When the Tabor College tennis season comes to a close this spring, a chapter in the life of Head Coach John Rutter will close as well. Coach Ruder will be retiring at the end of the season, completing his seven-year run at the helm of the Bluejay tennis program.
Ruder always wanted to coach at a Christian college and saw an opening in 2012 at Tabor. While looking into the possibility of applying at Tabor, he got the sense that Tabor was the right fit for him; a place that put Christ at the center of all that it did.
“We say that we are decidedly Christian and we are. We really try to make Christ the center of all of the things we do,” he said. “I think the faculty does a great job of that in working with our students and caring about them academically. I think our coaches do a great job with them on the athletic field and our student life tries to have a lot of activities and things going on to help them grow.”
Integrating faith and character into his programs have always been key elements for Ruder. He has always prayed for his players and tries to apply lessons on the court to life off it.
The Tabor tennis teams have accomplished a lot under Ruder’s leadership. Individually, Jessica Emoto was a three-time KCAC Singles Champion and three-time KCAC Player-of-the-Year. She qualified for the ITA National Tournament three straight years, and in 2018, was named the winner of the NAIA Arthur Ashe Sportsmanship and Leadership award for women’s tennis. Emoto is Tabor’s only First-Team NAIA All-American in women’s tennis. Illia Filanchuck, another of Ruder’s recruits, was named to the Second Team NAIA All-American squad in 2017-18 from the men’s team.
In 2018, the Tabor women’s team won its first ever KCAC regular season championship. The women’s team won the KCAC Women’s Tennis Champion of Character award three straight years from 2016-2018. The 2018 team was also named the KCAC Champions of Character team for all sports.
According to Coach Ruder, his biggest accomplishment is the type of character that the tennis program has brought to the Tabor campus in general. “We wanted to build a program that was built on solid principles. I think we have accomplished that. I think the students we have brought in have been a benefit to Tabor overall as well as the tennis program.”
As far as personal highlights over this past seven years, Ruder had this to say, “I think a lot of it is that I’ve just had the chance to be around some really great young people. I have watched them grow and develop and move onto different careers and be successful in all areas of life, not just on the tennis court.”
Chances are you will still see Ruder around over the next few years. He plans to continue giving back to the game he loves by giving tennis lessons and has plans to start a program he calls “His Court Tennis.” The focus will be teaching fundamentals of tennis while integrating faith at the camps.
He is working on finishing his certification to be a John Maxwell certified speaker and is about ready to self-publish a book on tennis. After that, he may try his hand on writing about the old west, another favorite of his. Probably his greatest enjoyment of retirement will be the time he will be able to spend with his grandchildren, teaching them and helping them grow.
Tabor executive vice-president for operations and former athletic director Rusty Allen was complimentary of Ruder. “John epitomizes our belief that excellence enhances ministry. He is not only an outstanding mental and physical instructor of the game of tennis, but he worked hard day after day. As he has developed competitive excellence within our tennis teams, he uses it as a platform to influence the team for Christ’s sake. He will be missed and we wish John, Sandy and his family God’s richest blessing in the next chapter of life.”
Tabor College competes in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and a member of the NAIA. A national search for the next head coach will begin immediately.