The athletes on the Catonsville High tennis team got more than a tennis coach when Rodney Henry was hired this season.
They got a rock-n-roller, who sings and plays guitar, and the founder of Dangerously Delicious Pies, whose headquarters is located in Hamden.
Henry’s rock ‘n’ roll is what led him to the courts to coach high school tennis for the first time.
He was playing a gig at the Music City Maryland Festival in Catonsville in late August of 2021 and Catonsville athletic director Rich Hambor was in attendance.
“Rich was at my show and after it was done he was like, ‘Hey man, great show’ and we started chatting,” Henry recalled. “He introduced me to the new wrestling coach George Dunn and we were just hanging out. I was like, ‘You happen to be looking for a tennis coach’ and he was like, ‘As a matter of fact we are,’ and I told him I’m your man. “
Previous coach Mary Ann Llorin had vacated the position after last season.
“I had a couple of people interested and did a couple of interviews and he was the best candidate,” Hambor said. “He also teaches cooking in the summer, so he’s around high school kids in an educational setting already, so it’s a good thing to transfer those people skills here, so it’s a good fit. He’s learning from them and they are learning from him. “
“I really wanted to do it and I had been wanting to do it for a while,” Henry said. “Any time an opportunity arose I always wanted to go for it.”
Henry, who started playing tennis around age 6 growing up in Silver Spring, eagerly took the job, and in his third week of practice before the season begins March 21 at Eastern Tech, he talked about the challenges of the job.
“I’ve been digging it,” he said. “It’s a lot harder than I anticipated because it’s just you and 14 kids, but I like it.”
Having only four girls on the team will make it tough to win matches, but Henry is focused on seeing everyone improve.
“Seeing them get better is more important because honestly who knows how the season is going to go,” Henry said. “I don’t know the talent on the other squads. I’m hoping we break .500, but we can’t fill out the women’s side so we’ve already lost two matches right there. “
Of the four girls, two sisters, senior Christie Lin and junior Katie Lin have already made a strong early impression.
“They are really good mentally,” Henry said. “They are always together and they are best friends. They are really tight being sisters and it’s really cool, it’s a good support system. “
Christie will play No. 1 singles and Katie will play No. 2.
“They made up their mind, they didn’t challenge each other, but they are both really good players,” Henry said.
The No. 1 boys singles player will be Lucas Petti.
“He’s got killer consistent ground strokes and he plays the net pretty good,” Henry said. “There are certain things I want to develop in their game, we are just trying to get his service game a little tighter, but he’s consistent. You have to have a strong serve and you have to be able to place it. “
The other two girls on the team are Steff Fendlay and Sofia Parr.
“Sophia and Steff are really great players,” Henry said.
The boys vying for the remaining positions includes: Jesse Hanna, James Pugh, KP Mana Naing, Solomon Gelete, Jack Stein, Evan Wasser, Harris Barshick, Johann Mission, Dal Khai and Thang Tung.
“The challenge is going to be for the No. 2 boys,” Henry said. “Somebody is going to want to get that spot to play singles.”
Henry, who played prep tennis at Northwood High and one year of junior college at Montgomery College, is no stranger to teaching tennis.
When he was in his mid-20s, he taught four-star academy kids from all over the country at a summer camp at the University of Virginia.
“I needed a gig and tennis was something cool to do and it was a place I could go live,” Henry said.
As a coach he tries to avoid the hurdles he had as a kid.
“I didn’t have the head for the game,” he confessed. “That was my problem. I was pretty good at all my strokes and stuff and I tried playing satellite tournaments, but I never got very far. “
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Getting his kids not to dwell on mistakes is one of his main focuses.
“For the kids, they hit really well, but their biggest problem is their head, they get confused really quick,” he said. “When you catch kids when they are younger, it’s easier to get them out of that, but when they are like 16 or 17 your head is already where it’s going to be, you can’t just forget the last point.”
His job as owner of Dangerously Delicious Pies allows him the flexibility to coach, but on the day before St. Patrick’s Day, he knew he had some extra work to do after practice baking specialty pies, Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness Steak Pie, for the holiday .
Henry, who was a runner-up on in 2014 on “Food Network Star” for his savory pies, also teaches culinary school at Good Counsel in the summer.
“That’s a way to get away from getting burnt out from baking pies,” said Henry, noting his players are starting to hound him about getting pies. “Apparently a bunch of the kids have been to my shop and that’s cool.”
Perhaps he could use them as motivation to play well.
Catonsville will host is first match on Friday, March 25 against Perry Hall.