Palestine makes all athletes feel important Story and photos by Juwan Lee
It is assumed that most athletes began to hone their craft when they were still in diapers . You want to be great ? Start young . That ’ s how it works . Think toddler Tiger Woods showing off his putt on the Mike Douglas show . Think baby LeBron shooting hoops . Think 3-year-old Serena Williams practicing tennis for two hours a day .
And it ’ s not only about starting young , it ’ s also about excelling early . However , Palestine tennis player Gage Concilio has defied that blueprint . Just in his fourth year , he ’ s become one of the top tennis players in the region .
“ I thought I was going to get made fun of for playing tennis ,” Concilio said . “ But that never happened . Palestine makes all athletes feel important . That ’ s why I love this community .”
Anyone who joins something late seems to go by the famous adage “ it ’ s a lot harder than I thought it would be .” It ’ s a phrase that still cracks Concilio up as he looked back on his first time playing on a tennis court his freshman year .
Though Concilio found tennis late , sports had been a part of his life since an early age . He grew up in Palestine playing youth football and baseball .
Even when he attended middle school at Palestine ’ s Innovation Academy , a magnet STEM school where sports are not offered , he tried to find his way onto various youth sports teams around the area .
Still , there was a longing for more . He returned to traditional public school in ninth grade at Palestine High School . The extended break from sports left a desire to experience as much as he could .
In the fall , he ran cross country . When that season ended it left him devoid of anything to participate in during spring sports . Former Palestine tennis Coach Scott Tyler invited Gage to a tryout and it was instantly love at first sight – even with the thrills of a new sport were evident in his first match .
“ My first tournament on junior varsity we got destroyed ,” Concilio said . “ That was the first moment I wondered if this was for me . Then we got to the consolation finals and won . It gave me a little hope and changed my mind again .”
His newfound love of tennis continued to test him throughout his freshman year . Gage went through their entire non-district schedule without winning a single medal . Sophomore year , he improved , but only finished the year with two trophies – both in the consolation bracket .
His junior year , he continued to add some hardware to his collection , but the season was abruptly cancelled and was forced to miss out on a season of development .
“ It was tough to stay positive ,” Concilio said after his junior year was canceled due to COVID . “ But that improvement factor drives me . Every year I feel like I make that next jump . Going from never had picked up a racket to playing for two and a half years and being ready to play at the college level is exciting .”
What also drives him is the support of his mom , and tennis coach , Melissa Fermin .
“ I can ’ t tell you how thankful I am for her ,” Concilio said . “ I remember going back out to the courts before my senior year , her tossing me the first ball and shanking the ball over the fence . I remember being down for those first two weeks because of this new learning curve .”
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