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Charlie Garfinkel’s Racket Sports: Gregoire returns home to guide Village Glen

Rob Gregoire, the tennis coach of both the men’s and women’s teams at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, recently received an unexpected phone call. At the other end of the line was Mike Manzella, the general manager of the Village Glen and South Towns Tennis Club. Gregoire was familiar with the facility, since he is a native Buffalonian who taught tennis at the Village Glen and South Towns in the 1990s.

Manzella had a direct question: Would Gregoire be interested in becoming the new director of tennis at the Village Glen?

“When I first received the telephone call from Manzella, I was greatly taken aback,” Gregoire said. “Both of my Duquesne’s men’s and women’s tennis teams were playing at a high level. I was also a part-owner of the Alpha Tennis & Fitness Club in Pittsburgh. I taught there for many years and many of my former students are still part of the teaching staff.”

He had heard that former Director of Tennis John Brunner had done an excellent job at Village Glen and realized that the opportunity that Manzella offered him comes around only once every 20 years. In addition, his 87-year-old father lives in Buffalo and his fiancé, Tricia, lives in Hamburg.

“I was still thinking what I should do about coming back to Buffalo when I met with Jack and Maritzah Ruh, the owners of the Village Glen and South Towns, and Manzella.” Gregoire said. “Their vision as to where the club was going and what a great staff I would be working with were the deciding factors for my taking the position.”

Gregoire has been at the Village Glen for two weeks.

“I have never seen a tennis club as busy as the Glen, in both their junior and adult level programs,” he said. “I am truly humbled as to how welcoming everyone at the club has been to me. I have always enjoyed working with people. My goal is to create a team environment with the staff which is already incredibly interactive with our junior and adult membership.”

He notes that he is really impressed as to how active the USTA, adult clinics, and tennis lessons at all levels are functioning at the club. He is planning to continue to grow all programs and will keep the present outstanding coaching staff, create new teaching drills and make a positive learning environment at all levels.

“It is especially important that we keep all of our members energized and cognizant of our many programs.” Gregoire said.

He feels that he can build on an already outstanding High Performance Junior program at the Glen. He has taught High Performance programs for 27 years and has helped hundreds of students attain college scholarships. When he was teaching tennis in Pittsburgh, his club was one of the top ten in the area honored for their excellence.

As for the junior program at the Village Glen, Gregoire stresses that Manzella, Brittany Walters and Neeru Gupta have built an amazing foundation for their 10 & under program. One of Gregoire’s top priorities is to collaborate with all clubs in the WNY area, including clubs that are only open during the summer. Regardless of their levels of play, Gregoire feels that it is a great learning experience for juniors and even adults to become involved with playing against players from other clubs.

Gregoire also noted how thrilled he was to be working with such an outstanding staff. In includes Tom LaPenna, recognized as one of the greatest tennis pros to have ever taught in WNY, a former UB men’s tennis coach from 1977-83, a member of the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame, and a New York State doubles champion with Seth Bowen; Ross Nwachukwu, a former Drake University tennis star, head tennis coach at Drake, a satellite touring tennis professional, and a member of the Buffalo Tennis Hall of Fame; and Russ Tringali Jr., who played first singles and doubles for four years at UB, winner of the SUNY singles and doubles championships, winner of the Top 16 WNY Invitational in 1981, and has been teaching tennis for 35 years.

“With such outstanding pros as the aforementioned and the rest of our excellent teaching pros we will have a teaching staff that is second to none in WNY,” Gregoire said.

Surprisingly, Gregoire’s start in playing tennis as a youngster was somewhat different than most youngsters who showed great promise. His dad got him started playing tennis when Gregoire was only 7 years old. Even though he had a great aptitude for the game he didn’t start taking tennis lessons until he was 14. Why? He also enjoyed playing basketball and baseball and wasn’t really ready to devote full attention to tennis. When it was evident that he had considerable talent he started taking tennis lessons from Dave Todoroff, a teaching pro at the Buffalo Tennis Center, and eventually starred at first singles at Kenmore West High School.

When Bill Monkarsh, the coach of UB’s tennis team, saw Gregoire play, he convinced him to come out for the UB tennis team after high school graduation. Gregoire did and played mostly first singles and doubles throughout his collegiate career. After graduation he went to law school and started teaching tennis part time at the Village Glen where he met LaPenna, who became his mentor. Even though Gregoire was an exceptional student he decided after the first year of law school that he would take a leave of absence and started teaching tennis full time. He enjoyed the teaching so much that he knew that he wanted to make a living as a full-time tennis pro and not become a lawyer. He taught at the Village Glen for seven years and then became the head pro at South Towns for three years.

Shortly after, in 1999, Terry Pegula (the present Bills and Sabres owner) made Gregoire an offer he couldn’t refuse. Pegula was going to start a new tennis academy in Pittsburgh that would be a center for Junior Excellence. He felt that Gregoire and another pro from WNY, Frank Baritot, were excellent pros that would make the venture a success. Pegula’s older daughter Laura was an outstanding tennis player who trained and played at the club. She went on to play at the University of Pittsburgh.

Gregoire and Baritot built the largest and most successful junior and adult programs in Western Pennsylvania. In 2011 Gregoire became part owner and director of tennis at the Alpha Tennis and Fitness Club. He was named Pro of the Year by the USTA and his club was voted Club of the Year by the Allegheny Mountain District. Gregoire continued to teach tennis in Pittsburgh until he left to come back to Buffalo. Presently, he is still involved with the Pittsburgh club as an adviser.

Gregoire is extremely happy to be back in Buffalo and at the Village Glen.

“As the new Director of Tennis, I will do my utmost to run a meticulous and well-run facility,” he said. “It will be our goal as a team to make every player’s tennis experience, regardless of their level of play, enjoyable and meaningful.”