Vignettes about Events & People


Mike Watters led the Cowley men's tennis team to 15 consecutive championships from 1970 0 1984.

Mike Watters

He was an average player who turned out to be a good coach. That’s the self-analysis of one of the most successful tennis coaches in Cowley history, Mike Watters. Watters, who led the Cowley men’s team to 15 consecutive Region VI and Jayhawk Conference championships from 1970-1984, was inducted into the National Junior College Athletic Association Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame in spring 2000, and the Tiger Athletic Hall of Fame at Cowley in 2002.


Watters, a Winfield native who is dean of engineering, mathematics and physical science at College of Lake County in Grayslake, Ill., used local talent to build a regional junior college dynasty. Qualifying for nationals all 15 years, the Tigers’ top finish was second in 1974. "About 50 percent of the time we finished in the top 10," Watters said. "And it was (NJCAA) Division I at the time, which I think was incredible in itself. Also, in 1974 we received the only team sportsmanship award ever given at the NJCAA tennis tournament. That was more meaningful to me than the actual second place. It was voted on by players and coaches. The thing I’m proud of is it was truly a team of All-Americans, and all from Cowley County.


Competing at nationals where there are a lot of international players was really remarkable. Watters’ 1974 team was comprised of Gary Cannon of Winfield and Wayne Marsh, Marty Gilliland, and David Jones, all from Arkansas City. The format back then was four singles matches and two doubles.


Today, the format is six singles and three doubles matches. Watters played on state championship teams at Winfield High School his junior and senior years. He went on to play four years at Southwestern College, graduating in 1961. His first job out of college was at Minneola High School as a science instructor. Watters, whose major at Southwestern was chemistry, taught eighth-grade science, general science, biology, chemistry, and physics while serving as assistant football coach, assistant basketball coach, head girl’s tennis coach, and senior class sponsor. From Minneola, Watters went to Larned High School as a science teacher and assistant boy’s basketball coach. He also worked with the boy’s tennis program there. He then went on to Junction City High School as assistant basketball and head tennis coach, then to Shawnee Mission East for a year with the tennis program.


He then came to Cowley in the fall of 1969. Watters taught chemistry, was head men’s tennis coach and assistant basketball coach in his first year at Cowley. When he left Cowley in 1994, Watters completed 24 years as chair of the Natural Science Department. Watters oversees 40 full-time faculty, 100 part-time faculty, 12 staff members and 5,000 students in 20 programs at College of Lake County in suburban north Chicago. He no longer teaches in the classroom. Watters said his Cowley teams didn’t win because of him. "I’ve had the honors of the winning teams, but those were not for me, they were for the players and the college," he said. "And I’ve had teaching honors. The several NISOD (National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development) awards are very meaningful to me. It shows you are accepted in your profession as a professional educator."


Watters’ teams at Cowley never backed down from a challenge, and the coach put many challenges before his players. "We played four-year competition until nationals," Watters said. "The schedule I set up for the players was not easy. We’d drive in on the orange (Cowley) bus and the other coaches would say ‘These kids will get off the bus and look like a bunch of hicks. They’ll spray balls all over the place in warm-ups. But when they throw that ball up on the first serve, you’d better hang on, because they’re here to play tennis.’"


Mike Watters’ coaching career at Cowley:
1970—Region VI Championship
1971—Region VI Championship
1972—Region VI Championship
1973—Region VI Championship; 11th nationally
1974—Region VI Championship; 2nd nationally (highest finish)
1975—Region VI Championship; 8th nationally
1976—Region VI Championship
1977—Region VI Championship
1978—Region VI Championship; 11th nationally
1979—Region VI Championship;
1980—Region VI Championship; 17th nationally (12th straight Region VI Title)
1981—Region VI Championship; 18th nationally
1982—Region VI Championship; 10th nationally
1983—Region VI Championship; 10th nationally
1984—Region VI Championship; 9th nationally

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