Middle States

For Each Setback, a Stronger Comeback

To Mark Haffner, tennis is the perfect path to healing and wellness. He has plenty of experience to prove it.


You never quite know what someone is dealing with behind the scenes, and Haffner has certainly shown that — battling through a vast list of obstacles throughout his life.


He contracted meningitis as an infant, then faced a handful of learning disabilities as a child. He fought through it, eventually earning a degree from the University of Maryland. In the mid-1990s, a severe car accident caused him to suffer major shoulder and neck injuries. A decade later, he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.


His hardships have led to the perspective he has today — one he is looking to share with the students he teaches.


“You have to live life with appreciation for what you have, and live each day like it could be your last,” he said.


Haffner, who grew up in the Pittsburgh area, is a true community tennis coach. In his 25-plus years teaching in and around Pittsburgh, he’s helped thousands of adults and kids improve their lives through tennis.

He teaches in the local parks, at the Jewish Community Center in the Pittsburgh Squirrel Hill neighborhood, and in park and recreation centers around the city. He teaches summer camps and at the Boys and Girls’ Club as well.


Haffner’s coaching goes beyond tennis, too. He also coaches hockey and is involved with motivational speaking, including to families going through cancer.


For his impact on the community, he’ll be honored in May by the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame of Western Pennsylvania. The organization is awarding Haffner with the Ziggy Kahn Award, which is presented to an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to the children of the community.


“It’s an honor to be recognized like that,” he said. “So many times you’re moving so fast, you don’t think anyone notices what you’re doing. I feel very fortunate to do what I do, and to be recognized for that is just a bonus.”


Now 12 years cancer-free, Haffner said he’s staying positive and appreciative, and looking forward to a great spring and summer on the courts.


“Coaching is my favorite thing to do,” he said. “I’m excited for hopefully some sort of normal to return this year and to get back to coaching the way we could do it in the past.”


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