Heralds' tennis has a new home

St. John cuts ribbon for Nassief Courts

SAYBROOK - In years past St. John tennis coach Todd Nassief was careful to never complain about the courts his Herald teams called home.

"If I complain, the kids are going to complain," Nassief said. "It was difficult though, the courts had cracks in them, they were sloped funny, the nets weren't high enough. I told the kids though these are our courts, we had to turn a negative into a positive. We had to make it our advantage."

But, last year if you were to ask one of Nassief's players about the home court "advantage," you would gotten a really confused look.

The Heralds did not play a home match during the 2014 season. However, this season, and for years to come, that will not be the case.

"Nassief Courts," the Heralds new tennis home was dedicated Sunday in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the St. John campus.

The $2.5 million privately funded project is now ready for the Heralds home opener on April 1 against Harvey, the first of 15 home matches slated for this spring.

"Tennis is an essential of our program," St. John President Sister Maureen Burke said. "We're about academics, we're about academic excellence. Tennis is a sport that not only requires physical skills, but also requires thinking, it requires working together as a team even though it's an individual sport. I think it brings out the best in our athletes because they have to work together as a team but then it's also about their individual efforts and talents."

The new facility, located on the south side of the campus on Depot Rd., is just the latest in a series of benchmarks that represent the revival occurring among St. John's athletic programs.

This past fall marked the return of football for the Heralds as well as the return to the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Now the Heralds boast their own tennis courts and look forward to a state of the art gymnasium, opening in time for the 2015-16 basketball season.

"The future is now," St. John athletic director Nick Iarocci said. "Four or five years ago our enrollment was at an all time low. Sister Maureen came on the scene and she told us 'good things are coming' and sure enough the future is now.

"As our enrollment continues to grow and we have our athletic rebirth I feel the future is now, but I feel this is just the beginning. What I really like is when you look at our future it kind of reminds me a lot of our great rich traditional past."

A part of the past who is also a big part of the future is the program's tennis coach, though.

Nassief, who played tennis as a student at St. John is now the coach and a business owner in the community.

He played a large role in making the new facility a reality, but according to Iarocci that isn't unexpected.

"Tennis and the Nassief family's name are synonymous," he said. "What Todd as a player, a coach and his family have contributed to the sport of tennis and what he's given back to the community, I would challenge that to anyone in the state of Ohio."

Most important to the coach though is not his name, but his program, specifically the students that represent the St. John tennis program. In the past the Heralds played at the courts near Harbor Topky Library or at the Ashtabula Kent State campus.

This year, the team has already practiced on the new courts and the excitement has just begun.

"It's real exciting," Nassief said. "It's fun to own a business and be able to give back. The community supports us and in return we can support the community. And it's nice to do it in a way that is my passion - tennis."

The coach is also hopeful tennis can become the passion of others at the school, as well.



"When you do something best in life, you don't really want to give that up - and for me that's tennis." (Roger Federer).  Todd Nassief '83 shares Federer's love of tennis.  What's great about that for Saint John is that Todd shares his passion for tennis through his role as tennis coach.  For the last two years Todd has given of his time and talent in teaching the varsity tennis squad what it means to lob, move into your backhand and how to deke and dink.  His coaching led to a significant improvement in the success of the team in skill level and in the won-loss column. 

One of the drawbacks for the team was the lack of home courts.  Todd approached the committee working on athletic facilities and offered to provide the lead gift for the construction of six tennis courts. The purchasing of land to the west of the school made the addition of courts more of a feasibility. The gift is in memory of George D Nassief and is from his wife Helen and children David '73, Sam '74, Marybeth '75, Susan '79 and Todd '83.  The contribution is in the form of a matching challenge.  Each new gift to the Herald Fund that represents an increased gift than given in the last five years will be doubled by the Nassief family gift.