ALBANY — This season may have been the most trying as well as the most rewarding for Francis Lewis Coach Steve Tsai.
The sixth-year head man led the Patriots girls’ basketball team to its first PSAL Class AA city title since 1979 all while helping to raise a 2-year-old and dealing with the news that his unborn twin daughters have congenital heart defects.
“It comes down to my wife [Roxanne] being able to handle a toddler and letting me do all that,” Tsai said of coaching. “It’s been really difficult, but at the same time it’s been so enjoyable.”
The couple found out in January that their twins, who are expected in May, have tetralogy of fallot, a combination of four birth defects that together affect the structure of the heart and how blood flows through it.
The National Institutes of Health estimates that the condition occurs in five out of every 10,000 babies, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention cites a study that 1,660 children in the United States are born with tetralogy of fallot.
With the defect, not enough blood reaches the lungs to get oxygen, and then oxygen-poor blood flows through the body, according to the NIH. Tetralogy of fallot is repaired with open-heart surgery, and most children born with the condition reach adulthood, but need lifelong medical care from specialists to stay as healthy as possible, the organization said.
Tsai and his wife decided to keep the babies knowing they would require corrective heart surgeries. One child will need it immediately after being born and the other within three months, according to Roxanne Montalvo-Tsai.
Then both will likely need another surgery when they are about 15 years old, but doctors expect the twins to have a good quality of life, she said.
“I don’t know how Steve was coaching throughout all of this,” Montalvo-Tsai said.
But Tsai, a guidance counselor at Francis Lewis and a Manhattan resident, has managed to carve out time to become a better coach and keep his team prepared. His nightly routine consists of getting home around 8 p.m. and having his son Jordan fall asleep next to him. Tsai wakes up around 2 a.m. to work on basketball game plans, read hoops books and watch DVDs for two hours. He’s back at Lewis by 9 a.m.
“Some of these coaches, they have a lot of years under their belt and more experience,” Tsai said. “For me, I never wanted to use an excuse of, ‘Oh, I don’t have as much experience.’”
He has done everything he could to catch up to veterans since his first season in 2008. He took over for then-suspended Coach Mike Eisenberg in December of that year. Tsai, who had been the Patriots’ junior varsity boys’ coach prior, remembered his girls’ varsity team getting blown out by squads led by legendary veterans like Ed Grezinsky, of Murry Bergtraum, and Bob Daggett, of St. Peter’s, even as the Patriots’ roster was filled with scholarship players. He vowed to become better and tried to learn as much has he could.
Lewis Athletic Director Arnie Rosenbaum sees a night and day difference now.
“At this level, he said [to himself] if you don’t put the time and effort in, you are not going to do well, so he started studying,” Rosenbaum said.
Tsai credited his wife and assistant Coach Frank Wilbeck for supporting him and allowing him to do what he loves. He said his fellow guidance counselors even picked him up on days they saw him dragging. His dedication and enthusiasm are not lost on his players either.
“It rubs off on us pretty well,” junior guard Chi La Bady said. “I feel like if you don’t have a coach who is concentrating on getting the wins, making the team better, each individual better, then what is your team really about? He is a coach that cares a lot about each one of us.”
Tsai’s efforts helped his young roster develop quicker than expected. The Patriots finished the season 24-4 and ended Bergtraum’s 15-year reign over the PSAL. There was no looking back for Tsai when the season came to a close with a 53-42 loss to Long Island Lutheran in the state Federation Class AA semifinals Friday in Albany. He wants to get back and get further.
“Each of the girls has to get better,” Tsai said. “I have to get better.”
History shows he will.
©2014 Community News Group
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