Former Tennis Star Gabby Sabatose Shaping the Future, One Third-Grader at a Time

NEW CUMBERLAND, Pa. (EYT) – Education was all around Brockport native Gabrielle “Gabby” Sabatose growing up.

With her dad, a longtime educator in the Brockway Area School District and her mom a veteran of coaching tennis, it likely came as a surprise too few when the Elk County native became a teacher herself.

The DuBois Central Catholic graduate now has a classroom of her own as a first-year third grade teacher at Saint Theresa School in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania. It’s a moment she’s dreamed of for many years and sometimes it still feels surreal that she’s that adult up there in front of a group of kids. “When I stepped into that room for my first day, I was so nervous,” said Sabatose. “It’s still such a crazy feeling to step into my classroom and have it be mine. It hit me and was like a ‘woah, I’m the teacher here’. We are over halfway through the school year now and as exhausting as it can be, I’ve stayed strong and I absolutely love it.”

Sabatose attended Penn State Harrisburg where she earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education, while playing four years of tennis for the Harrisburg Nittany Lions. It was not a perfect journey as her freshman spring season and sophomore fall season were affected by COVID-19 and resulted in only around three full seasons of action during her college career.

She did, however, excel in those three seasons and helped the program to reach the NCAA Division III Women’s Tennis Championships in the 2020-21 season after an 8-0 unblemished record heading into the NCAA Tournament. The appearance was the first in program history and Sabatose was named first-team all-North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) at number four singles and first-team all-NEAC in number three doubles. She would add a third all-conference selection in her senior season as she became a second-team all-conference performer at number two doubles. The Brockport native also excelled in the classroom as she was a North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) Scholar-Athlete and an Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-Academic Team selection in her sophomore year and became a United East Conference (UEC) Scholar-Athlete as a senior.

Playing sports at a high level was nothing new for Sabatose, but focusing on one certainly was. During her time in high school, Sabatose played four sports at the varsity level in basketball, softball, tennis and volleyball; starting her high school career at Brockway Area before moving over to her alma mater DuBois Central Catholic (DCC). She started out her high school tennis career playing girls’ tennis in the fall but eventually transitioned to playing tennis in the spring in addition to softball after heading to DCC because the school did not have a girls’ varsity tennis program. Sometimes she would pack both uniforms and play in both a tennis match and a softball game on the same day. She would run back and forth, changing her uniform for her respective team; playing in both singles and doubles and then finding herself in a softball game in between matches.

It’s one of the more impressive stories of balance and a testament to Sabatose’s willingness to help both teams and the coaches working together to make sure she could make such an impact for her high school overall. She was a two-time District 9 runner-up in doubles when playing girls’ tennis, but the most success came from playing for the Lady Cardinals softball program as a junior and senior. The program won a D9 title in her junior season and advanced to the second round of the PIAA state playoffs. The Lady Cards topped this run in her senior years as they advanced all the way to the state championship game. DCC also collected a District 9 title along the way and Sabatose was awarded two letters for being a starting infielder on these teams. “I loved being a part of those softball teams. It seriously feels like yesterday to me. I think we were such a special team because we cheered so hard and were so proud of one another for what we accomplished. We all had great attitudes and our mentality was always the same no matter who we played that day.”

Even though she did not specialize, tennis was a sport not just a tad more important to her, but also to her mom, Lori, who was a former standout for the Clarion University Golden Eagles and a former head coach for the institution as well. Like her daughter Gabby, she qualified for nationals during her playing career. The sport is something that at one point may have been a sore subject for the duo during Gabby’s early adolescent years, but after a hot start to her varsity tennis career, Gabby realized what a luxury it was to have a coach who doubled as her mom.

The drills and techniques she learned from her mom were not as worthless after all and helped her to become a two-time runner-up in District 9 in doubles during her time at Brockway. From that distinctive moment of realizing how much her mom helped her succeed, their relationship changed forever and tennis has only brought the duo closer. “What I grew to appreciate most was when I was competing, she would ask me ‘do you need me to be your coach or your mom’ when checking in with me. Having that balance really benefited me in high school and college.”

All the years seeing the impact her parents had on so many athletes and students has led Sabatose to this chapter in life as a teacher who can only hope she can pay it forward and make a similar impact on her students. “The best compliments I have gotten are from parents telling me that their kids love to come to school because of me. I absolutely love the third grade because kids are figuring things out and have a conversation with me. I’m thankful for the great feedback I’ve received from my fellow teachers and administrators that will help me continue improving.”

In addition to her parents’ impact, the former DCC Lady Cardinal standout is thankful for the impact her college tennis coaches Becky Cecere and Tony Kepp made on her life. Not just because they helped her to continue her climb of being the best player she could be, but because they valued her as a person and always considered her best interests throughout her career. “When I visited the campus as a high school junior, it stood out to me how welcoming Coach Tony was and how genuine of a person he is. He was always there for me when I was struggling with the balance of college tennis and student teaching. Coach Becky also seemed to know us as players as well as we knew ourselves. She could tell if we were having an off day or if something was wrong. I’m thankful to have played for coaches like them.”

This small-town girl may have moved to the Greater Harrisburg area for this chapter of life, but the small-town values and the impact her community and her people have had on her will always carry with her no matter where her journey takes her or what it may have in store. One thing she hopes to do in the coming years is to coach high school tennis. For now, she continues to assist her mom in local clinics in the summer months and plays both tennis and pickleball recreationally. “It would be awesome to coach high school tennis. I had some opportunities, but the logistics of it did not allow me to make it work. I’m hoping ‌to do so in the future,” she said.


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