The term “It’s a family thing” has been used at times to promote how together a team is in any given season. In the case of the Anderson University tennis program, that phrase is a matter of fact.
The Hammel family has been associated with the sport at AU for more than 30 years.
Sue Hammel enters her 23rd season as coach of Ravens women's tennis team. She played two years for Anderson University after transferring from Ball State. While playing at Anderson, she met her husband Royce, who played for the Ravens men’s tennis team.
“We met at the tennis courts,” Sue said. “We didn’t really talk in the fall. We started going out in the spring our junior year, and we’ve been together ever since. We’ll have been married 30 years on Oct. 30.”
“We talk about it some. It’s always kind of a fun story,” eldest daughter Alex Hammel said. “To be here as a student, where they met and on the tennis courts, and it’s something I do and we can all share. It’s a fun family story.”
[Photo: Alex Hammel]
Sue considers herself a “part-time” coach for Anderson University.
“They’ve asked me every year for 23 years,” she said. “It’s been a natural fit. I love the girls, my family loves the girls. It’s just worked out.”
The couple has three daughters, Alex, Michaela, and Samantha. Alex played her high school tennis at Highland, and Michaela split her career at Highland and Anderson. Both played for coach Jim Hostettler.
Alex graduated from Anderson University last spring with a degree in history and currently is pursuing graduate school. Michaela is a sophomore at AU and a nursing major. Both played for the women’s tennis squad last year.
Samantha is in the eighth grade and was a member of the Riverfield 11-12-year-old softball team that finished fourth in the world at the Little League Softball World Series in August.
Some of the earliest memories the daughters have are of the old AU tennis courts — where the Kardatzke Wellness Center currently stands — and sitting under the trees while matches were being contested.
“I remember before Kardatzke was there, sitting under trees, coloring or whatever and watching the girls play tennis,” Michaela said. “We’d come out and hit after school. I’d sit on the side, do my homework and then hit balls with my mom or sister when she was here.”
“I just remember coming out with my mom and meeting the team, and it was always a fun time for us,” Alex said.
After her days playing for the Highland Scots were done, Alex faced the decision of where she wanted to go to college. Anderson wasn’t in her initial plans. She made a visit to Warner Pacific College in Portland, Ore., where a couple of major issues convinced her that heading west wasn’t going to be in the cards.
“I always thought I didn’t want to come here. Nothing against AU, but I always thought it was too close to home, and I wanted to go away to school,” Alex said. “When I visited that school, they didn’t have a tennis program, and it was really small. I went on a real visit (to AU) and saw it as a student and decided to come here. Being close to home but living on campus was the best decision I could make.”
“Alex looked at Warner Pacific but realized (AU) was the best fit for her,” Sue said. “With Michaela, I think she knew she wanted to go to AU.”
With Michaela wanting to study nursing, her short list for colleges was narrowed to two: Anderson or a 30-minute drive to Muncie.
“Once I decided I wanted to go into nursing, I thought about going to Ball State, but I always wanted to come to AU,” Michaela said. “I’ve always been around (AU), and I love this campus.”
[Photo: Michaela Hammel]
Alex’s decision to attend Anderson and play tennis for her mother put Sue in the quandary of parents coaching their children.
“I thought it would be harder on them than me, but it wasn’t. It seemed real natural,” Sue said. “I didn’t want to seem like I was favoring them. I’d talk about it with the other girls, and they were telling me ‘No, you’re not doing that.’ I’d talk about it with Alex and Michaela, and we did a good job of separating mom and coach. When we’re out here, they see me as a coach.”
Any apprehension on mom’s part was, initially, felt by her oldest daughter.
“Coming in, I wasn’t sure what it was going to be like,” Alex said. “Once we got going, it was a really good experience. To see her interact with my teammates in a way that she was also interacting with me, we were able to have a really good dynamic out here. It was really fun all four years.”
“It’s great to still have her around because I still get to talk to her,” Michaela said of playing for her mother. “Sometimes it’s hard, but it’s not too difficult because I like to talk to and be around my mom.”
The 2011 season was the only one that Alex and Michaela played as teammates in the Ravens’ orange and black. The sisters teamed up to play a handful of doubles matches for Anderson last season.
“For me it was a lot of fun,” Sue said of last season. “They did really well. It was a good mix for them. It was a thrill for me to have them there.”
“It was a lot of fun having her as a teammate again after high school and get to interact that way,” Michaela said. “I think we’re better friends now because of it.”
“We played together at Highland, but it was different here because it was a closer-knit team,” Alex said. “It was still really fun.”
— Quintin Harlan is a reporter for The Herald Bulletin. Story reposted with permission.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,600 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson University continues to be recognized as one of America's top colleges by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review, and Forbes. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, music, nursing, and theology.