Chatnik inducted into Lacrosse Hall of Fame

TROY –– Gary Chatnik never went searching for a coaching career in girls’ lacrosse. Coaching found him.

Describing himself as “a meddling parent,” Chatnik said that, 12 years ago, he asked if he could help Guilderland’s lacrosse program. His curiosity opened a door to opportunity. Now, he’s a proud member of the United States Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

“I don’t know, I’m just pleased that I am,” Chatnik said at the Franklin Terrace Ballroom in Troy after The Enterprise asked why he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame. “I’m very pleased.”

Chatnik had two decades of experience in men’s lacrosse as a player and an official before being hired as Guilderland’s varsity girls’ lacrosse head coach in 2002. Before accepting the position, Chatnik had observed his daughter, Lauren, play the sport.

“It wasn’t intentional,” said Chatnik of becoming Guilderland’s coach. But after 12 seasons, 196 victories, and five Section 2 championships, he’s a Hall of Fame member. “I knew very little about the girls’ game,” he said. “I didn’t really want to coach the varsity, but I wanted to help out.”

Guilderland was an average lacrosse team when Chatnik took over. For the past seven years, the Dutch have been one of the best teams in New York State.

“I got into coaching because I wanted to see girls’ lacrosse played a little different than how I was watching it,” said Chatnik. “I didn’t like the way it was going. I was successful on the guys’ side, so I wanted to see something done on the girls’ side. You always want to be in a position to win, even if you don’t always win.”

Since Chatnik didn’t have much knowledge at first, he taught the Guilderland girls the boys’ game. “We got very lucky, and started building something,” Chatnik said. “The players started getting real good. I was so into coaching that I thought I might as well learn it, so people were very helpful in making me fully understand the girls’ game. Everything evolved after that.”

Girls’ lacrosse is much different than the boys’ game. Body checking isn’t allowed in the girls’ game, but Chatnik wanted the Dutch to be more aggressive. He wanted his team to play differently.

Jenna Walsh, who was a defender for Guilderland for three years before graduating in 2013, said that she didn’t know much about Chatnik’s intention of teaching girls how to play like the boys. “He taught me footwork and how to check people, but I never smacked people around or anything,” she said.

Chatnik uses the same coaching concepts to this day. Guilderland plays with a unique physicality that overwhelms its opponents.

“You’re teaching them to go forward, and be aggressive, both offensively and defensively,” said Chatnik. “Also, challenge your defender, challenge the offensive person, and never take a back seat…move the ball forward and always look at what’s happening off of the ball.”

“He just knows the game so well, every part of it,” said Walsh of Chatnik. “He’s a strategist. He can see the field, and knows in one second,” said Walsh, snapping her fingers in emphasis, before continuing, “exactly what we need to do, and where to be.”

Has Chatnik’s teaching a distinctive style of lacrosse been the secret to Guilderland’s success over the years?

The coach says that the secret lies in the girls who play for the Dutch. “They want to play, they’re good at it, and they want to get better,” said Chatnik. “The girls want success, and that’s how it all started, and that’s how it keeps going. They all want to do well. There’s a sense of pride, and you see it when the alumni come back home. It’s all about the kids.”

Steeped in the game

Chatnik, 57, and the owner of A Christmas To Remember stores up and down the East Coast, was a starting defenseman on Siena College’s undefeated 1979 men’s lacrosse team. He graduated in 1979, but continued to play the sport in summer leagues during the 1980s.

Recruited out of Bishop Scully High School in Amsterdam for baseball, Chatnik said that he wanted to play basketball. “Neither of those sports were going to work for me,” he said. “I had a few friends that told me to try lacrosse. It took me a few years; I wasn’t good right away. I started working at it.”

Chatnik enjoyed lacrosse from the get-go.

“It’s a fun sport to play,” said Chatnik. “Our team [Siena] got better as we started getting more players to come in. My final year was one of those seasons you never forget.”

Chatnik knows a lot more about girls’ lacrosse, now, then he did back in 2002, when he started coaching, but he says that there’s always someone who knows more than he. “But, the one thing that I can do is get the girls to play hard,” he said. “They take care of the rest. Sometimes, you stand back to see what they can do; they throw surprises at you that you didn’t expect.”

Each year, Chatnik observes some Dutch players who step up and become the athletes that he’d hope they’d be, and it brings him pleasure.

“He really knows how to tune in, fine tune how we play,” said Guilderland senior Morgan Hardt, who was acknowledged in Troy as an All-American and Section 2’s Player of the Year. “He brings out our weaknesses and makes us work on them. And it’s not just our team, he helps the younger kids.”

Walsh told The Enterprise that Chatnik would hold practice with the varsity team for three hours, only to leave and conduct practice for sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders. Chatnik founded the Albany Elite Lacrosse Club.

“He’s very dedicated,” said Walsh. “When he finds something he loves, he puts all of his time into it. I’ve never had a coach as dedicated as him.”

Chatnik has coached many great teams, including the 2009 edition that was seconds away from winning a state championship. He said he was confident with every team, and found positive aspects in many places.

He enjoyed watching the 2013 team grow, and many of his players were in Troy on June 28 to watch Chatnik be inducted into the Hall of Fame, as they, too, were honored for achievements.

“Watching the kids reach their potential is the best part,” Chatnik said. “It’s disappointing when one or two don’t, but, when they reach that potential, becoming the players that they wanted to be, it’s just a pleasure. The results show it.”

Guilderland has lost only seven games in seven years. Expect the Dutch’s exceptional winning record to continue as long as Chatnik walks the sidelines.

“It wouldn’t have been the same if Gary wasn’t the coach,” said Hardt. “We love him on and off the field. He gives us a hard time, but we can always talk to him. He’s a great person.”

Walsh said that Chatnik is a “big teddy bear,” and, since he is the father of three daughters, he knows how to handle girls.

Hardt and Walsh hope that Chatnik coaches Guilderland forever, but Walsh said that his decision to come back is always “up in the air” every offseason.

“I’ll always be involved,” Chatnik said. “As for next year, I’ll probably be out there.”

Chatnik went from not knowing anything about girls’ lacrosse to being accepted into the Hall of Fame for coaching the sport. Maybe it wasn’t his intention to coach, but he’s probably glad he did.

“I was surprised, pleased, and never thought I’d be honored like this,” said Chatnik. “I never envisioned or thought of this.”

Many people believe that Chatnik is a great coach, but Chatnik isn’t one of them.

“I’m not, I just enjoy doing it,” he said. “We have our little community, and we’re very happy to be winners. It works out pretty well.”