Beyond the Lines is a (bi)weekly profile story on a coach or athlete that goes beyond the fields and courts. The goal of these profiles is to discuss what makes them who they are– the core values they live by, their relationships with others, what is meaningful to them, and more. Beyond the coaching and student-athlete roles these individuals play, at the end of the day, we are all human.
Orlando, Florida is home to theme parks such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, along with professional sports teams. The city is also home to someone from the Marist athletics community: water polo head coach Chris Vidale.
Vidale is originally from Miami, born to a Trinidadian mother and father. At a very young age, his parents sent him and his older brother Mark to Trinidad and Tobago for over four years to live with their grandparents while his parents “figured things out.” After those few years, his parents took him and his brother to California.
Throughout his childhood, his family moved to Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and Georgia before finally settling in Orlando. It’s here where he began to dive deeper into the water as the apartment complex he lived in had several swimming pools. He joined his swim team as a 12-year-old, and the following year his coach introduced him to the sport he now coaches: water polo.
“My [swim] coach was like, have you ever heard of water polo?” Vidale said. “And I was like, ‘no.’ He said it was just another way to keep us interested in being in the water. And then nobody wanted to swim anymore. We just wanted to play water polo.”
The one part that stuck out about the sport to Vidale is that many of the other athletes didn’t look like him. Many of his friends growing up were white, had large houses, and would go on vacations frequently. He was never envious of it, but he was always asking questions about their lives because he’s always enjoyed learning the ins and outs of other communities.
When it comes to Trinidadian culture, he grew up listening to soca, calypso, reggae, and hip hop. Outside of music, his home itself was a microcosm of the Caribbean dual islands.
“If you walk into my house, you’re in Trinidad. Sometimes you put on a fake accent for whatever best you can do it, but it’s very proper, ‘good mornings’ and ‘good afternoons,’” Vidale said. “If you wanted McDonald’s, you’d have to leave. If you wanted a burger, you’d have to leave. There was nothing like that being made in my house. It was curries and callaloos and macaroni pies, just very traditional Trinidadian food.”
Growing up in his household, it was him, his mother, stepdad, older brother, and younger sister. His mother was a dance teacher, while his stepdad worked as an electrician. Both were hardworking, yet they knew how to have fun – that’s part of their culture too – with his mother, in particular, emphasizing the importance of enjoying life.
Vidale’s older brother Mark had a very different path in life; he left at age 17 to join the military. Growing up, the two had a typical brotherly bond, consistently competing against one another and occasionally butting heads. Yet Vidale wound up missing his brother more than he liked to admit, going as far as trying to be like him.
“I joined this thing called Sea Cadets right out of downtown Orlando, and you were doing all of the Navy stuff,” Vidale said. “It was like Boy Scouts, but Navy stuff. You’re on a reserve base, you’re wearing uniforms, all that stuff. And then I realized, ‘I can’t do this.’ But it was fun to try and be like my brother, but I didn’t want to be anything like my brother at the same time.”
After 27 years, Mark received his dental license in the military, only to realize that he found the idea of cleaning mouths for a living to be unappetizing. He then started over, becoming a doctor who took care of Marines; he has since retired.
There’s also Carmen, born from their mother’s second marriage, and she is a professional dancer. She’s been on tour with the likes of Janet Jackson and Kehlani and has been in several of Megan Thee Stallion’s music videos. She’s verified on Instagram, too.
“My sister is this sweet homebody person. But once the lights are on she turns it on,” Vidale said. “And then once the lights are off, she just wants to go back home and relax and chill. It’s interesting how she has that dynamic because she likes the attention but doesn’t want the attention.”
The three siblings are certainly very different from one another, and this is reflected in the dynamic between them and their mother. She was harder on Mark while treating Carmen as the baby of the three. Chris, on the other hand, has been the self-sufficient one since childhood as he’s always been independent and inquisitive.
“I’m outgoing, I like attention. I like people to know I’m in a room and you will know I’m in a room,” Vidale said. “But I also want to be left alone, and I want to be able to get my work done. I can be boisterous and that’s just who I am. But most people will start by not liking me just because I am very just, ‘I’m here.’”
On top of being outgoing, he used the term “loyal” to describe himself. His loyalty to others is evident when discussing his wife Elizabeth “Betsey” Armstrong, and two boys, six-year-old Frankie and three-year-old Max.
“A big part of me wants to make sure that I am present in my kids’ life. My kids are everything. My reasons for what I do is to take care of my direct kids and then to take care of these [water polo] kids and take care of my family,” Vidale said.
His wife is very intelligent, loves classical music, and is an Olympic silver and gold medalist as a water polo goalie for the U.S. in the Beijing and London games. Frankie possesses his mother’s intelligence and focus and “could be talented in anything he touches.” Like his father, he also swims, as he competes with the swim team at Bard College.
Max is more like his father, often mimicking his mannerisms while having an outgoing personality. When they’re all together, they’re known to cause a commotion – wrestling, fighting, and being wacky– all of which have their highs and lows.
“A perfect day is just wake up late, let them watch cartoons, sleep in, make some pancakes, and hang out. And then maybe Poet’s Walk, it’s a nice area up there. But it’s also fun to have a group of friends over and just hang and cook,” Vidale said.
Whether it’s making pancakes, grilling meats, or creating new combinations of food, he loves cooking. He attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, and to this day, his friends will call him and ask if he wants to work the lines one night, grill for them, or even cater – he’s that good. He even described what his favorite kind of burger looks like.
“A Wagyu beef burger, brioche bun, a garlic bearnaise, brioche butter on the bread, an oregano, spicy aioli with lettuce, tomato, lots of pickles. And then some skinny stringy fried onions right in the middle of it. And some parmesan fries and a shake,” Vidale said.
Before ever learning how to cook, Vidale worked for MTV after graduating from Iona University, where he played 67 games for the water polo team. At MTV, he worked in production management with VH1 on music videos and behind-the-scenes paperwork. After that gig, he went to IMG, working tennis shows and fashion week in Bryant Park.
His journey from MTV to IMG to culinary school and to coaching several water polo teams before finding his way to Marist is certainly a unique path. Adding to this uniqueness is how Vidale learned how to play the ukulele during the height of the pandemic – he now has 10 songs under his belt.
“It started with Lava from that Disney movie. My kids liked it, so it started with that. And then I’m working on Best Friend by Rex Orange County, trying to get there,” Vidale said.
None of this even mentions how he won a bronze medal with Trinidad and Tobago at the 2009 CCCAN Games or that going into this season, he had surpassed 50 wins against MAAC teams and over 100 overall. What can’t he do?
The man from the sunshine state certainly has had many bright moments over the course of his life. For him, it’s all about enjoying himself as his mother always preached.
“As long as life is surrounded by good, happy people, a tasty meal, a beverage to wash it down, family, and friends, life’s good.”
Edited by Andrew Hard and Luke Sassa
Photos provided by Chris Vidale