For over 40 years, Gene Tundo established himself as a key component of the Orchard Park Central School District while serving as a physical education teacher and head coach for several sports teams in the district. He dedicated his life to helping students live fulfilling lives while finding a wealth of success leading the boys varsity lacrosse team to 24 Section VI championships and two New York State finals appearances.
For his accomplishments, he has been named the recipient of the John Faller Memorial Award for the 2023-24 season.
The John Faller Memorial Award is given annually to a coach or administrator who positively impacts youth lacrosse in Western New York and was established during the 2021-22 campaign to honor Faller’s lasting legacy. Faller, a member of the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame and the Western New York Lacrosse Hall of Fame, dedicated his life to education and coaching before passing away unexpectedly in 2019.
Tundo, who learned the game of lacrosse from Faller, was honored to receive the award in his name.
“John Faller was an amazing man,” he said. “He was an incredible friend. He helped me out in so many ways in football and lacrosse. He taught me faceoffs right in his hallway at his school. … He was just an incredible advocate of the sport, and it means a lot. He was a great person.”
To learn more about the award and Faller’s coaching career, click here.
Tundo first began his coaching journey when he took over the Orchard Park boys wrestling program in 1978. From there, he spent 35 seasons with the boys varsity lacrosse team and 23 seasons as head coach of the varsity football program while also spending time as the girls indoor and outdoor track and field coach.
His decision to coach lacrosse wasn’t based on a previous love for or knowledge of the game, but instead to fill a need at the school and help students learn lacrosse.
“It’s kind of funny because at first, I’d never seen a lacrosse stick before,” Tundo said. “It was my first day of practice and I was trying to teach the kids how to shoot it harder because I saw them just tossing it into the net real softly. I said, ‘Guys, you got to do it like this.’ I shot the ball as hard as I could, and it stuck in the ground about two feet in front of me.”
Tundo went on to record 543 career wins at the helm of the lacrosse program and saw his love for the sport blossom, utilizing help from established coaches and teams in the area.
“I came to love the game,” Tundo said. “I had contacts with guys all over the country as I got into the sport. I went out to West Genesee and Syracuse University, went to all the clinics. I had great mentors.”
Throughout his career, his accomplishments and accolades grew, but Tundo was never focused on them. To him, the most important part of his job was making a difference in his students’ lives and helping them grow as student-athletes.
Tundo made the decision to not cut players on any of his teams in order to give students a safe place to play after school rather than going home alone when their parents weren’t home. He watched as students who had never played the sport before became some of his best players and also had the unique opportunity to coach his sons, Gene, Matt, and Jeff.
“That’s special. I was so happy when they started playing,” Tundo said. “My wife supported all the sports that I coached. We just had fun. We traveled to tournaments with the kids outside of this area and we made it vacations and made it our life as a family. We tried to do that with all the kids, but you have to have support from the family to do all the things that we did.”
All three of Tundo’s sons went on to play Division I lacrosse before Tundo and his youngest son, Jeff, were inducted into the Section VI Hall of Fame together in 2023. Tundo was also inducted into the Orchard Park Athletic Hall of Fame the year prior. Above all, he remembers his time spent with his sons as one of the best parts of his illustrious coaching career.
“I’d say when I was coaching my kids – they had their friends around and we did team dinners and stuff like that,” Tundo said. “We always did have team dinners in other sports, but when you’re traveling with your kids, it really makes it that much more fun.”
Tundo stepped down as the men’s varsity coach in 2016 but stuck around to help out with modified before retiring in 2019. While he is no longer behind the bench at Orchard Park, his impact will forever be felt by the District and student-athletes whose lives he changed.