including our parents, and wanted to see us succeed.”
Lakers’ athletic director Cavin Mohrhardt, himself a Spring Lake High School graduate, said it’s going to be hard to imagine Spring Lake athletics without Bassett in the picture.
“When I took over as a young AD, and I think (former athletic director Tom) Hickman would agree, he’s been a mentor to just about every coach who’s come through,” Mohrhardt said. “When I first started coaching, the staff here was pretty young, and he’s always been there and always had the right thing to say any time we’ve needed advice.
“He’s still a great coach, and could coach for another 20 years, but in his mind, he can’t do it if he can’t show the kids. The fact that he’s not going to do it speaks volumes to what kind of man, and what kind of coach, he is.”
Spring Lake has been blessed with many coaches who have displayed an uncanny longevity, from Bassett to George Bitner, who recently completed his 33rd year of coaching the Lakers’ boys and girls golf teams.
Bassett said it takes a special place to keep a coach around that long.
“There’s something special about being a Laker,” he said. “Unless you live it, unless you are a part of it, it’s hard to understand. It’s not just a school, it doesn’t just have sports. It’s being a Laker, through and through.
“Tom Hickman was a great athletic director, and he really made that Laker tradition. All the coaches cared about the kids and we cared about each other. That’s the thing. It’s not just tennis. It’s all the sports, all the athletes. You want everybody to do well, and we’ve done pretty well with it.”