FJA Tennis
Left: Matthew Kay was a captain of the Frankel Jewish Academy boys tennis team for three years. Right: It was a happy bus ride home from Grosse Ile after the Frankel Jewish Academy boys tennis team qualified for the state tournament. (Rick Dorn)

The lifting this season of COVID-19 restrictions that were in place last fall allowed those family ties to blossom once again.

There are many reasons for the Frankel Jewish Academy boys tennis team’s remarkable success since Larry Stark took over as coach in 2015.

Talent and hard work have been the driving forces behind the Jaguars’ five appearances in the Division 4 state tournament in Stark’s seven years as coach.

Frankel qualified for state in 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2019, finishing as high as eighth place in 2015, before its 13th-place finish this fall.

The Jaguars had never qualified for state in 15 years before Stark was hired following a successful seven-year run as the West Bloomfield High School boys tennis coach.

Behind the scenes, a family atmosphere has been the glue that has kept everyone on the Frankel boys tennis team on the same page through a season each year that has stops and starts because of religious holidays and bad weather.

The lifting this season of COVID-19 restrictions that were in place last fall allowed those family ties to blossom once again.

“We actually could have our motivational huddle before each match and give each other a high five for a good point,” said senior Matthew Kay.

Perhaps nobody has benefited more from the family atmosphere created by Stark than Kay, a team captain since he was a sophomore and two-time participant in the state tournament (2019 and 2021).

Douglas Kay, Matthew’s father, died in 2009. Ronna Harwood Kay, his mother, died in 2018. Matthew was 5 and 13 when his parents passed away. He’s now 17.

“Coach Stark has been like a father to me,” Matthew said.

The feeling is mutual for Stark, who named Matthew the team’s Coach’s Pick for this season for all his extra efforts as captain.

“My wife and I have two daughters. Matthew is like a son to me. I’m going to miss him when he goes off to college,” said Stark, a 2006 inductee into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame following outstanding tennis careers at Berkley High School and Michigan State University.

Monica Stark, Larry Stark’s wife for 27 years, has been the Frankel boys tennis team’s assistant coach for two years.

Matthew said Monica dishes out the tough love players on the team need when they’re struggling and need encouragement.

This was Matthew’s fourth year on the team. He said he started experiencing the family atmosphere when he was a freshman.

“It was great back then getting to know the older guys on the team,” he said. “Plus, watching them and hanging out with them gave me a perspective of what the next couple tennis seasons would be like.”

The Jaguars had a solid regular season this fall. They went 6-3-1, facing much larger schools, and finished second in their Catholic League division with a 3-1 record.

They qualified for the state tournament by scoring 12 points — two more than needed — while finishing third among nine teams in a regional tournament Oct. 6 at Grosse Ile.

Frankel battled Grosse Ile to a 4-4 tie Sept. 1 in a regular-season match at Grosse Ile. There was a reason for the Jaguars’ trip there.

“I wanted our kids to get used to the venue because we were going there for regionals,” Larry Stark said.

All the Oct. 15 matches in the Division 4 state tournament were played indoors at the University of Michigan because of bad weather.

Frankel scored three points at state, winning three matches in the single-elimination competition, and finished in a three-way tie for 13th place.

Larry Stark is confident Frankel’s state tournament run will continue.

“It’s a tradition on our team now. The kids want to go to state every year,” he said. “We’re losing three seniors from this year’s team, but we have some good players coming up from Hillel Day School.” 

Season Summary

This was Frankel’s lineup this season, with facts about the players including their season record:

• No. 1 singles — Junior Ethan Grey (8-6).

• No. 2 singles — Junior Max Charlip (11-3).

• No. 3 singles — Junior Aidan Charlip (5-9).

• No. 4 singles — Freshman Hayden Dean (9-5).

• No. 1 doubles — Senior Eli Gordon and sophomore Tony Carson (7-6).

• No. 2 doubles — Seniors Matthew Kay and Caleb Kleinfeldt (6-7).

• No. 3 doubles — Juniors AJ Goodman and Gabe Gordon (11-4).

• No. 4 doubles — Sophomores Jonah Miller and Harry Shaevsky (10-4).

• Grey, Max Charlip and Goodman/Gabe Gordon each won their first-round match at the state tournament.

• Team MVP Max Charlip won all four of his Catholic League matches and was named to the All-Catholic League team.

• Aidan Charlip, Dean, Goodman/Gabe Gordon and Miller/Shaevsky played in regional championship matches.

• Eli Gordon was named the team’s most improved player.

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