While walking into the field house in the middle of spring, the sound of badminton rackets and sneakers against the floor are heard as the familiar face of coach and physical education teacher Brian Sullivan sets up the nets and chats with his students.. Along with being a freshman P.E. teacher and badminton coach, Sullivan has coached numerous sports at Fremont, Homestead and DeAnza College, often commuting back and forth during and after school hours. Yet, many students only see a small portion of the time he puts into his job.
Most recognized as a freshman P.E. teacher and now badminton coach, Sullivan has been involved in coaching athletics since the 1980s. His background in athletics extends back to when he was a multi-sport athlete as a child, playing football, baseball, badminton and golf.
Sullivan first became a part of the athletic coaching community in the late 80’s when he coached boys basketball at Homestead. However, his main triumph as a coach was starting sports programs around the district. When Sullivan first started coaching high schoolers in the 90’s, there was no girls golf or boys volleyball at Fremont High. Sullivan wanted students to experience some of the sports he enjoyed and decided to start programs that did not previously exist at Fremont.
Sullivan’s inspiration and love for coaching started when he was a young athlete due to the fact that Sullivan had coaches who helped cultivate his passions in the past.
“I can still remember one situation where the pitching coach for the Texas Rangers was talking to me and a couple high school kids about launch angles and all this other stuff,” Sullivan said. “I was right there with them and I looked at the two other guys and they were like ‘what are you talking about?’”
Sullivan realized just how interested he was in sports and with that decided to broaden his knowledge and capabilities. He executed thisby exploring sciences such as anatomy, physiology and physics, that would later help him when talking to coaches.
For Sullivan, the most rewarding part of coaching that has kept him in this profession is the interaction with the students.
“It’s enjoyable when the light goes on and somebody does something just reactionary,” Sullivan said. “That’s how your make the right play instead of spending so much time thinking about it.”
Sullivan’s experience with badminton started in college, when he took up badminton as an elective class. Since then, he has been involved with coaching badminton ever since.
One of Sullivan’s athletes, senior Kevin Zhou has been on the badminton team all four years of high school speaks highly of Sullivan and his efforts to create a positive environment for the team.
“What sticks out is the fact that he didn’t really know much about higher level badminton at first but he’s always trying to do whatever he can to help the team [ like ] bring us towels, snacks, and make sure we play w integrity and cheer for our teammates,” Zhou said. “Since becoming our coach at the start of last year he’s learned a lot over the course of two seasons.”
Currently, Sullivan is focused on coaching both the Varsity and JV badminton teams. For the past couple years, the Varsity team has been an unstoppable force in their league — not losing a single match.
Junior Shreya Ramakrishnan, who has been on the varsity badminton team at MVHS for two years now, speaks highly of Sullivan’s effort to help the teams strategically and emotionally.
“He cares a lot about each member of the team and tries super hard in everything he does,” Ramakrishnan said. “ I remember he made it a point to bring gushers to every game just because I had mentioned I liked them.”
Sullivan makes effort to ensure that not only are his athletes great players, but also great people, focusing on a strong team connection and doing the most he can to build a strong team.
“Sullivan provides good advice for maintaining a calm mentality and keeping focus. Zhou said, “I admire [ him ] a lot as the only coach for our huge team of 60+ kids. I think it’s super selfless and kind of him to be our coach, always bringing us snacks and setting up open gyms. e’s helped me grow a lot as a person and I’m really appreciative of him coaching our team.”
It’s important to Sullivan that he makes an impact on these students and athletes now and after high school. Since Sullivan has been coaching for so long, he has gotten to experience his students as they grow up and transition into adults.
“I appreciate when students actually come back and want to associate with you,” Sullivan said. “It shows you had a lasting impact on them on how to socialize and be a good person.”
He feels his paternal instincts kicking in frequently while he’s coaching. Because he and his wife got married too late to have kids, he says one of the prime reasons he coaches is to utilize some of his “unused paternal instincts.”
For cross country and track and field head coach Kirk Flatow, there are countless instances where it momentarily felt like his athletes were his own children. One instance that Flatow recalls was before a big race when the varsity team was sitting in a big circle, asking each other different questions. The question which provoked a particularly meaningful reaction from Flatow was about where each person would live in the world if they could live anywhere.
“One of the girls said ‘Well you know, what I would want to do is spend a year in Paris’ and she explained why — the art and whatnot, and I just went, ‘Oh, I would love to see that happen for her,’” Flatow said. “I remember having that feeling, like a parent would, like ‘If I could help make that happen, that would just be a wonderful thing.’”
