Chautauqua Lake coach Bongiovanni remembers his mentor and his town

Bryan Bongiovanni bleeds Fredonia Hillbillies’ baseball.

Bongiovanni played at Fredonia High School, then after college, he coached alongside his mentor, Fredonia coach Vince Gullo.

Nearly every year with Bongiovanni in the Fredonia dugout the team won. However, after the 2015 season, Bongiovanni shed the assistant coach role in Fredonia and took on new heights to groom a program of his own at Chautauqua Lake.

It was a difficult decision that departed him from his hometown team.

Bongiovanni played as a varsity Hillbilly in 2005 and 2006. In both those years, Fredonia not only won the Section VI title — they traveled to the New York state championship game.

In 2005, the Hillbillies came up short as they lost to Spackenkill. Yet, in their second year back, Fredonia took it to Babylon and won the state championship.

Bongiovanni’s achievements at Fredonia only continued as he came back as an assistant coach under Gullo. In every year from 2012 to 2015, the Hillbillies won the Section VI, Class B-2 title. Fredonia also won the state championship in 2013.

Although with much success in the program, Bongiovanni was given an opportunity to join the Chautauqua Lake Thunderbirds and now faces his former coach in the same division twice a year.

“I always wanted to be a head coach,” Bongiovanni said. “It was tough to leave Fredonia and coach Gullo because I always played for him and coached with him; he gave me my first opportunity, but he always told me, eventually, he is going to lose me to be a head coach somewhere else. It got to a point where I felt I was ready to be a head coach.”

Bongiovanni was not the head coach in his first year at Chautauqua Lake, but was promoted to it for the 2017 season.

On April 21, coach Gullo and coach Bongiovanni had their first game against each other as head coaches. In one of the most difficult games of the season, the Thunderbirds played a near perfect ball game.

Going into the fifth inning, Chautauqua Lake was up 1-0 and Fredonia was struggling at the plate and on the base paths. Down and not out, the Hillbillies under Gullo, came back and got a run in the fifth and sixth to pull out the win by the score of 2-1. It was a shockingly close game in comparison to last year’s results of 15-1 and 16-2, both in Fredonia’s favor.

Coach Bongiovanni has been utilizing the coaching techniques that he has learned under coach Gullo. It has his team inspired to play clean, smart baseball.

“I think the thing I learned the most from coach Gullo was that you have to build a relationship with your players,” Bongiovanni said. “Each individual player needs to be coached differently. There’s not one way you can coach an entire team. A coach needs to be flexible. So, I think what I took from coach Gullo is that I need to find what makes each player tick. What gets them going? How could I motivate each player?”

Gullo has seen what makes Bongiovanni prosper as his assistant coach. Working beside him, Gullo believes that his ability to encourage is what makes him an asset as a head coach for Chautauqua Lake.

“He always is so positive with the kids and he encourages and builds on the enthusiasm with the kids,” Gullo said. “He adds so much to the program in that regard. Plus, he knows his X’s and O’s. He’s a heck of a coach and we miss him dearly at Fredonia.”

There are many factors as to why the gap closed as much as it did from last year to this year between the Thunderbirds and the Hillbillies: different players, the weather and that day’s mood are just a few.

However, coach Bongiovanni, barring his departure or Gullo’s, may one day have his team beat his mentor’s. It will be a victory that he believes will even make Gullo proud.

“I think the day when I do beat coach Gullo is going to be a great day for me just because I know how great his teams are, how difficult they are to beat,” Bongiovanni said. “So, I am certainly going to rejoice — in that and I know that — although he will be upset that his team lost, he will also be very happy for me because — beside from my parents — he’s been probably one of the most influential people.

“Not only the type of baseball player that I was, but the coach I am and person. I know he will be extremely happy for me. … That’s just the type of person he is; he’s an unselfish person.”

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