TAMPA – Former Tampa Prep volleyball coach Carol Chalu and current Terps boys basketball coach Joe Fenlon didn’t enter the coaching ranks for personal kudos, so Sunday afternoon was an uncomfortable day for both.
Fenlon and Chalu shared the spotlight as Tampa Prep formally dedicated its basketball and volleyball courts in the coaches’ honor. Former students and players gathered, sitting at tables centerpieced by state and region championship trophies.
On Sunday, Chalu and Fenlon shared laughs, hugs and tears.
“When you’re coaching a team sport and preaching that individual accolades aren’t the right way to go, this is a weird day,” said Fenlon, who is entering his 28th season at Tampa Prep and has compiled 560 career wins and led the Terrapins to six state tournament berths, including three of the past four seasons in Class 2A. “It’s not something you expect. It’s extremely humbling.”
Chalu, who retired from coaching following the 1997 season and is currently on a leave of absence from the school, has been a pioneer in girls high school athletics. She coached the Terps volleyball team to 12 state championships and was the 1989 national volleyball coach of the year.
Along with Berkeley Prep coach Randy Dagostino, Chalu started the state’s first club volleyball program for junior players.
Chalu also coached the Tampa Prep girls basketball team to the Class A state title in 1977, the second season it was a state recognized sport, and was the first female high school athletic director in the state of Florida.
“It tells you a lot about the school, the people who work here and the kind of kids we have,” said Chalu, fighting back tears. “I have nothing to complain about. My whole life has been a charm.”
Fenlon was hired at Tampa Prep in 1983 when he was 21, taking over a 1-15 team. He joked about coming to Tampa from Lacrosse, Wisc., to interview on his own dime and paying for his own lunch at McDonald’s because Chalu, the athletic director, forgot her purse.
By that time, Chalu was already a local legend, in the middle of a run of six straight state championships from 1980-85. She arrived at the school in 1976 and her first team was 1-10. She never had losing season since.
“Carol was one of the reasons why I was as driven as I was, because I wanted my program to one day be thought of in the same way as her program was,” Fenlon told the audience. “It’s very hard to get there.”
And he pointed to the numerous volleyball state championship banners along the gym’s north wall – Fenlon’s teams have advanced to the state title game three times, including this past season – and pointed out that he was, indeed, once a part of a state title team as an assistant on Chalu’s1987 volleyball team.
That year, Chalu asked Fenlon to coach JV. Fenlon knew nothing about volleyball, but Chalu told him to just to do what she did.
“So I started throwing volleyballs at kids,” Fenlon said.
Photo courtesy of Robin Kennedy/Tampa Prep