Kaitlyn Oniki more than just the Bingham girls tennis captainSep 01, 2021 03:27PM ● By Brian Shaw
By Brian Shaw | [email protected]
Bingham High School senior Kaitlyn Oniki is busy these days. On top of being the varsity girls tennis captain for the Miners, she holds an even more important job.
On a typical school day at lunchtime, Oniki walks through Bingham’s halls first, then saunters into the lunchroom. Her mission: looking for kids who are eating alone that she can befriend.
“It’s just a really simple way but a really impactful way to show and spread kindness all throughout our school because everybody just needs somebody to be a friend to them, even if you don’t know them,” said Oniki in a TV interview on KUTV “Talkin’ Sports.”
Oniki and others in the student body are upholding a Bingham tradition that has stood since the mid-2010s, when a hall monitor by the name of “Momma Jo” Jolynne Ward noticed that some students were hiding in various parts of the school from plain view.
Thus began the Golden Gate Club, a group of students Ward founded that provides social support to new and disenfranchised classmates, of which the senior Oniki is a member. Its motto is to “be the person who smiles and the reason others smile! We will make others day every day.”
Club members like Oniki sit down with these kids and after getting to know them for a few minutes, invite them to connect with other kids at designated tables in the lunchroom, building that vision that Ward had of a unified student body five years ago when she presented the idea to school administrators.
From the lunchroom, it’s just a short walk down the hallway to the classroom for Oniki, who aims to do even more than she did in comparison to last year, according to head coach Mark Smith.
The senior Oniki is so driven, said her head coach, that she is “a bit frustrated by the one A- she received last year,” one that snuffed out her quest for a perfect 4.0 grade point average through her first three years of high school.
An amazing accomplishment nevertheless, added the head coach who anticipates the National Honor Society recipient Oniki will earn the Academic All-State award at the end of the 2021 season in addition to the reason for her having been on TV in the first place: the America First Athlete of the Week award last week for which Oniki was honored at halftime of the Bingham-Weber football game.
“Academics are also important to Kaitlyn as she carries a 3.997 cumulative grade point [going into] her [fourth] year of high school,” said the head coach, who is always waiting for Oniki and her teammates on the tennis court after classes end.
Oniki told Adam Mukulich on KUTV “Talkin’ Sports” on Aug. 15 that as team captain of the Bingham girls tennis team, her athletic objective in her final year of high school is clear. “My goal is to help my team win region this year,” she said.
The Miners finished second in Region 3 last year. However, they did place seventh overall last year at the Utah Class 6A state tournament—best among all the schools in Region 3. Oniki and her doubles partner, Jacey Robins, reached the state semifinals after winning their first two rounds in straight sets—so on the court, much is expected by Oniki, enough that Mikulich gently teased her as their TV interview concluded that he reminded her to “remember to have fun out there.”
That’s something Smith also constantly asks the girls he coaches to do on a regular basis. “Our team goal is always to have fun and work hard,” said Smith. “I just want the girls to play to their potential, learn to work hard, feel the rewards of doing so and to enjoy the experience of being on a team together with their peers. We are a very experienced team with the varsity team consisting of all seniors.”
With 10 seniors, the Miners have built their foundation up to the point when they can take all the life lessons they’ve learned the past three years and apply it accordingly even though by the sport’s very nature, the girls must constantly square off against one another, added the head coach.
“It is fun to watch them compete against each other for spots on the team yet still remain great friends,” said Smith. “They all made a pact to keep tennis separate from their friendship, and they have been successful at doing just that. They compete hard, but at the end of the day, they all remain good friends.”
Though most of them have been lifelong friends and are high academic achievers who help each other out with homework and through other trials in life, there still must be an atmosphere of togetherness that these 10 seniors display on and off the court in order to thrive.
“I expect them to use that experience to their advantage; knowing how to practice right, how to perform under pressure situations and to be an example to their younger teammates as they show respect for the sport and their opponents,” said Smith. “We have some tough teams in our region, and we will have to play to our highest potential in order to achieve our goal of a region championship as well as performing well in the state tournament.”
As far as his team captain is concerned, this season also culminates a long journey for Oniki—one that the head coach is acutely aware of as his team heads into a big season.
“She has worked so hard over the last three years and improved so much pushing herself to be one of the top players on the team,” said Smith. “I would hope that she will feel the rewards from the many hours spent on the court and just really enjoy the ride.”