CLARION, Pa. (EYT/D9) — Norbert “Norb” Baschnagel never hit a serve. He never hit a volley. He never hit a backhand or a forehand.
But his women’s tennis teams at Clarion University in the mid-to-late-1980s were virtually unbeatable.
“Great players make great coaches,” Baschnagel said.
And, great coaches eventually end up in halls of fame.
Baschnagel, 78, will take his spot in the Clarion Sports Hall of Fame — finally — September 3. He was slated to be inducted last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic canceled the ceremony.
Baschnagel also waited 31 years to have his name added to the greats at the university, including three of his women’s tennis players during the Golden Eagles’ historic run: Lisa Warren, Susie Fritz, and Tammy Myers.
He’ll join six other inductees during a ceremony at the Gemmell Center Multi-Purpose Room on the corner of Payne Street and Wilson Avenue.
The others are: Erik Burnett (1989-1992, wrestling); Kaitlyn Johnson (2008-2011, women’s swimming); Malen Luke (1994-2005, football coach); Rollie Smith (2000-2003, men’s basketball); Stephanie Sutton (1998-2001, women’s diving); and Anthony Vincent (1965-1967, baseball).
The secret to Baschnagel’s success as a men’s and women’s tennis coach, and also an assistant men’s basketball coach at Clarion, was his uncanny ability to recruit.
“I brought in Division I players — don’t ask me how I did that,” he said. “I can tell you it’s almost impossible what we accomplished, what we did. We had no scholarships. We did it with mirrors, magic, or mystic.”
The unabashed Baschnagel was relentless as a recruiter. Persistency, he said, is one of the triangles of success. The others: sportsmanship and caring.
“You have to be honest with your recruits,” he said. “I would not recruit any player in basketball or tennis if we did not have their major. I wouldn’t try to con them into coming just for the sake of basketball or tennis. They’ll know within 10 minutes if you’re (lying) to them or not.”
Baschnagel would also call potential recruits multiple times a week to try to get them to come to the Golden Eagles.
It worked with Warren, who had a scholarship offer from the University of Louisville, where her older sister was the team captain. Baschnagel kept talking to her, advocating for the university and the tennis program.
“You can’t back down,” Baschnagel said.
She finally relented.
So did others, and what transpired after was an unprecedented run of success in any sport at Clarion University.
The women’s tennis program under Baschnagel went undefeated in three of the next four seasons, compiling a record of 57-1 and won Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships from 1986-89. At one point, the team won 45 consecutive matches. The Golden Eagles also notched top-10 finishes nationally in 1988 and 1989.
The only loss in that four-year run was to Division I Penn State.
“Nobody in the history of the university is even close to what we did during those four years,” Baschnagel said. “Going undefeated is hard. There’s no room for error.
“It’s the best-kept secret at the university,” he added, chuckling. “When I tell people I’m going into the hall, they ask, ‘For what? Checkers?’ They don’t even know what I’m going in for.”
Baschnagel would have had a pretty solid resume for the hall even without his success with the women’s tennis program.
Before he left the basketball court for the tennis court, Baschnagel was an assistant basketball coach at Clarion from 1975-82 under Joe DeGregorio. During that time, the Golden Eagles were a perennial power, going 159-67 and either winning or sharing the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-West title five times.
Baschnagel is also a member of the University of Buffalo Athletics Hall of Fame. A native of Western New York, he played for the Bulls from 1962-1965 and averaged 10 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. After his playing days there, he was an assistant coach at the school until 1973.
He spent three years in the early 1990s as the boys basketball coach at North Clarion. He was part of a group that started the YMCA in Clarion during that time and in 2000, he launched the YMCA Sportsmanship I All-Star Basketball Games that are still being played today.
Baschnagel was a professor at Clarion University, as well, until his retirement in 2013.
He’s also an author. His book, “How to Build a Sport or Life Dynasty,” will be released in the coming weeks.
With everything Baschnagel has accomplished, one thing rises above all else, he said.
“We had a 100% graduation rate (on the men’s and women’s tennis teams),” Baschnagel said. “That is the most important thing I did as a coach. If you’re not graduating your players in four years, you’re using and abusing student-athletes.”