Father Velasco finds his footing as a chaplain and tennis coach – Arkansas Catholic

Former Harding player led Trinity side to first place in 2021; eyeing winning season

Posted: March 29, 2022

Maryanne Meyerriecks

Father Daniel Velasco coaches Trinity eighth grader Isabella Kindrick in tennis at Creekmore Park Fort Smith on March 9.

This time of year, you can find Trinity Catholic School‘s chaplain, Father Daniel Velasco, on the grounds.

He helped Trinity’s tennis team win first place last spring. This year, working with students in grades six through eight at the new middle school, he’s coaching two 15-player co-ed teams for fun, skill development and, possibly, a winning season.

Father Velasco’s tennis skills brought him to the United States in 1993.

“I started playing tennis at 13 when my dad was a member of a tennis club through his company,” the 48-year-old said. “I took a few lessons and I fell in love with this sport. I started playing tournaments and was going to regionals and nationals in my age group when I was 16.

“Father Daniel is always ready to share his skills with us at Trinity – from advice for our students on careers, in marketing and entrepreneurship, to tennis lessons,” said Dr Karen Hollenbeck, Principal of Trinity. “He’s a wonderful coach, always teaching and challenging those around him to try harder and improve.”

When he was a freshman at the University of Puebla, Mexico, Harding University tennis coach Searcy visited him on a recruiting trip and offered him a scholarship. Harding was about to move from NAIA Division to Division 2, an exciting but empowering move. Father Velasco played with their team until he graduated in 1997.

He returned to Mexico and worked for three years, but decided to return to Harding to get his master’s degree in business administration. The local company Searcy where Father Velasco interned offered him a job after graduation and sponsored him for citizenship.

He continued to play tennis and give lessons to local students. He entered the seminary in 2014 and was ordained in 2020. He has dual assignments at Fort Smith, as associate pastor at Immaculate Conception Church and chaplain at Trinity Catholic School.

“Father Daniel is always ready to share his skills with us at Trinity – from advice for our students on careers, in marketing and entrepreneurship, to tennis lessons,” said Dr Karen Hollenbeck, Principal of Trinity. “He’s a wonderful coach, always teaching and challenging those around him to try harder and improve.”

Eighth-grade Isabella Kindrick, playing her second season, said, “Father Daniel taught me that technique is everything, and you can’t take shortcuts. If you put in the effort and practice, it will show in your matches, especially in tiebreakers when your footwork and technique will give you an edge.

“No matter how the game ends, if we put in the effort and have a positive attitude, we can always feel satisfied,” said teammate Ellie Coleman, an eighth grader. “Tennis is supposed to be fun.”

Ellie’s mother, Lucy Coleman, serves as the coordinator and planner for the teams, working with several other volunteer coaches. They play in a league with four Fort Smith colleges and a combined Union Christian Academy/home-school team.

“Most players have already taken lessons with the Western Arkansas Tennis Association,” she said, “but Father Daniel is a human panel.”

Father Velasco maintains his skills by playing tennis with several local pros at Creekmore Park and Hardscrabble Country Club, and Immaculate Conception pastor, Father John Antony.

He divides his tennis teaching philosophy into two parts: “Attitude is important,” said Father Velasco. “Always be positive on the pitch, have fun and do your best and never give up. And remember the technical part – watch the ball and move your feet.

In Trinity, Father Velasco uses his skills in many ways. In addition to celebrating mass with students each week and hearing confessions, he works with student retreat days and visits career classes to talk about his 14 years of management experience in the business world before to enter the seminary. He tries to be there for the students at their sporting events and meetups. “When I coach kids I’m always ‘Father Daniel’, I interact with them in a different way,” he said. “When I give them instructions during games, they say, ‘Well, he knows what he’s talking about.'”


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