Family is what counts first and foremost for tennis coach Chris Raffone, and the family includes all the young tennis players he has coached over the years, and by extension, their families. “They call me Mr. Woodbridge Tennis around here,” he said, with a chuckle. That’s because he has led, coached and helped guide the local tennis talent, sparking enthusiasm with the young ones during summer vacations at the Woodbridge Club, developing technique and sportsmanship at Amity High School and running indoor tennis at Oak Lane Tennis Club.
He has picked up numerous coaching awards along the way, the most recent one as New Haven Register Coach of Year for coaching the Amity boys tennis team — a distinction he has held several times before — and in May 2018, he was honored as Coach of the Year by the Connecticut High School Coaches Association.
Raffone just closed the 18th summer season coaching at the Woodbridge Club, an outdoor pool and tennis club on Millhaven Road. The club’s director, Paul Davis, had hired him straight out of college. “He took a chance on me,” Raffone said. As it turns out, it was a good call.
“The tennis program has grown tremendously under his leadership,” Davis said, with participation growing from five to more than 100.
As a coach, Raffone teaches more than technique for a competitive sport. Rather, he guides the development of the whole individual, Davis said. He teaches good sportsmanship, and points out poor sportsmanship when it occurs. “Most players come back year after year,” Davis said.
Many of the club’s players have continued with the sport at the high school level. In 2015, the Amity team won the Class LL State Championship. Parents celebrated Raffone for his coaching style.
“Truly a gifted tennis coach,” wrote one mother on Facebook. “You teach them so much while making it fun,” wrote another.
Some Woodbridge tennis players he coached when they first started at the club even went on to play tennis competitively in college, namely Jason Seidman (Northwestern) and Ethan Bershtein (Tufts).
It was Raffone’s father, Ralph, who introduced him to the sport, and he has excelled at playing tennis ever since. A Hamden native, he was the captain of the Hamden High School team and was named varsity letterman four years in a row. His best friends then — Bryan Adinolfi and Scott Saloway — also were into tennis, and they still are close friends today, he said. Adinolfi is head pro at the Madison Beach Club and coaches the Hopkins team. He also joined Raffone as a coach at Oak Lane Tennis Club. Saloway is the head pro at the Ridgetop Club in Hamden.
In college, Raffone went on to play Division I tennis at Central Connecticut State University where he was team captain and Number one singles player his senior year. He graduated with a degree in communication, which has served him well in his career, he said. Building relationships is an important part of what he does as a coach.
His long-time assistant at the Woodbridge Club, Rob Rosner, recently also joined the PE faculty at Amity High. He has been working at the club for ten years. Raffone is proud of the stability, but also of the growth he has seen in the people he has worked with over the years.
“They really do become family,” Davis said.
In the meantime, Raffone has built a family of his own. He married and has three children, Christopher, 5½, Nicholas, 3½, and Lucia, four months old. Christopher and Nicholas just had their first tennis lessons.
Photo: Tennis players at the Woodbridge Club celebrate the 41st birthday of their coach, Chris Raffone. Raffone has built quite a following among tennis players around town.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent