Where Are They Now?
(Tom Winters, the publicity Director of the Mineola Athletics Booster Club and a regular freelance contributor to the Mineola American, begins a new feature entitled, Where Are They Now? The articles will highlight Mustang student-athlete alumni who have made a successful transition to the business world. The first in this series introduces Katie Zunno, probably the most decorated female student-athlete in Mineola history, who is in the midst of a successful career as an attorney with the prestigious Manhattan law firm, Weil, Gotshal and Manges LLP.)
It has been over ten years since Katie Zunno (Mineola '98) completed one of the most tremendous athletic careers in Mustang history. A four-year varsity starter for the softball and basketball teams, Katie was named All-County in five of eight seasons during her tenure at Mineola High School (All-Conference the remaining three).
As a freshman, she was ranked with the likes of Sue Bird (UConn/WNBA) and Nicole Kaczmarski (UCLA) as a "Young Guns" hoopster by Newsday. She was named an All-State softball player her final two seasons, as well as All-Northeast Region her senior year, en route to a New York State Championship runner-up finish.
More importantly, Katie was even more special in the classroom. Spending her first two years at the University of Virginia as an All-ACC honor roll student before transferring to the Ivy League, she was placed on the All-Ivy academic team as a Columbia University Lion. Her athletic career was unfortunately cut short in her final season due to a shoulder injury but this failed to deter her from enrolling at St. John's Law School. Katie is now a respected associate in one of the world's most recognized law firms.
We had the opportunity to sit down with Zunno and reminisce about her days as a Lady Mustang as well as discuss the impact Mineola High School has had on her young life. She listed teachers and administrators as mentors, and believes athletics prepared her for pressure and adversity in the courtroom. Extra-curricular activities (such as Student Government and Key Club) rounded out her resume for top-notch college acceptances.
Nothing made Katie smile more than turning back the clock to the playoff run for the Long Island Championship and berth in the State Tournament in softball.
After a loss in the Nassau County finals the year before, the close-knit team captured the county title. As the season snowballed, her male counterparts established "Katie's Korner," denoting the number of strikeouts during each playoff game when seats for Lady Mustang softball contests were standing room-only. The memorable run continued in Albany where the outpouring of support has never been forgotten.
Another shining moment came in Zunno's junior year, in a basketball game against arch-rival Wantagh. Vying for the conference championship in a late season road game, her teammates were excited to win but down about the venue. Little did they know a bus bringing 60 Mustang supporters to the gym arrived during the National Anthem to cheer on their girls. Bathed in Mineola sportswear, holding Mustang placards and using school spirit as intimidation, the fans rooted the team to a hard fought near upset. What stays with Katie is not the loss but the sense of pride her friends, classmates and fellow student-athletes had for the Lady Mustangs that night.
There are a number of people that remain an integral part of Katie's life. One special individual can never be replaced, her mom Denise, who continues to coach and teach at the high school. Despite Katie's outstanding record, mom always grounded her by noting there were better players and better teams on every step of the journey. Putting Katie in "game on the line" situations such as bottom of the seventh, tying run on third with three and two counts or needing two free throws with no time on the clock for a win proved to be critical practice for the high stress situations Zunno faces in today's cut throat business environment. The competitive juices of the mi-90s are still alive in for her 2009.
Katie names former assistant principal Mike Terc, advisors Val Liese and Bob Miller and teachers Al Weidlein and Helms Bohringer as key individuals in leading her down the path to future success. Terc's character building, Liese's academic focus, Weidlein's "Zen-like" guidance, Bohringer's off-season training sacrifices and Miller's zest for life and "ability to just have fun" keeps these relationships intact as much today as when she played and studied at 10 Armstrong Road.
When asked what she would say to today's student-athletes, she did not hesitate to offer advice. "You'll never get this time in your life back, so make every moment count and savor the memories," she said.
Katie noted the never ending supply of resources - people and activities - available at Mineola High School. "Since they will not come to you, seek them out and make the most of the opportunities," she said.
Understanding your role (as either leader or participant) and making your team better is her athletic mantra whether you win or lose (although she admits decisively that the former beats the latter). Ultimately, every student-athlete should strive to be a role model to others such as an aspiring elementary school student or a scared varsity freshman athlete.
Zunno's hectic schedule has not provided the chance to stay as close as she would like to current Mustang athletics. In her third year practicing commercial litigation including securities and corporate governance matters, Katie has recently embarked on a pro-bono externship through her firm where she represents indigent Brooklyn residents in housing and benefit-related matters. Katie's balanced perspective shows her ability to reach out to those in need rather than the more attractive role as a Wall Street lawyer. In many ways, this mirrors her ability to distinguish between being a quiet leader or a stoic MVP pitcher. Mom keeps her up to date on her own teams and Katie remains in contact with many current coaches in the Mineola athletic program.
Katie feels little has changed in the Mustang athletic system since she graduated. The successes of various teams and sports show a legacy of dedicated and passionate student-athletes who still pass through the halls of Mineola High School. The fact that athletes are playing at the next level is also an inspiration.
Katie has strong opinions on college recruiting. Coaches can be helpful but parents and students must be pro-active early in the process. "Sometimes athletes think the recruiting process will just happen like magic or their high school coaches will take care of everything, which is simply unrealistic because it is their active involvement and persistence that is the key to a successful recruiting process," she said.
College athletic ambitions are a time-consuming process requiring real effort involving letter writing and phone calls to college coaches on the part of the student-athlete.
Community is also critical to the program and providing support to the dedicated coaching staff - win or lose - is a huge component of that. Parental support of coaches helps to spread positive energy that is essential to a team's success.
Zunno believes there is definitely a place for alumni involvement. Alumni nights where former Mustangs scrimmage current players or mentoring sessions where graduates share their career and life experiences, offering advice to those in school, would be a great start. Whereas current MHS student-athletes share their knowledge with the elementary schools, alumni should do the same with current student-athletes. Most importantly, alums should attend fundraisers and games to foster the goals and objectives of the Mustang program. Katie is willing to speak or participate at any Mustang event to benefit the program.
The confidence and ability to succeed was instilled in Zunno as a student-athlete at Mineola High School. That work ethic, which began as a Mustang, was in force in college study groups and is in place today when teams of attorneys collaborate on a single case. Finally, time management is a trait that cannot be underestimated. The sooner student-athletes learn how to allocate time between their affairs efficiently, the better they will be able to perform inside and outside of the classroom.
At any given moment, Katie must juggle multiple demands. While the sports she played all had a finite ending, Katie's day is neverending. The success Katie exhibits today is a direct result of the success she experienced at Mineola High School 15 years ago.
If today's Mustang student-athletes take a look at the rise of Katie Zunno, they will know anything is possible.