Another scenario that Flatow recalls is two years ago, when the boys 4x400-meter relay team unexpectedly finished in fourth place at the CCS Championship meet.
“We didn’t expect to see them up there getting medals. We beat Bellarmine CP and it was really exciting. So we’re getting our medals, and we get back down and that’s the last event of the day,” Flatow said. “I looked over and I see a couple of our boys were picking up paper water cups and putting them in the trash, [and I just remember feeling so proud of them.]
Flatow emphasizes that these moments are just a few among many. In fact, he admits that when it comes to his paternal instincts, “it’ll probably happen [again] today.”
Senior Sarah Feng and junior Triya Roy have been coached by Flatow for four and three years, respectively. Both admit that they feel comfortable talking to Flatow about almost anything.
“I feel like I see him as a father, and he’s supported me through basically four years of high school,” Feng said. “I look up to him a lot as somebody I want to emulate in my behavior. [...] I know that if I have any problems in my life I can always count on him to be there.”
For Flatow, these paternal instincts are a huge part of who he is and who he strives to be as a running coach. Flatow explains that another reason he became a coach was because he was inspired by Coach Jones, his own cross country coach from when he was in high school in Willow Glen. To this day, he can recall exact conversations that he had with Coach Jones.
One conversation that Flatow remembers was about a bad habit he used to have as a high school cross country runner — he always made excuses and tried to explain why something had gone wrong when he didn’t perform as well as expected.
“I remember after racing one time he just told me, ‘That doesn’t do any good.’ He said ‘Nobody cares why you didn’t do it, you still only scored however many points you did for the team and you’re excuses don’t matter,’” Flatow said. “I was really frustrated with him but for some reason the way he said it made me think about it, and I [eventually] decided that he was right.”
This particular moment is also evidence of the impact that Coach Jones had on Flatow, not only as a runner, but on his life in general. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, Flatow faced many challenges — some of which took a long time to overcome. He had disappointments and setbacks along the way, but these were all things that he first learned as a high school cross country runner.
“I did a lot of business deals where I’d be out on my own in places like Japan or Europe and a deal would be going badly, and I could think of all the reasons that it wasn’t my fault,” Flatow said. “But I could [hear] my coach in my head saying ‘That doesn’t matter — the only thing that matters is are you going to get this done or not? Not whose fault it is, you’re [the one who is] responsible, so are you going to get it done?’”
Though Flatow admits that his coaching style is not like that of Coach Jones, he feels that by continuing to coach, he is honoring Coach Jones. Although this was back in the 60’s and 70’s when the approach to coaching was very different, Flatow explains that Coach Jones was not the most nurturing, adding that “Coach Jones didn’t spend a lot of time hugging it out.”
Despite these differences, the two coaches still have one thing in common — they teach their athletes how to use running to gain experience for life.
“If you take the experience you get as a runner and you do this for a period of years, that process is going to be very similar whether you want to start a company or become a lawyer or write a book,” Flatow said. “Understanding that those experiences are similar… it [trains] you and prepares you to do it again in the future for something that is probably going to be more important to you. [At the end of the day,] becoming a lawyer is probably going to be more important to you than medalling at CCS.”
For Flatow, running has been a part of his life since he started in high school. At times, it wasn’t the most dominant aspect, but it has always been there. His motivations for running are everything from wanting to stay healthy to the sense of community that running provides.
Thirteen years ago, after overcoming a long term injury which prevented him from running longer distances, Flatow decided to try increasing his mileage. He qualified for the Boston Marathon after completing his first marathon. Since then, he has run in Boston for the last 13 consecutive years — he proudly adds that only 266 runners in the world currently have a streak of more than 10 years in Boston.
“It’s nice because to me, it’s a challenge I’ve given myself,” Flatow said. “There’s just nothing like running Boston. The support group that the town gives [the marathoners] makes you feel like you’re in the Olympics.”
Continuing to run allows Flatow to connect with his athletes because he knows exactly what kind of challenges they are experiencing. Junior Kyle Tsujimoto explains that because Flatow used to be a high school cross country runner, it’s easy to connect with him.
“He went through these [same] experiences as well, and it helps us relate to him more,” Tsujimoto said. “It kind of shows that there is a goal or meaning behind everything he does or has us do.”
Roy adds that at the end of the day, Flatow’s empathetic nature allows him to form strong connections with his athletes — the type of long-lasting connections that transform him into more than just a coach. He becomes a fatherly figure.
“It’s just having a coach who understands — more than running the Boston marathon himself, it’s having a coach who sees you progress throughout the season and throughout the years,” Roy said. “If you have a great race, he’ll be just as happy for you as you are, or if you have a terrible race, he’ll also be crying with you.”
