Letter: An ode to coach Peter Kategiannis

Miigwetch for all the championship moments

To the Expositor:

 The gymnasium at the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) holds irreplaceable memories for many Island athletes. In the early ‘90s there was a changing of the guard of sorts. The major influencers of many legendary Mustang competitors were nearing the end of their careers. Incumbent coaches like Ted Jackson and Peter Flanagan were handing the torch to the likes of energetic rookies such as Margot Bickell and Jim Stringer. A new-to-the-Island teacher was soon to join their ranks, a young spark-plug by the name of Peter ‘something or other’ with a crazy long last name that starts with a ‘K’. 

 Coach Peter Kategiannis was a through and through rugby man. MSS had no rugby team, but coach didn’t flinch. Knowing very little about volleyball, he tossed his hat onto the court and ended up as the coach of the junior boys’ squad. With primarily a basketball focus myself at the time, I too was on the junior volleyball roster by default (we didn’t have a basketball team in those days). Coach K, aka Kat, was as committed to learning a new game (in a new home) as he was to developing the athletes he was leading. In short order, we had our very first volleyball championship banner to hang. 

 Over the next quarter century or so, Peter Kategiannis continued his winning ways. Numerous NSSSAA and NOSSA banners were hung and Manitoulin became known as a bit of a volleyball school. No disrespect to the long lineage of track and field lore and Mr. Smith’s archers of yesteryear, but the MSS seniors boys’ program set the bar for our competition, often touted as straight-up unbeatable. Full bleachers for regular season games were common place and even the annual Thanksgiving Alumni game has been known to draw a substantial crowd. 

 Under Kat’s guidance, many MSS volleyball players were developed to a level that, as ‘walk-ons,’ became significant contributors for both collegiate and university level teams. Notable names such as Ryan Anderson, Andrew Argo, Dan Flannagan, Jon Medwig, Jake Bond, Luke Bond, Harrison Noble, Greg Doane and myself, all had successful post-secondary varsity athletic careers (apologies to any I may have missed). These valuable experiences are formative. Mine has yielded many of my closest lifelong friends, it played a significant role in my career choice as a physiotherapist and it was on the court that I met my wife Joanna (a McMaster varsity player herself). 

 I have had the pleasure of either playing for, or coaching alongside Pete for much of his tenure. Recognition for the thousands of hours spent in the gym or on the bus alone is deserved. I’ll add that he has taught many Islanders the value of teamwork along with consistently demanding more of us, truly demonstrating what it takes to be a champion. For 20 years his athletes (at his behest) have routinely approached me after ridiculously difficult practices, by individually thanking me and shaking my hand. Whether a ploy to keep me coming back to help out, or to keep them focused on the work needed to win, it worked. I’m proud to be a part of what Coach K has built. It is fitting that the gym is being renovated this summer—we’ve worn out the floor. As Peter Kategiannis hangs up his whistle, another MSS coaching legend is minted. 

 Miigwetch, Coach for all the championship moments, for the opportunities you have provided and for your outstanding contribution to life here on Manitoulin.

 Derek Debassige