Ashley Lowery, Deseret News
Highland High assistant tennis coach Kathy Rothfels

While many coaching staffs in Utah prep tennis are deep and diverse, with assistants ranging in age from 19-83, Highland High's staff is perhaps a little more varied than most.

At the top of that ladder, in her third year as an assistant for both the boys and girls tennis teams at Highland, 83-year-old Kathy Rothfels is carrying on her tradition of taking Utah tennis to the next level in any way she can.

Rothfels is considered to be one of the matriarchs of Utah tennis, and she has influenced generations of players in many different ways. She is a member of the Utah Tennis Hall of Fame and has won numerous national titles on the seniors circuit.

In addition, Rothfels has been a tennis pro, a member of the Umpires Association, managed the Salt Lake Swimming and Tennis Club for 10 years, and was even the driving force behind getting tennis courts installed at Dugway Proving Grounds in the early 1960s.

Born in England, Rothfels was born into a golfing family and, wanting to do anything other than golf, started playing tennis on grass courts before immigrating to Canada following World War II. There she met her husband, John, and when he took a job in Utah's west desert at Dugway, they moved there with their five children.

Rothfels' belief that tennis is a skill that will be a reward throughout a lifetime is evident in all her children. Sons Martin (California), Trevor (Washington) and Ian (Utah) are all tennis pros, while other son Nigel went the academic route and teaches at a college in Wisconsin.

"(Nigel) probably plays more recreational tennis than the rest of us, though," Ian Rothfels said with a laugh. "He plays all the time in his free time."

The lone daughter of the family, Janet, grew up in the pre-Title IX era, so she played on the boys team in high school. She currently teaches and oversees girls and boys tennis at a private school in Washington.

While living in Dugway, the Rothfels tired of the commute to Salt Lake City for their children's variety of lessons and decided to move the family into the city.

"When we were moving in from Dugway, the only parameter my mom had was that we had to live within walking distance of a tennis club," Ian Rothfels said.

After moving to Salt Lake, Rothfels was secretary of the Utah Tennis Association from 1970-74 while also coaching the University of Utah's tennis team from 1971-72.

"It was very low key at the university. It was a totally different realm," Kathy Rothfels said. "We had no uniforms and no real budget. I would drive the girls down to Phoenix for matches. I think it was wonderful really."

Rothfels became the manager of the Salt Lake Tennis Club in 1973 and did that for the next decade. In the late '70s, Rothfels also began competing in national tournaments on the United States Tennis Association's adult and senior circuit. Showing her diversity, over the years she won the Women's 50 Indoor Singles title in 1979, the Women's 55 Indoor Singles title in 1983, the Women's 55 Hard Court Singles title in 1984, the Women's 60 Indoor and Clay Courts Singles titles in 1987, the Women's 60 Grass Court and Indoor Doubles titles with Louise Owen in 1989 and the Women's 65 Clay Court Doubles title with Carolyn Henry in 1990.

"At 65, she was top three in the nation, playing against people who grew up in the system. She is just ferocious as far as determination," Ian Rothfels said. "You'd have to really beat my mom — she wouldn't let you win. She will show up for mixed doubles events and play people with the mind-set of 'If they hit it hard to me, I'm going to hit it harder back."'

"I remember my old coach, Harry James," Ian Rothfels continued. "He was in a wheelchair from polio and coach of the U. of U. men's team at one point. When he retired, my mom took his job in '73 and ran the tennis club. Well, Harry rolled up to me in his wheelchair — I was probably 13 or 14 — and he said, 'If you could move like your mother, you'd be one hell of a tennis player.' She's just complete — beautiful ground strokes, determination and could move and put an amazing amount of spin on the ball."

Rothfels got involved in coaching and teaching the game on the prep tennis level at West High in 2001. The Panthers' girls team won the team title in 2002, but Rothfels left soon after.

"I only left because they were moving the program to Liberty Park, and it was just at the time they were going to do year-round," Kathy Rothfels said. "When I heard the program was moving, I thought 'What am I doing messing around with this when they've got pro coaches there?"'

Rothfels was wooed out of her semi-retirement in 2005 with an offer to assist with both boys and girls tennis at Highland High.

"Sharon Snyder was the coach at Highland and she asked if I'd help, and that's easy because it's a bicycle ride. The pleasure has been all mine," Kathy Rothfels said.

"She just feels like she is giving them a gift by teaching them a sport they can play for a lifetime. She's completely altruistic," current Highland High head coach Mark Foote said. "She loves the game and just wants them to love it as she does. These are 14-, 15-, 16-year old boys. The degree of respect she gets from them is a nice thing to see."

Rothfels initiated a no-cut program, so her most recent junior varsity roster had 19 kids. While she doesn't much like the cold, she still makes it out to coach most days, rain or shine, and can be found at the state tournament every year roaming the courts and checking in on the players.

"She's a stickler, and she knows what she wants to see," Ian Rothfels said.

Continuing the instruction, training and coaching that began with her own children and has come full circle is just as beneficial to Rothfels as it is to her current players.

"So many kids who come into tennis are not football or basketball players, and tennis is what they're good at and they've got it for the rest of their lives," Kathy Rothfels said. "I'm encouraging them to have a game for life. It adds a huge amount to my life to be around these young people every day."


E-mail: hbruce@desnews.com