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Most athletes will agree that the best part of an away competition is the food. So when the Fredonia women’s tennis team entered a restaurant after a tough match, naturally, they were all excited.
A few minutes later, when an older couple came into the same restaurant and saw the line of loud girls waiting to be seated, they began to turn around to find somewhere else to eat.
To Coach Greg Catalano’s astonishment, his team members went after the couple, allowing them to go ahead of the girls in line.
“Without me even saying anything, they all said, ‘get ahead of us; we’ll wait.’ It was about caring and observing the people around them, and I thought that was very impressive of everyone,” said Catalano.
This display meant a great deal to him, especially since his main focus as a coach is not the sport itself, but character-building.
Catalano grew up in Kenmore, NY, where one of the most popular pastimes was playing tennis. He recalled that, despite there being many courts in his area, people had to wait in line to get to play.
Getting into the game as an elementary school student, he began his tennis career with some neighborhood kids and a wooden racket.
While in college at Buffalo State, and later at SUNY Fredonia, he began coaching basketball at the local YMCA.
“I wanted to get experience as a teacher,” he said. “I wanted to be able to work with kids, [while] I was basically a kid too.”
From there, he went on to coaching golf, cross country, track and, finally, tennis.
In 2013, Catalano was hired as the Fredonia women’s tennis coach, where he has remained since.
After 40 years of coaching experience and 22 years of coaching tennis, he has figured out what it takes to make a successful team both on and off the courts.
“Coaching is really teaching students about real life,” he said. “With tennis, with all the sports I have coached, it wasn’t about the sport; it was about making my players understand who they were and what they can become. Possibilities, let’s put it that way.”
His players really appreciate the life lessons that they take away from playing for Catalano.
“He’s more on the mental side of helping out,” said Sarah Bunk, a freshman. “During matches, he is usually the first one to tell me not to get upset when I’m losing or get upset when my opponent is making bad calls.”
However, he is serious about his athletes’ physical conditions as well.
“He makes the players run a lot. He’s very interested in fitness,” said David Kinkela, the chair of the history department, who has been volunteering his help to the tennis team for the season.
Yet to Catalano, winning is a minor aspect of the game.
“The wins and the losses, they come and go, but learning to be kind to one another and helping each other are what is most important. I notice that on this team, we help each other all the time. And that’s the key to being successful in life, too.”
On top of this, Catalano has helped the girls live up to their team motto, “family.”
“We are really a tight group of girls, and I really think that everybody pulls for everybody else,” he said.
The women on the team can attest to this rule and are thankful to Catalano for bringing them all together.
“The thing that I’ll miss most about the tennis team are the friendships that were built,” said Chloe Karnisky, the only senior of the group.
If you happen to catch the tennis team at the end of their practice, you will hear them cheering the word “family” before calling it a night. To the team, Catalano included, this is less of a nice sentiment and more of a purpose: to be less of a team and more of a partnership.
Catalano has been pleased to find that purpose fulfilled by each member of the team.
Editor’s note: Avril King plays for the women’s tennis team.