CARY, N.C. — They don’t play tennis in the shadow of the Acropolis.
Greece is a soccer country, and the Olympics were born right there in Athens. There’s basketball, wrestling, weightlifting, you name it – almost anything other than tennis. Constantine Ananiadis (pronounced uh-NON-ee-ODD-is) picked the game up almost by accident, randomly playing here and there. He enjoyed the game, loved it actually, and eventually made a deal with his mother.
She wanted him to take an intensive summer English course, when her 12-year-old son balked, she dangled a prize to coax him into the classes. In exchange, she would sign him up for a small tennis clinic that was being held near their home in Athens. The deal was done.
More than two decades later, Ananiadis is finishing up his fifth season as the head women’s tennis coach at Oberlin.
“It was very random,” said Ananiadis, a 1996 graduate of Stetson. “There was no tennis background in my family, or anything like that. Everybody learns English, but she wanted me to do an intensive summer program, and I didn’t want to do it, of course. I wanted to play in the summer.
“She was like, ‘OK, we’ll sign you up for tennis. You can do both.’ I got good at it and liked it, and continued through. I wanted to continue my education, and I wanted to continue playing tennis. Of course, the only country to do that is the United States.”
As a child, Ananiadis wasn’t fully aware of the significance of his surroundings. He was, after all, walking the same ground as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. It was like growing up in or around Washington D.C., only, he says, “times 10.”
“You don’t really think about it,” said the gregarious Ananiadis. “For most, it’s something exotic. We take field trips to the Acropolis. You walk around in Athens, and there’s ruins from the fifth century BC. You’re like, ‘Alright … whatever.’ In a sense, it desensitizes you to it, but it also instills a lot of pride about your country, your language, your history and your tradition. That’s hard to create. It just happens.”
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The culture portrayed in the hit movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” was exaggerated for comedic effect, Ananiadis insists. That’s not to say, though, that there are no similarities.
“One thing about the Greek culture, we’re emotional people and expressive,” Ananiadis continued. “We wear our emotions on our sleeves. We’re not buttoned-up, like a lot of people you see here. There’s nothing wrong, either-or. It’s just the way it is. It’s just the temperament. Greeks are just more expressive.”
Are Greek families tight knit? Yes. Do they tend to live within close range of each other? Absolutely. He, his wife and their three sons live here in the States, while the rest of his family, aunts, uncles, cousins and so forth are all back in his home country – his parents are deceased.
“I’m an anomaly, for me to be thousands of miles away,” he said. “I was very fortunate. My mom was very progressive and open minded, and she allowed me to go off and marry an American – God forbid – and start my life here. She was not the typical Greek mom, trying to keep her boy close to her.”
As the Greek financial crisis deepened, at least some of Ananiadis’ family couldn’t help but admit that maybe he had made the right decision after all.
“I get some comments … I am kind of a black sheep,” he said. “But especially with the situation the way it is right now, people are like, ‘You were so smart to leave.’ The economy … things are a little rough right now, so they see that what I did paid off. I was lucky to have parents who allowed me to do that, who saw beyond keeping me close. It was kind of a ‘when you love something, set it free’ mentality. I was really, really fortunate, and appreciative of my parents.”