It’s 3 p.m., a time when students and teachers at Central High School start to gather up their things and go home.
The exception is Mike Horwits, whose day seems to be just getting started.
There are interviews to be conducted to select the 25 students who’ll head to Washington, D.C., next month for President-elect Trump’s inauguration. There’s planning for the Jewish Student Union Chanukah party. There’s a make-up test to be given.
And that doesn’t include his role as Central’s tennis coach, where the Lancers have won the last 10 Public League titles, even though Horwits doesn’t feel the need to always put out his strongest lineup. In fact, if you’re willing to try out for the team and put in the work, you’ve made it.
That’s why he’s been named by the United States Tennis Association (USTA) as one of 10 members of its 2016 No-Cut Coach All-Star Team.
“The impetus for me came my freshman year at Central. I hit three balls — and when the list for the team was posted I wasn’t on it,” said the 42-year-old Horwits, who also is the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) District 12 golf tournament director. “I thought, ‘How can you make a judgment on a kid based on three groundstrokes?’ So I said, ‘If I ever am lucky enough to coach, I’ll never turn a kid away.’”
Not only that, but one way or another everyone gets a chance.
“We have a wide array of players,” Horwits said. “We have [college] Division I level and kids who’ve never picked up a racket.
“Where you’ve got to be creative is in how you run practices. You’ve got to give kids opportunities to make them feel a part of it — like they’re part of a family. Plus we play some teams where we can give kids a chance in the lineup. I don’t always have to play my top seven.”
For Horwits, it’s a mindset going back to his days growing up in Northeast Philadelphia, where he’d attend services at what was then-Congregation Shaare Shamayim often wearing his uniform.
“As a kid, I’d go to synagogue every Saturday even though I played Bustleton Bengals baseball and basketball,” he said. “About four or five of us would come in our uniforms.
“Some people thought it was wrong we were coming from playing basketball on Shabbat. But I came to pray. I really had a connection to Hebrew school.”
Not only has that connection endured, but it’s became stronger since Horwits went on a 2009 trip to Israel and Poland sponsored by the Jewish Labor Committee.
“What struck me is that this was such a short period after all that had taken place,” recalled Horwits, who still attends Shaare Shamayim, although he lives in Center City. “Sixty years ago is not that long — two generations.
“But to look out at the town in Krakow and know the camps are right there, a stone’s throw away, and nobody did anything to stop it — that’s the new normal within the world we live in.”
The new normal for Horwits, though, has been making a difference.
“It’s about helping young people, really,” said Horwits, who’s been at Central for 12 years after seven at Roxborough High School, “because I kind of had these opportunities as a student at Central and feel I want to give back.”
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