Sep 2, 2021

Where Would We Be Without Mentors?

Ian reconnecting with his mentor, Phil Trapani, in 2017.

Ian reconnecting with his mentor, Phil Trapani, in 2017.

Never underestimate the power of your influence on young lives. Mentors can reveal possibilities and instill characteristics in people that have an impact for generations. And, if you work in the education sector, you are already a mentor, even if you don’t realize it.

Some of us were lucky enough to have a mentor or two that influenced us. Or inspired us. Or, just maybe, changed the trajectory of our lives. That person – for me – was Phil Trapani. On the one hand, Phil was just a tennis coach and a high school teacher, like many other coaches and teachers at my school. But, for me, he inspired a level of determination, discipline, and character that changed me forever. And, it started at a young age and continues today.

It was the summer of 1976. I was a mere 10 years old, Bjorn Borg won his first Wimbledon, and my parents enrolled me in a summer high school level advanced tennis class. The truth is, I was an aspiring tennis player in a small town and needed whatever help they could find for me. Phil Trapani was the teacher and – to me – he was larger than life. He didn’t teach values – he lived them. He didn’t preach discipline – he demonstrated it. The class was part tennis fundamentals and strategy in the classroom and part on court drilling and practice. My day would start at 8 AM with the class, which finished at 10 AM, and then I would hang out at the courts in the hopes of working out with other players and maybe – just maybe – get a chance to learn more from coach Trapani.

Phil was magnetizing to me. It is not that I wanted to be like him, but I wanted to learn from him. I liked that he saw potential in me – enough to call it out and tell me what he saw in me. He took the time to get to know me. He knew my parents, my humble background, and what my hopes and dreams could really become if I only imagined with a wider lens. He inspired me to see myself differently.

As I moved through my adolescence and my teen years, Phil was a constant drumbeat in my life. When I was in high school, he got up early every morning of my senior to run and train with me in order to prepare for my college career. When I asked him to feed me more balls after school, he asked what time. When my girlfriend broke up with me, he told me to get over it and move forward. When I chose a college, I asked him to appear at my letter of intent signing photo opportunity and he declined. He never wanted to be in the spotlight – only to be of influence.

Phil’s role in my life is a good story with a happy ending, but not without a few of my own personal regrets. No, I never made a career out of professional tennis, but the characteristics that Phil instilled in me have driven my career, my personal life, and family. In my early adulthood, it never dawned on me to stay in touch with Phil, to share my successes, or even just say thanks. I am embarrassed to admit that it took me until my early 40’s to reach out to Phil, say thanks, and tell him what he meant to me. I finally did – over the phone – and I remember crying after I hung up the phone. I had really missed him.

A few years ago I had the chance to go visit Phil, have a cup of coffee, and remember the good old days. He even met Lisa, my wife, who has put up with me reciting some of my favorite Trapani-quotes for three decades. He was exactly as I remembered him. Unassuming, humble, and living life fully each day. And, he was just as interested in me now than he was when I was 10.

Phil I hope you read this. I don’t know where I would be without you, but I know I would not be sharing this story – and you and many others would not be reading it.

Never underestimate the power of influence on young lives as a mentor. Your influence not only lasts a lifetime, but has an enduring ripple effect on other lives.

Thanks, Phil.

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