While there are some coaches at MVHS who are known to most of the student population, we often don’t hear about the newly hired coaches. Explore three stories below of newly elected coaches for this school year.
Molly Guadiamos – Swimming
The name “Molly Guadiamos” may sound familiar to a few MVHS students due to her presence in the classroom, being a world language teacher. But to those who haven’t heard, you may have seen her at the swimming pool sidelines starting from this school year as she decided to coach swimming again after a 10 year hiatus from coaching at Homestead High School.
Guadiamos first heard about the openings for a coaching position shortly after the season started from her daughter, who was a part of the swim team, and from athletic director Nick Bonacorsi as he was aware of her previous coaching experience. Additionally, due to previous coaches leaving the program, Guadiamos thought that this was a great opportunity to come back and coach.
“I was just concerned with an entire new group of coaches as they wouldn’t have that continuity to have things run smoothly with three new couches because we had had to at least two of the coaches for the past three years,” Guadiamos said. “They had been here for a while, so they kind of knew everything and losing them both at once was big blow to the program.”
With Guadiamos having experience teaching students in the classroom and previous experience in coaching swimming, it wasn’t hard for her to adjust to this change.
“I think, just like with anything, you try to figure out what it is [they] need to learn, how is the best way to teach that and break that down,” Guadiamos said. “You just have to give constant feedback, just like in the classroom when you’re teaching a new concept or any kind of concept — you’re giving them feedback and corrections. So that plays into coaching the same while you may see them doing a stroke or a turn.”
Some things that Guadiamos had learn not learned from the previous years coaching at Homestead was the actual logistics of running a team. With many MVHS teams having certain cultural aspects tied to it, Guadiamos had to foresee and manage as the season progressed.
“The whole culture of the team, the traditions of the team, [like] senior night, they always have a dinner before CCS and these are all these different things that you kind of have to learn,” Guadiamos said. “There’s just so many logistical things that are a big challenge I’m learning the first year.”
Despite these challenges, Guadiamos appreciates the work these swim athletes put into their craft and the support she got from other coaches in the district. The new technology of touch pads to record swimmers’ time and electronic systems that weren’t used 10 years ago surprised Guadiamos and the overwhelming support really shocked her as a returning coach — it’s something that she will never forget.
“Even though we’re trying to win against each other, many coaches from Saratoga High School and Gunn HS helped us out,” Guadiamos said. “They were really supportive, so I think that it was really cool just knowing that the other coaches here aren’t just here to beat you they want your athletes to also have a good experience they want everything to run smoothly.”
Stephanie Ekeh – Track and field
With MVHS track and field being the biggest sports team on campus, having over 100 students on the team, it can be hard to manage all the athletes, events and trainings with just one coach. Newly recruited assistant coach Stephanie Ekeh was mindlessly scrolling through the internet when she came across an opportunity to become a coach for track and field in the Bay Area. Although, she was torn to choose between two schools in the Fremont Union School District.
“Well, it was between here [Monta Vista] and Lynbrook and it just seemed [like] this was a little bit more welcoming,” Ekeh said. “Plus, I had some friends that I ran with in college that went here so they’re really encouraging with like the atmosphere so I was like, ‘All right, this seems cool.’”
Although Ekeh is a new coach at MVHS, she does hold previous track experience as she was apart of her high school’s track team at Oak Grove HS, a school in the San Jose area. In addition, after graduating from college, she used her experinces from being in the track team to coach at Sunnyvale Middle School as a sprints and hurdles coach.
The change in pace from coaching at a middle school to a high school was something that Ekeh had to adapt to due to the different student dynamics. This change has taught her many things about the high school atmosphere from a position of higher authority.
“I’m learning more about teenagers than I ever would [have] if I wasn’t hanging out with a bunch of teenagers,” Ekeh said. “As well, this job has definitely taught me so much patience.”
After attending several different events and meeting up with coaches around the area this track season, she took note of the differences in how certain coaches coach their athletes.
Ekeh was surprised with the different philosophies presented from coaches from a variety of schools while going to several meets. Because of that, Ekeh’s biggest takeaway from her first season coaching a high school track team was not about how the athletes outperformed this season, or how much of a shock coaching in high school would be, but it was the realization of being a critical and effective coach to these young athletes.
“I learned that I just have to be more aware that not everybody has like the same type of coaches — some coaches will have a really intense approach to coaching compared to others, while some don’t,” Ekeh said. “I’m not really an intense in your face type of coach and I won’t track your events or your marks on a flowchart. But I’ll definitely sit, wait and analyze the athletes performances instead.”
