Remembering Norm Copeland ’50

As a lasting tribute, the Rollins community shares their favorite memories of legendary tennis player and coach Norm Copeland ’50.

Photos courtesy Rollins College Archives Photos courtesy Rollins College Archives

Tennis great and beloved coach Norm Copeland ’50—who helmed Rollins’ men’s tennis team for 38 years—has left an indelible impact on the Rollins community and beyond. In the following collection of stories, everyone from former players and fellow coaches to longtime friends and colleagues share their favorite memories of the legendary coach both on and off the court. 

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“Norm and my father were fishing buddies who enjoyed discovering and sharing some of the best fishing holes in the area with each other. Both were native Floridians, a rarity even back in the late ’60s, and knowing where to fish was a highly prized quality in a friendship. I was 11 or 12 years old, just discovering a love of tennis, and my father asked Norm if he would give me a few private lessons. At the time, Norm was working hard at Rollins and reluctant to take on private instruction, especially with a young’un with little talent (me). But as the story goes, my father told Norm that he would never share another good fishing hole with him if he didn’t take me on. Norm good-naturedly relented and gave me several tennis lessons. To this day, I still hear his advice whispering in my ear every time I pick up a racket: ‘The minute that ball crosses over the net toward you, get your racket back!’ Norm was one-of-a-kind—a true Florida gem—and he will be missed.” — Elise Hobbs Schramm 

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“I’ll always remember the day Coach Copeland told me I was going to play for Rollins. I grew up in Winter Park, and Norm and C.L. Varner were two major father figures in my life. However, Rollins was always a centerpiece for me, and I hoped one day that I would get the opportunity to compete for them. That moment—when Coach told me I was going to get to play—is a moment I will never forget.” — Stan Aranda ’78

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“Norm’s enthusiasm did as much to help us be successful as the strategies he shared for winning against the very tough competition we faced, including Dale Lewis’ powerhouse teams at the University of Miami. One of Norm’s strategies was to stall, on occasion, when an attractive co-ed was heading to or coming from Elizabeth Hall, which housed all freshmen women at that time. ‘When they get close to the courts,’ Norm advised, ‘hit your serve!’ Sure enough, these intelligent and beautiful students provided a great distraction for all the teams coming to Rollins from the Northeast on spring break! On a personal level, Norm always took the time to visit with team members and discuss anything and everything on our minds ... even decades after our graduation.” — Robert (Bob) Balink ’64

Photo courtesy Rollins College Archives Photo courtesy Rollins College Archives

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“Coach was a surrogate father and loyal friend to me at Rollins and during the many years that followed. Unlike any other elite NCAA college coaches, Norm would make anybody who showed effort, talent, and interest an integral member of the Tars championship team. The team was a family, with Norm and his wife, Harriet, as the patriarch and matriarch. The Tiedke courts were a home away from home and a meeting place for not only top-level tennis but also infinite laughs. The laughter is silenced, but the memories will never fade.” — Randy Gerber ’86

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“Although I was on the Rollins golf team from 1986 to 1990, I spent a lot of time in and around the Field House, where I would see Coach Copeland. He was always so nice to me. We also had a connection in that I am certain he spent a short time early in his career as the tennis pro at a local tennis club in my hometown of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, known as the Edgeworth Club.” — Todd Renner ’90

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“Coach Copeland was my first coach at age 10. My nickname was ‘Big Al’—whenever I entered the tennis complex, I could here the thunderous voice calling to me, ‘Big Al!’ Coach had a nickname for everyone. I loved it! I was extremely shy, but it brought joy to hear my coach welcome me to the busy courts. My lessons consisted of Coach cracking open one can of tennis balls and exploiting my weaknesses with a simple feed of the ball. By the time you finished the half the lesson, Coach didn’t let you sit around. He sent you back on the court to play a set and report the score to him. He couldn’t care less about the score. He simply wanted you to play set after set and make it count. It counted because you were so excited to bring him back the score. When I was 13, I came to the courts one morning and Coach asked if I could help one of his advanced summer campers. This changed my life, as I have been teaching ever since. I will never forget Coach Copeland’s impact on my life. Thoughts and prayers to his beautiful family.” — Alice Reen

