On his personal website, Jack Ciunci includes motivational quotes. The Bishop Hendricken senior is inspired by and lives each one.
“Everyone comes to a point in their lives where they want to quit…..
It would have been easy for Jack Ciunci to quit. Rhode Island’s top high school singles player recently found himself just one game away from losing the state title to Lincoln’s Cam DiChiara – who ironically was the last player to beat Ciunci just over a year ago.
The pressure was extraordinary. The defending state champ not only entered the tournament unbeaten, Ciunci hadn’t lost a set all season. But after easily winning the first set, he dropped his first set in over a year and found himself down (4-5) in the third set, on the brink of losing the title. The stress and pressure mounted; all eyes were glued on the only match going on at Slater Park on a blistering hot day that felt far more like summer than an early spring May day. Ciunci was physically ill and tired- and for a brief period, it showed.
….but it’s what you do at that moment that determines who you are”
Ciunci determined he’s a fighter, tough as nails.
“Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it”
He took his father and Hendricken coach Vin Palumbo’s advice and focused on the journey – the fun he had when he first started playing at age 3, the thousands of hours he has since put in on the court to become the state’s best high school tennis player.
“It really hit home and gave me the extra motivation to get through those last few games,” said Ciunci.
Ciunci also thought about the conversation he had had with his dad that morning during a walk in Goddard Park. He focused on his father’s advice – play to win, not play to not lose. Play big and it will pay off. Play fearlessly.”
That’s just what Ciunci did.
Ciunci reacted by coming back and forcing a tiebreaker, dominating from the start. He refused to push the ball and play it safe. Instead, he fired his powerful shots for winners and closed out his high school career by winning his second straight state championship, with a gutsy win over DiCiara, who he has faced in friendly, but highly competitive father/son doubles every Sunday for years.
“Pressure is a privilege,’ said Ciunci. “I enjoy it. I’ve worked really hard to be in the situation I am in today. I put in thousands of hours with my dad and other players just to be able (to be) in this position. It’s a blessing. This is a great end to a great period in my career. “
“Jack’s a coach’s dream. His effort, work ethic, commitment and drive is like no other I’ve ever seen,” said Palumbo. ‘Everyone’s been gunning for him since last year and he used it as motivation to work even harder to get better. Completely exhausted and one game from defeat, Jack found something deep inside and willed himself to victory. It was the greatest and gutsiest state final I’ve ever witnessed.
While Ciunci’s state title match was monumental, he has overcome much bigger challenges off the court.
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have…”
He doesn’t focus on the health challenges that have plagued him since he was a little boy and have forced him to spend weeks in the hospital. Ciunci has had meningitis and suffers from a very rare autoimmune disease which at times severely impacted his vision, so much so that he has been blind three times. Still, it never stopped him from playing tennis.
Ciunci takes medication daily but says he hasn’t had any side effects in years. He downplays his health challenges, insisting nothing has hindered his performance and that tennis has been his greatest outlet.
But his father takes a breath and seemingly chokes back tears when he talks of the challenges his son has faced.
Chris Ciunci is Jack’s dad and biggest fan. He’s also his coach and his teammate.
Like Jack, Chris, 50, was a star tennis player at Hendricken. He was first team All-State playing the top singles spot as a sophomore, but never had the chance to win a state championship. Midway through his junior year, he suffered an injury that ended his high school career. He would rebound and go on to play at Swarthmore College, a top Division III program.
Jack was three years-old when his father put a racquet in his hand. There was never any pressure from Chris, who introduced tennis to the toddler by mixing in some fun. They would play hide and seek behind the curtains at Centre Court. Chris would set up games to test Jack’s skills and to keep the youngster engaged. The hard work was rewarded with frostees.
“I just tried to make it fun,” said Chris. “We ended up playing all the time and he loved it.”
And like his father, Jack’s passion, work ethic and skill level intensified by the time he entered high school. Despite his small stature (he was five feet as a freshman), he became one of the top players in the state.
Jack and Chris play against each other – some matches even resulting in short-lived family feuds, but that’s the competitive nature in both. They’re also teammates, partnering in father-son tournaments.
Together, they have found success. For a period of time last summer, they were ranked as the No. 1 father /son doubles team in New England. They’ve competed in several big national tournaments and reached the finals of the backdraw at both Longwood and Agawam Hunt National Father/Son Tournaments.
Through tennis, the father/ son relationship has intensified.
“The bond that we have developed by traveling to these tournaments and competing together has been a thrill,’ said Chris. “I’m so proud of him.”
“It’s been amazing to have my dad as my coach and my teammate. He has helped me overcome a lot and guides me in everything and, not just tennis, in life. It means so much to me,” said Jack.
Jack is equally competitive off the court. A member of the National Honor Society he ranks No. 13 in his senior class. He will attend Wake Forest in the fall, play on the club team and major in finance.
“Kindness is more important that wisdom and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom”
Ciunci has been playing tennis since he was a toddler, but knows there are many who aren’t as fortunate, so he and his brother Shane founded Rally4Racquets, a non-profit that provides tennis racquets for underprivileged kids so that every kid will have the opportunity to play the sport. Ciunci estimates he has donated over 150 racquets.
“Giving back is one of the most important things you can do,” said Ciunci. “During Christmas time, they said it’s better to give than to receive. I never understood that until I started this non-profit. Just seeing everyone who has benefited through this program is really special.”