Pancho Tzankov - JV boys soccer
When Pancho Tzankov, the MVHS JV boys soccer coach, moved from New York to California in April 2012, he had no intentions of becoming a soccer coach. Although, with the help of his wife and son encouraging him, he decided to be an assistant coach for his son’s soccer league at AYSO Region 35 — a local soccer club here in Cupertino.
“I was planning on coaching for only one season but my son came from being a bad player at the beginning to being one the best at the end in just one season,” Tzankov said. “Nevertheless, I was planning to not to coach anymore, but my wife told me ‘Okay, it’s working!’ One thing lead to another and I ended up coaching seven more years.”
When his son eventually enrolled as a sixth grader at Kennedy Middle School, Tzankov seized another opportunity to coach his son’s soccer team due to Kennedy not having any coach for its respective team — which could have been a blow to the program.
“When my son came for the sixth grade orientation at Kennedy before the beginning of the season, they told us that they have no coach for boys soccer six and seventh grade and they may needed to cancel the program,” Tzankov said. “So I offered to help if they couldn’t find someone else. They couldn’t and I helped them coach three years so far.”
As Tzankov’s son told him about the opportunity to coach at his middle school when he was enrolled at Kennedy, once his son enrolled in MVHS as a freshman, he noticed the same trend of the absence of a soccer coach for the JV team. With athletic director Nick Bonacorsi noting Tzankov’s previous coaching experience, he was soon hired and the season underway.
As one would expect the high school school season be more rigorous training, in terms of how many practices and games there are in a short season, Tzankov took note of it and adapted to the changes quickly. With Tzankov coaching in many different levels of soccer throughout his life, he realized the major differences in the high school and middle school soccer environment.
“In general, the kids are much more intense at MVHS than Kennedy,” Tzankov said. “The high school kids are becoming bigger than me, so I’m now the smaller one out of most of the players on the team. Also, they are more physical, faster and overall better at the sport because they have the experience.”
Although the high school soccer scene may be more intense than what Tzankov has experienced in his coaching career, he hopes the impact he makes to the players will impact them as athletes and as individuals.
“I’m very happy that I get to influence the kids to become better human beings,” Tzankov said. “In the hindsight, the boys become very good players but my magic is to make the boys good citizens and good people at the end.”
According to football offensive coordinator Cody Owens, many MVHS student athletes find excuses to not attend practice on a regular basis. Some of their excuses are valid like family emergencies, but the vast majority of excuse are, in Owens’ words, trivial.
I got an 87 on my test. I need to study.
I have piano practice. There’s no way I can miss it.
I have a dentist’s appointment.
The list of excuses goes on, causing Owens and volleyball coach Paul Chiu to feel annoyed. The two coaches believe that practice is integral to success in athletics, especially for team sports that require players to go through drills and learn each others’ strategy to build as a unit and improve their overall play.
“When people miss practice, you just get to see which teams are more prepared [and which are not],” Owens said. “Unless you’re just a freak athlete where practices don’t matter, [missing practice] is a really, really big deal, because you can get out of rhythm.”
For Chiu, the biggest problem he faces as a coach is having to balance between individual students’ academic needs and the whole team’s needs. He believes that part of this is due to the fact that MVHS is a grade-centric environment, where students feel the need to sacrifice some of their extracurriculars in order to devote extra time to academics. Recognizing that this work ethic stems from societal and parental pressure, Chiu sympathizes with his athletes and tries to be flexible with practice attendance.
He also takes it upon himself to know when major school and academic events are being held, such as Junior Prom or SATs, so that he can schedule team meet-ups and practice sessions around them.
Senior Rithvik Madhipatla is appreciative of Chiu’s willingness to accommodate players’ workloads. While he rarely misses practices himself — the few times he did was due to injury or catching up on work after missing school — he knows that other players often do, and admits that full attendance during practice sessions is quite rare. Madhipatla explains that when people are absent for long periods of time, the overall play during future games is certainly impacted.
“When we came back from Spring Break after not attending practice for a while, we ran a couple liners in the beginning, and you could tell that [not] everyone was ready to play,” Madhipatla said. “But luckily we had a few days to practice and everyone attended all those practices and we were back in shape to play our best.”
As the football coach, that’s all Owens wants for his players — to help them to play their best. It is for this reason that he maintains strict policies for attendance and why he is against students’ excuses to miss practice. Similarly, Chiu feels that it’s the students’ responsibility to care about their team’s performance.
“It’s their call at the end of the day. They’re not playing for me, they’re not playing for their parents, they are playing for themselves and they’re playing with their teammates,” Chiu said. “I tell them that if you don’t want to put in a time and effort, it is your loss.”