More than 30 years ago, one of the best tennis players in the area happened to be a student at Wyoming Area. However, that student was from Arvika, Sweden.
Stefan Rainer was an exchange student for a year and graduated from Wyoming Area in 1990. He was a standout tennis player and a kicker on the football team. In 1990, Rainer was featured in the Sunday Dispatch’s “Spotlight” following his graduation. Now, Rainer, 43, is back in the United States and is a financial advisor for PBA Investment Services and Peoples Bank of Alabama.
During his time at Wyoming Area, Rainer stayed with Frank and Virginia Rauscher in Exeter.
“It was just a great experience,” Rainer said of his time in Greater Pittston. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into and I don’t think (the Rauschers) did either.”
Rainer played for club tennis teams in his native Sweden. Once he got to Wyoming Area, tennis coach Dominick Cassetori took him under his wing. Wyoming Area did not have a tennis team at the time, but Cassetori and Rainer would train throughout the season, getting ready for the district championships.
In 1989, the Warriors gained international fame as the “Kid from Sweden” took the Northeastern Pennsylvania Tennis Conference by storm and would win the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association District 2 championship. In the championship at Kirby Park, Rainer, the No. 4 seed, took down Wyoming Seminary’s Steve Rosenthal, the second seed, 6-0, 6-1.
“(Rainer) was by far the most outstanding player around here,” Cassetori said. “When players came over from Sweden they didn’t think they were very good because of the strong Swedish tennis programs. They were all outstanding.”
Rainer would win one match at the PIAA championships at Bloomsburg University.
“I look back on that year and think the world of it,” he said. “It was great.”
Rainer was originally supposed to go to Freeland MMI when he came from Sweden. After working out with Cassetori, Rainer took a liking to him and the area. From there, Rainer would stay with the Rauschers — Virginia was Cassetori’s mother-in-law.
Cassetori was a great player in his own right. He was recently named to the Luzerne County Sports Hall of Fame and has nearly 70 tennis championships in the Wyoming Valley. He’s a coach at Kingston Indoor Tennis.
One day, Cassetori said, the duo was working out on the tennis courts adjacent to the football field. Rainer then wanted to try kicking for the football team. Then-Wyoming Area head coach Frank Parra got Rainer a pair of shoes and because of Rainer’s soccer background in Sweden he could kick the ball really well.
“That was a new experience for me,” Rainer said. “I hit some pretty long (field goals) while I was there.”
During his time in Greater Pittston, Rainer was a regular kid that didn’t speak the greatest English, Cassetori said. One time, the tennis coach remembers, Rainer asked for a “table cloth” to blow his nose instead of a tissue.
One of the things Rainer does miss from the area is Pizza L’Oven in Exeter.
“Whenever there was a date we would go to Pizza L’Oven,” he said. “They have the deep dish pizza that’s a fried bottom. I miss the whole experience. In terms of food I certainly miss that place.”
After graduating from Wyoming Area, Rainer went back to Sweden for several years to finish his technical schooling. He would later enroll at the NCAA Division 2 University of North Alabama in Florence. He received a scholarship and played on the tennis team for many years and was the No. 1 singles player and also played on a doubles team.
In 1995, the University of North Alabama went to the NCAA tournament and was ranked in the top-20 in the nation.
“It think it’s the greatest sport in the world,” Rainer said. “There’s no politics involved. It’s clear cut. It’s kind of a release.”
In Alabama, Rainer met his current wife, Amy. The couple has two children: Alexander, 14, and Anna 8. Currently, Rainer is a tennis coach at James Clemens High School in Madison, Alabama. He is involved in the Madison Rotary Club and St. John Paul Church.
Cassetori said Rainer gets back to the area when he can. The two remain friends to this day and stay in touch through Facebook.
Reach Nick Wagner at 570-991-6406 or on Twitter @Dispatch_Nick