Flushing native returns to coaching after health scare

Lady Crusaders coach Tom Catalanotto can’t imagine a life without coaching, but this summer was spent away from the sidelines.
Photo courtesy of Monsignor Scanlan Athletics
By Laura Amato

It all happened in the blink of an eye.

Flushing native and Monsignor Scanlan girls basketball coach Tom Catalanotto was pacing the sidelines a few months ago when he realized something was wrong.

Catalanotto was diagnosed with an atrial flutter — a heart rhythm disorder that required surgery in May and kept him from his usual summer coaching schedule. It also put everything in stark focus for the long-time coach, and now Catalanotto has his sights set on a return and a change.

“It was kind of scary because my heart rate was at, like, 240,” Catalanotto said. “They found out that I had this condition and they told me that it was cureable.

“I gave up any of the summer teams I was doing and I took it easy. I just wanted to take my time and relax and get everything in order, but I took all kinds of tests and everything came out great. I’m back to normal, if I was ever normal, and feeling good.”

Catalanotto underwent a procedure called cardiac ablation, which helps redirect the heart’s electrical signals to control blood flow. And while he’s quick to point out that the health scare was just a bit terrifying, he’s also anxious to get back into the swing of things.

“I’m itching to do something now,” Catalanotto said. “I’m really looking forward to the season. We’re going to have a great bunch of kids and they got to experience being in a championship game last year, so I know they’re dying to get back there, and we should have a good shot to do that.”

Catalanotto isn’t lacking for enthusiasm on the sidelines. The former Molloy coach, who led the Lady Stanners to a state championship, has spent the last six years at Scanlan and has been determined to help build up the program in the Bronx.

“We joke about it because it was a project,” Catalanotto said. “I don’t know what it was, I think it was the way they treated me at Molloy. I won a state championship and then I lost my job over there and I think that drove me to do something over here at Scanlan. Things always happen for a reason.”

Of course, the road to success at Scanlan hasn’t been a smooth one. Catalanotto’s earliest memory with the Crusaders was an open gym during his first year of coaching, bringing together the returning players only to find that just two of them could actually dribble a basketball.

It’s all changed since then. Scanlan clinched yet another Archdiocesean championship last season and came up just short of a state title, falling to The Mary Louis Academy in overtime. Now, the Crusaders and Catalanotto have their sights set on a championship, sparked by an offseason that has been nothing short of eye-opening.

“I think this is what the school needed to get revived,” Catalanotto said. “It’s headed in the right direction. I’m glad to be a part of it, I really am.”

Catalanotto’s ready for the next step, literally — he’s walking two miles every night now — and while his health scare threw things into rather sharp focus, the coach is more than ready to get back into the game.

“It’s in my blood. I’ve been doing it for over 20 years and I don’t really do anything else,” Catalanotto said. “It really gives me purpose.”

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