Closing the Gap

Michael Bryant, the new head coach of the Ithaca High School boy’s tennis team, with the team for their annual photo. (Photo by Sue Sheerer/True Life Photography)

If memory serves, it was nearly 20 years ago that I first met Michael Bryant and got a sense of how much he loves the game of tennis.  

Bryant, now the new head coach of the Ithaca High School (IHS) varsity boys tennis team, put in nine years as the coach at Lansing High (in addition to offering private lessons, camps and clinics nine months out of the year), and he told me, “I have been training a lot of these players for about a decade, and many of them and their parents advocated for me to get this job.” He added, “I didn’t really pursue it, but it was a logical segue and it opened up for me.”  

The IHS team started practice a couple of weeks ago, and if they can’t practice outside they head up to the Reis Tennis Center at Cornell, where there are enough courts to accommodate the entire group. If they have to go to the Eastlake Recreation Club, they split the practice into two sessions, given that there is but a single court there.  

Bryant calls the roster very deep and said, “We have four seniors, a few juniors and many ninth and 10th graders. We have 12 to 18 players who are quite solid and competent for varsity tennis.”

Two of the seniors, Felix Shi and Aiden Campbell, have experience playing in the state tournament, and they have seen some success.

“One of the main things that drove the coaching change is that we want to offer a rigorous, disciplined, and competitive environment that will enable the kids to get to the [state tournaments] and succeed,” Bryant said. “We are working to change the culture, intensify practices and play more teams out of our area, like in Syracuse and Rochester.”  

The coach is grateful to the school administration, as he said, “They have been very supportive of making these things happen, like allowing us to travel.” He also pointed out that the rest of the staff (Rodrigo Viteri and Helen Evans are assistants and Shane Taylor coaches the modified program) is  “committed to a real team effort.”

“There is a lot of excitement,” Bryant said. “We have 25 varsity players and 24 on the modified.  That’s a really big number for a scholastic team. We’re all working to give this a try, to up the fitness level, get them eating better foods, creating opportunities to play more competitive teams and make our own program competitive beyond Section IV. We want to close the gap.”  

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Farewell Findley: Although it has been many years since Findley Meislahn was the head coach of Cornell’s men’s heavyweight crew team, many in the Big Red community were saddened by Fin’s passing last week at the age of 78.  

He was well known in the rowing community, and one story stands out. Cornell and Penn were fierce rivals heading into the Intercollegiate Rowing Association Finals in 1977, and Penn’s coach, Ted Nash, was cracking the whip, having his players run stadium steps in preparation for the grueling race. A reporter asked Meislahn if he would insist on a similar regimen, and the 35 year-old first-year coach (and a rowing legend at Princeton) replied, “Nah, my guys would never do that.” The incredulous journalist pressed him further, and Findley said, "I'm not Ted Nash, and this isn't Penn. These guys are highly independent. I don't think they need me for very much."He was right, as the Big Red won (the first of three IRA championships under Meislahn’s guidance).

It wasn’t the elite-level wins that defined Findley to those of us who knew him. I recall that in 1988, he was on the water in his launch (boat), coaching his rowers, and he had a massively debilitating stroke. It changed the way his body would respond to the things he asked of it, but he fought hard to come back to the greatest extent possible. It was a little more challenging to understand Fin when conversing with him, but we all knew that it was worth the effort. He was a warm, witty and engaging man, and he made everyone feel that he was sincerely interested in what they had to say. Following the stroke, Findley’s wife, Nancy, was incredible, and I can honestly remember wondering if I could ever step up to such a lofty level. I doubted I could. I have a feeling that if I shared those thoughts with Findley, he would have grinned and told me that was why he married Nancy and not me.

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