Joanne Kelly -- coach of the year
Spartan girls' tennis mentor to be honored in May
Shepaug Valley School's interscholastic athletic program has for many years been one of the finest in the state.
And among its many strong sports programs, Spartan girls' tennis stands proudly as one of its best.
For the past 13 seasons, Washington resident Joanne Kelly has been the guiding force for the girls court crew.
On May 14, Kelly will be honored for her excellent coaching by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association as its girls tennis coach of the year.
She will be among the state coaches feted that evening at the AquaTurf in Southington. Ticket information is to be announced.
"The Berkshire League is one of the smallest leagues in the state," Kelly said, "and Shepaug is one of the smallest schools in the league, so it's humbling for sure.
"I'm so appreciative that the CHSCA takes opportunities to recognize smaller programs. We might not have the numbers that other schools have, but our athletes are just as talented and just as committed to their sports."
Spartan athltetic director Matt Perachi understands the school and its girls tennis players are fortunate to have Kelly on board.
"Having Joanne as coach has been a great experience for all of the tennis players who have played for her," he said, "and for me personally as athletic director.
"Regardless of whether the roster comprises players of all-star/championship caliber or beginning level, she makes each feel an equal part of the program, and devotes her time and energy to making all reach their potential as an individual and a team."
Spartan teams under Kelly's watch have won 177 matches and lost just 70, along the way winning Berkshire title plaques in 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, the latter as co-champs with Litchfield.
Among the high points of her tenure to date was a run to the state Class S tournament semifinals in 2009.
"Most of the girls who come through my program have never played competitive tennis before, some have never played tennis at all, and the majority of them will not go on to play beyond high school," Kelly said. "So at the beginning of every season, I have to remind myself that for most of these girls, I'm it.
"I'm responsible for their first and probably only competitive experience. I take that seriously. By the time they leave me, I hope for three things. That they learn how to play the game, they learn to love the game and they experience success on some level ... whatever that may be for each girl."
Perachi is a fan of Kelly's approach.
"The girls on her teams genuinely care about one another, and consistently can be seen supporting one another even when some may have had a bad day on the court themselves," he said. "I am comfortable each spring knowing that each girl that plays Shepaug tennis will have a positive experience, and will finish the season having grown as a person and a tennis player because of Joanne's influence.
Spartan girls tennis has experienced its downs, but more than its share of ups, during Kelly's tenure, but the relationships she's formed with her athletes are what she cherishes most.
"I've been so fortunate to coach so many incredible girls over the past 13 seasons," she said. "Getting to know and connect with them through a sport that I love, and has been such a big part of my life, is great.
"To be honored with an award for that effort is just icing on the cake."