MICHIGAN CITY — A few months ago, Earl Cunningham had a question for his close friend and mentor, Norm Bruemmer.
"How many programs should we make?"
Cunningham needed to know how many pamphlets to print for Tuesday afternoon's ceremony, naming the Michigan City tennis courts after the Wolves' legendary former coach with 21 sectional, 11 Duneland Athletic Conference and six regional titles in Bruemmer.
He responded, saying, "I don't know. Maybe two?"
Cunningham proceeded to make around 200 for the event, and was just about spot on with his attendance prediction. Plenty of those in the Michigan City tennis community attended the ceremony prior to the Wolves' match against Portage Tuesday afternoon, ranging from former players, family members, people Bruemmer has mentored and more. The rows of benches and chairs were all full of people with nothing but fantastic things to say about "The Bruem."
Everyone that spoke prior to Bruemmer had interesting stories to tell, but current Michigan City head coach Mike Tsugawa's and Bruemmer's son, Beau's, stuck out more than anything.
Seventeen years ago, Tsugawa was a wide-eyed, recently-hired Japanese teacher at Michigan City with a passion for tennis. He timidly went up to Bruemmer to ask if he could assist in coaching tennis in any way, and of course, Bruemmer couldn't say no.
"I was new to town, much less this school," Tsugawa said. "I didn't know a single person in this community and I was so scared and nervous. I wanted to be around something familiar, and tennis was that thing. So meeting "The Bruem," it was a little bit intimidating. But as soon as I walked over and introduced myself, asking to help out with the tennis team, I got the trademark smile from him, and he said, 'Yeah, we'll find a spot for you.' And, wow. What a tradition he brought me into. I knew nothing about nothing about what came before me many many years ago. I was privileged to be a part of the great "Bruem" era of tennis, and we did win matches and titles together. But more than anything, I marveled about how at times when we've got a good season going, these courts felt like home. It was something really, really special. And that all started with "Bruem."
Fast-forward a few years and Tsugawa took over as the Wolves head coach following Bruemmer's retirement. Everything he learned, he learned from Bruemmer.
"The good times with "Bruem" were truly amazing, but you truly knew you were around a special leader when the times were bad," Tsugawa said. "No matter the circumstance, "Bruem" knew exactly what the player needed to hear no matter what, and I'm not sure how he did that."
Bruemmer's closeness with his players during his tenure as the Wolves' head coach exuded success on the court, but what his son remembers most were just how invested his father was in making sure his players succeeded as people.
"Michigan City not only won with matches, but they won with pride and character," Beau said. "Not once did you hear about a Michigan City High School tennis player bragging or talking negatively about a team. As someone that's been a member of the Michigan City tennis program, I can say that playing under Coach Bruemmer made me not only a better player, but a better person. By having his players do things off the court, such as high-five each other in the hallways, he created a culture, a friendship among kids that stretched way beyond the tennis court. I can still name all the varsity and junior varsity rosters that I played with all four years as a Wolf. Coach Bruemmer taught not only tennis, but life lessons and wanted to see his players succeed both on and off the court. He's the true definition of a great coach and someone that is most certainly deserving of this honor."
Others that had the chance to speak shared the same sentiment, including Cunningham, a pair of former girls tennis players and more. Bruemmer's success on the courts are certainly what put Michigan City tennis on the maps, but the lessons taught are what will immortalize him.
"There's no telling just how far Norm's impact has and will reach," Cunningham said.
That may be true, but forever, hanging above each entryway at Michigan City's tennis courts will be a blue and white sign with "The Bruem" on it, and another that officially dedicates them to Bruemmer — a permanent tribute to someone who meant so much to the tennis community for so many years.