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“My life was changed dramatically when my mom and I moved from Albany, Georgia, to Ocala, Florida, in 1952. We soon lived only 15 minutes away from a tennis court facility where Coach Norm established a tennis program with the Ocala Recreation Department. Coach Norm soon connected with Rollins and the rest is history. He provided me a tennis scholarship to Rollins when I graduated from Ocala High School in 1965. Coach Norm loved to tell his famous ‘Pretzel Jim’  story. I still share this story with many classmates.” — James R. Griffith ’69 (aka The Ball)

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“As a Rollins camper in the 1970s, I spent many great summers on the courts with Coach Norm and his daughter, Candy. Loved chatting about tennis and life lessons in the only available air conditioning of his office by the grape soda machine! Condolences on the loss of a true legend.” — Lawrence Kolin ’91

Photo courtesy Rollins College Archives Photo courtesy Rollins College Archives

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“To this day, I smile or laugh out loud when I am reminded of a few phrases Norm used frequently: 1) ‘Hog-wallow’ meant no formal practice, just go out and play two out of three sets to compete for your position on the team (and scholarship). He believed enduring this competitive stress made all of the Tars players mentally tougher. He was right. 2) ‘Load ’em up, men’ was a frequently used phrase Norm liked shouting before and after every away match, meaning it was time to stop screwing around and get on the van. Norm enjoyed driving the team van and navigating (without Google maps). 3) ‘Nut Squad’ was an endearing term he frequently used to reference players who might not be in the starting lineup at that moment but who showed up every day and worked hard. Some of my best friends were ‘Nut Squaders,’ and they provided the team with valuable depth and made the practices more fun and the camaraderie unforgettable. Norm always had his players’ backs—be it in the heat of the battle with other players or opposing coaches, or with teachers and the AD. He went to bat for me personally more than once. He was a great man, and I will always remember him fondly.” — Donnie Martin ’89

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“Although I was at Rollins on a golf scholarship, I used to watch Norm and the team practice in front of the freshmen dorm on the old courts. He taught me how to play tennis and got me a Jack Kramer wooden racket to start with. We talked almost every day that he was on the courts. He was Mr. Rollins and a great man.” — Mike Davino ’77

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“I spent countless summers at Rollins going to tennis camp coached by Norm. It was always such a treat when you could return his legendary slice serve and win a point for a grape soda. He was an amazing coach who always made you work but also made you have fun doing it. More than that, though, he was a great mentor, always teaching lessons about life and always happy to talk to you in the comfort of his air-conditioned office. It was a great respite from the heat and also from the challenges of life. He was a wonderful man with a huge heart and an even greater impact on shaping the lives of those he encountered. I will miss him, but he will always be with me every time I step on a tennis court or watch a match.” — Marc Kolin

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“I played on the Rollins College women’s team from 1972 to 1976. I grew up playing in the National Juniors and training at Port Washington when Harry Hopman had come over from Australia. Needless to say, I worked with many of the top teachers and coaches during my Junior career. Norm was a mentoring figure whose influence shined over the entire tennis program at Rollins, both the men’s and women’s teams. Because of my double major, I often had to take classes that made me miss the girls’ practice time, but Norm quickly helped me by allowing me to attend the guys’ practices. He possessed a smile that lit up any space he was standing in. After graduation, I became a USPTA tennis pro. I also coached the boys varsity tennis team at Greenwich High School, where I was inducted into the National Hall of Fame of High School Coaches in 2009. We’re often the coaches we are because of those who helped us be our best. I am grateful to have been influenced by Norm.” — Connie Peters Jones ’76

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“When I walked onto the Rollins campus as a freshman, no one knew I was a legacy—my father, who graduated in 1959, was a member of Rollins crew, president of KA, and a proud member of Rollins tennis. I recall walking by the courts that first week and a man’s voice called out loudly, ‘Hey, you must be Bob Zumft’s daughter! Your dad was a great player, and I’ll bet you must be too!’ Surprised and looking for where that came from, I saw Norm and went over to meet him. How wonderful to be noticed and so warmly embraced in a welcome that, as a freshman, made me feel like I belonged and was at home. Over the years he shared stories with me about those days with my father, and there was something so special about having that gift of memories and personal connections. While tennis was not my forte, I always enjoyed seeing Norm on campus and watching friends and sisters of mine who played for Rollins. Our son is now a third-generation Tar, and I only wish he could have met Norm. His legacy and spirit are truly enduring, and I’ll always be grateful for his outreach and for sharing his joyful spirit of Fiat Lux.” — Gwyneth Zumft Fournie ’80

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