Something wasn‚??t right with the coach.
And the Wyoming Seminary girls he mentored noticed immediately.
The clear and concise strategies that made Mike Balutanski so respected in tennis circles started to sound loopy. Then, the guy who still spryly chases down shots on the court at the age of 63 started to lose his balance.
‚??He just started acting ‚?Ľ not himself,‚?Ě No. 1 sophomore singles player Natalie Joanlanne said, ‚??slurring his words, stumbling.‚?Ě
‚??It was scary,‚?Ě said her fellow sophomore teammate Madison Nardone.
Little did they know, Balutanski was having a stroke.
At first, the girls thought it was heat stroke.
They tried to get him out of the hot sun and sit him down for a bit. Then, a few of them ran off the preseason practice courts and straight for the team trainers, who called for an emergency transport to the hospital.
‚??He was looking at everyone,‚?Ě said Sem senior doubles player Megan Coulter, ‚??but you could tell he was looking right through us.‚?Ě
It turned out Balutanski was looking at a serious problem.
The stroke he suffered left Balutanski with partial paralysis on his left side, making it difficult for him to walk or lift his left arm.
So the local tennis world wants to give him a lift.
Next Sunday, a fund raiser coordinated by Peter Wolman called the ‚??Bounce Back Ball‚?Ě will be held from noon to 4 p.m. at Kingston Indoor Tennis in an effort to help Balutanski with his recovery.
Seven years ago, Wolman didn‚??t even know Balutanski and didn‚??t know a whole lot about the sport.
‚??I didn‚??t know a lot of people, and wasn‚??t really a tennis player,‚?Ě said Wolman, who moved to the Wyoming Valley from West Chester County in New York. ‚??I met Mike at Valley tennis. I was hitting in the practice area and he was giving somebody a lesson. He called me over to start hitting with him.
‚??He helped me adapt to the (Wyoming) Valley.‚?Ě
That‚??s just Balutanski‚??s nature, they say.
‚??He‚??d always crack jokes at practice,‚?Ě said Sem senior Alaina Schukraft, who plays on the doubles team. ‚??He‚??d give us these trivia questions and make us think about it.‚?Ě
But it wasn‚??t always pure fun when Balutanski coached games. He had some serious ways to improve most players he came in contact with, as evidenced when he earned the USTA Middle States High School coach of the year award in 2008 while guiding the Dallas High School boys and girls programs.
‚??I didn‚??t have a game before him,‚?Ě Coulter said.
‚??He helped me improve my groundstrokes,‚?Ě Schukraft said, ‚??my volleys, my serves. He really did help my game.
‚??We really do miss him.‚?Ě
Maybe not for long.
Balutanski recently made a return to walk around Sem‚??s campus, and Wolman noticed he progressed to the point where Balutanski was subconsciously moving his left arm during conversation recently.
‚??His recovery is coming along very nicely,‚?Ě Wolman said. ‚??He‚??s very strong and working very hard.
‚??But it‚??s going to be a long road.‚?Ě
What: Bounce Back Ball Fundraiser for Wyoming Sem girls tennis coach Mike Balutanski
When: Noon to 4 p.m., Sept. 30
Where: Kingston Indoor Tennis, 700 Rutter Avenue, Kingston, Pa.
Cost: Recommended donation - $25 for players, $15 for students, $10 social only. Non-attendee donations are also welcome. Checks should be made payable to Bounce Back Ball and donated at the door, or mailed to Peter Wolman, 150 Blueberry Hill Road, Shavertown, PA 18708.
Social: Organizers suggest those wishing to bring a covered dish or other snack for the social following the fundraiser will be greatly appreciated.
Quoteworthy: ‚??The fundraiser‚??s a huge, huge deal. The whole school knows about it. We‚??re getting people who don‚??t play tennis to come out and support Mike. The whole school knows Mike. Everybody‚??s ready to back him up.‚?Ě ‚?? Wyoming Seminary senior tennis player Megan Coulter.