Georgetown Head Tennis Coach Gordie Ernst still remembers the days when he and his mom trekked around New England. Driving miles and miles in a station wagon to tournaments across six states, his tennis career began when he was barely 10 years old.
“My mother would literally drive all over New England in our station wagon every single weekend for tennis tournaments,” Ernst said. “That sort of evolved into doing things at a national level too, so it was a lot of fun.”
On June 6, Ernst was inducted into the USTA New England Tennis Hall of Fame. Surrounded by family, friends and Georgetown tennis alumni, Ernst was given the honor after nearly four decades of commitment to the sport of tennis as a player and a coach.
“I think that it really started with playing the junior New England stuff. Ten and under, 12 and under, 14 and under; winning the New England championships in the 10s, 12s and 14s kind of got me going, it got me to be like, ‘Okay, now I want to do the national stuff,’” Ernst explained.
Ernst’s career and success only intensified as he entered the realm of high school tennis, playing for Cranston High School East. He boasted an undefeated 97-0 overall record and also won the doubles title with his brother three times.
“I never lost a set,” Ernst said. “To be the first person and the only person to do that, I think I got some attention for that as a pretty major accomplishment. Really, what it was about was high school, but mostly about the New England stuff I played; the juniors and the adults too. I can’t even imagine counting up how many New England tournaments I played. I started playing men’s tournaments when I was eight years old — think about that.”
Ernst grew up in Rhode Island and has already been recognized by his home state in two other halls of fame. He was inducted into the Cranston, R.I. Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Rhode Island Interscholastic League Hall of Fame in 2003. Ernst was also an avid hockey player, scoring 60 or more points in all three of his seasons at Cranston High. Ernst was drafted by the NHL’s Minnesota North Stars in 1985 but instead chose to attend Brown University for his undergraduate study.
Tim Donovan, Ernst’s freshman roommate at Brown, introduced Ernst at the ceremony. Sophie Panarese, recent Georgetown graduate and former captain of the Georgetown women’s tennis team, accompanied Donovan in the introduction segment. Panarese and Ernst’s common origins in New England (Panarese is a Massachusetts native) created a special bond between the two. In fact, one of Ernst’s favorite aspects of coaching is recruiting athletes from areas across New England.
“It’s really fun to to recruit New England kids because they played a lot of tournaments that I played in. Like Kelly [Comolli] and Sophie and Will Lowell who graduated five years ago. … I’m trying to coach kids from towns I used to grow up playing in, and they’re walking in each other’s footsteps,” Ernst said.
Following his graduation from Brown in 1990, Ernst entered the professional tennis scene and achieved the No. 1 ranking in Rhode Island. Following his professional career, Ernst chose to enter the business world, spending a brief stint working on Wall Street.
However, coaching tennis offered something that working elsewhere could not. Ernst accepted a position as an assistant coach at Northwestern University, bringing him back into tennis not as a player, but as a coach. He has not looked back since.
“I think that it’s really what you miss, and what I miss the most is preparation for competition,” Ernst said of his mindset when he decided to become a coach. “When you start your week off on Monday, and you know you have on Friday and Saturday these great matches that are like the Big East championship or whatever to prepare for, to lead up to that and then go and win something. You don’t get that — there’s very few places in the work or business world where you can find that type of atmosphere.”
Georgetown lost its tennis courts this past year after the decision to construct a new athletic center, which has had a huge impact on both the Georgetown tennis program as well as Ernst individually. However, he does see a positive.
“I think this summer we’re going to spend some time — I can’t do any camps because we don’t have any courts — in New England with my own kids, and I’m going to take them to some of the places where I played tennis when I was a kid,” Ernst said.
Ernst’s connections with his home have always been strong, especially since he still has tight-knit friendships with many of the players he competed with during those hundreds of tournaments back in his days driving around New England. However, being inducted into the USTA New England Tennis Hall of Fame has strengthened those relationships even more.
“When you get to reminisce you go through these stages when you get older. It seems to be every five to 10 years, and then you reconnect. … Being back here for the tennis hall of fame, definitely … brought me back home to reconnect and have my children reconnect and meet people that they’ve never met.”
Ernst has worked for the Hoyas since 2006, leading the Georgetown women’s team to five straight seasons with at least 10 wins. The men’s team, which upset DePaul in the Big East Tournament this past April, has also been consistently strong,
“I really enjoy coaching, and I really enjoy trying to make a difference in a young person’s life,” Ernst said. “I really try and help kids make the best decisions. It’s such a hard thing, unless there’s a kid who’s so singularly focused who knows exactly what they want, like that they want to be a doctor, they want to be a pro athlete. 99% of the kids don’t really know what they want to do, so you help them through it. … That’s the fun part.”