It wasn’t that long ago Emmanuel Palatulan was in the same situation as many of his players.
Palatulan grew up in the Bronx, attended English as a second language classes at John F. Kennedy High School, and along the way discovered his love of volleyball.
Now in his first year as Clinton’s new boys volleyball coach, Palatulan not only teaches ESL classes at Clinton, but also is teaching a new group of players about the sport he loves.
“Life is funny, man. It goes in circles,” Palatulan said after his Governors dropped a straight-set, 2-0, decision to Columbus to open the season last week. “I was a knucklehead when I was in high school, and now I’m teaching some knuckleheads. But they’re really very good kids.”
It’s almost an entirely new roster Palatulan is taking over at Clinton, and the Governors may take their lumps early in the season as the new coach not only installs his system, but teaches a group that has very limited volleyball experience.
“We only have two players who are returning from last year,” Palatulan said. “Our starting setter, Kelvin Lantigua, this is his first year playing. In fact he’s new to the country, so everything is so new to him. He’s from the Dominican Republic and he had never played organized volleyball before, and we’re putting a lot on him. But he has a go-get-it attitude, and that’s the kind of player I’m looking for on this team.”
Palatulan thinks his new program just needs some time to grow while the players work on certain areas of their game. The Governors finished in third place last season under then head coach Andrea Milsome.
“I played for Kennedy from 2000 to 2003 when Kennedy was at its peak and was winning championships,” Palatulan said. “This team reminds me of my first year playing there. We didn’t really know what was happening, and then some of the players decided to play all year long, and that’s what I’m going to advocate for these guys. Volleyball is not just an in-season thing, it’s an all-year thing. And once they make that commitment, we are going to be a much better program.”
Palatulan, who coached at City and Maritime colleges prior to taking over the Clinton program, credits the game with getting him to where he is today.
“I just love the sport,” Palatulan said. “To be honest, I feel without volleyball I don’t know where I’d be right now. Volleyball got me to Hunter College, and that’s how I got to where I am right now.”
Palatulan’s extensive background in the sport gives him a unique insight as to what it takes to build a consistent winner. And he thinks in time Clinton will fit into that category.
“I have to teach them how to pass properly,” Palatulan said. “I have to teach them not to fall back when they’re passing. I even have to teach them how to celebrate when they accomplish something on the court. To have fun with the game.
“But the good thing is all these things can be fixed.”
While Palatulan hopes to instill a love of volleyball into his new team, he also understands volleyball helped get him a college education. Now he hopes to return the favor with his young team at Clinton.
“I just want to help these kids and give them the gift that I got, and it was a great gift,” Palatulan said. “I grew up in the Bronx around where a lot of these guys are growing up, and a lot of these kids need something like this. And I’m already seeing changes in the way they handle things, like time management and things like that. So I’m kind of excited about that. It’s not just about teaching them volleyball, but teaching them life lessons.”
And one of the life lessons Palatulan stresses is his players’ need to make the right decisions — not just on the court, but in school as well.
“Being a teacher here at Clinton makes it easier for me to keep an eye on my guys,” Palatulan said. “I’m teaching them about responsibility. If I find out they’re cutting class, then they’re sitting down and not playing because there are consequences in life, and they’ve got to learn that someway, somehow.
“When you get out in the real world, you need to know there are consequences for your actions and that’s what I hope to teach these guys.”