Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Elaine Tavani is very involved in the family's Tavani Soccer camps.
A decade ago, the Tavani family started a summer soccer camp in Gwinnett. Gregg Tavani, the head coach at Duluth, recruited his whole family to help. He calls his mom, Elaine, the glue that holds the whole enterprise together -- an enterprise that has expanded to four week-long camps in three different locations for boys and girls age 7 to 15.
The Tavanis are finishing the third camp this week and the final one starts Monday. Elaine Tavani took some time, however, to talk to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including moving to Atlanta after 36 years as a New Yorker, becoming a soccer mom and the veracity of "Mad Men," for this installment of "Getting to Know ..."
CT: Where did you grow up?
ET: I was born in Brooklyn and I grew up in Westchester in New Rochelle. And I went to FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology.
CT: What did you study there?
ET: For merchandising, but I didn't graduate.
CT: You moved on to do other things?
ET: I ended up working for American Airlines.
CT: What precipitated that change?
ET: I guess just a change of heart. I didn't want to be in retail and I was young and decided I wanted to travel. So American Airlines was the thing to do. I was a passenger service manager and I ended up traveling all over the world.
CT: What did your job entail?
ET: Basically reservations and keeping people happy. We were really a VIP service, make sure people were very happy on their flights.
CT: Kept coming back?
ET: Oh, we used to do birthday cakes for special guests. I'm talking 40-some-odd years ago so it's very different than it is today. This was the beginning of the computer age.
CT: How long did you do that?
ET: I was there for five years.
CT: What did you go do after that?
ET: Then I actually met Bert (my husband) in the city and I left American Airlines and became a stay-at-home mom. That's where the soccer career started. We moved to New Jersey and we had three sons. One son was born in New York, one in New Jersey and one in Georgia. We lived in New Jersey for about five years and then we transferred down to Atlanta. And I became a soccer mom. I became the soccer mom. For 35 years, I've been a soccer mom. We've been carpooling, spending Thanksgiving in Charlotte at tournaments. We were booster club president at Dunwoody High School. We had to do that.
CT: So whatever needs doing?
CT: Is that also a fair way to describe your involvement in the Tavani Soccer Camps?
ET: Whatever needs doing. That's right.
CT: How old were you when you moved down to Atlanta?
ET: I was 36.
CT: So as a native New Yorker, who lived in that area for 36 years, what was it like coming down to Atlanta?
ET: Everyone said Atlanta was a little New York. And I thought, 'Not really.' Not even back then. But of course you throw yourself into school and soccer -- and soccer became our passion. The boys loved it. They played on the club teams and did ODP and high school soccer. Then Gregg became a teacher and of course we had no little ones left when Gregg came up with the idea of starting this soccer camp about 10 years ago. We had one location at the beginning. Bert was the administrator and Gregg is the coach and my younger son does all the computer stuff and designs the shirts. So my place was going to be camp mom and the Icee lady.
CT: That value cannot be underestimated on these hot days.
ET: I give out about 1,000 Icees a week. And keeping them frozen is a challenge. We make our trip to Costco and we buy about 65 boxes -- with Berry Punch being the favorite. The blue ones. Kids love that. We actually had to buy another freezer for the Icees. There's no frozen food in our house (during the summer). It is completely stocked with Icees. I keep loading it up every day and we just hope there isn't a power outage. Soccer's just been a wonderful experience for our family. Of course, now I'm a Nana. I've got five grandchildren. So pretty soon they'll be getting into soccer.
CT: They'll at least have to try it, right?
ET: Exactly. If they become ballet dancers or computer experts, that's OK, but they'll have to try it (laughing).
CT: Do you get back to the New York area very often?
ET: We try to at least once a year. We love New York. We're going up there in August for a wedding and actually two of our sons, Andrew and Michael, are running the New York marathon in November.
CT: Are there places you definitely always want to go back to when you're in New York again?
ET: We love the New York pizza and of course we love going to Little Italy and Chinatown. Of course, I worked in the Chrysler Building with American.
CT: That's pretty cool, working at a landmark like that.
ET: It was wonderful. I have a picture of the Chrysler Building in my hallway that Michael gave me. It's beautiful. Rockefeller Center is wonderful, too. All of New York. It's home.
CT: What was the first year of Tavani Soccer camps like?
ET: We had one camp and I think we had about 35 kids. It was at Bunten Park. Now we have the three locations and about 300 campers each summer.
CT: Is the first day of camp as chaotic as you'd expect?
ET: It really is, with registration and just making sure everyone is really happy. It's a family organization so we try to keep everyone feeling like they're all family.
CT: You can use those skills you developed at American keeping all those people happy, right?
ET: And actually I work for a group of psychologists. I'm an office manager and I've been there for 22 years. It's my second career.
CT: So still trying to keep people happy.
ET: (Laughing) I didn't think of it that way, but yes.
CT: How did you end up with that job to start with?
ET: I took some psychology and sociology courses in college. Probably if I wasn't home raising children, I probably would have loved to have been a psychologist. However, this was a nice part-time job. I job-share and we've run the office for 22 years.
CT: What was your first car?
ET: My first car was a Volkswagen. A '69 Beetle. It was beige. Semi-automatic.
CT: How long did you have it for?
ET: About 20 years we kept it. I remember putting my kids in the backseat and it didn't have seat belts.
CT: How did you meet Bert?
ET: I met Bert in a restaurant in New York City. I was working for the airline and he had just gotten his master's and was celebrating. I was at a table with three girls and he was at the next table eating. He sent drinks over to our table. I didn't have my contacts on and the girls said, 'Well, what do they look like?' I said, 'I can't even see them.' (Laughing) But we took the drinks. Then we went over to the bar to say thanks.
CT: Other than getting back up to New York, do you have favorite vacation spots?
ET: Oh, we love to go to Italy and Bermuda.
CT: New York is great to visit, but there's so much going on it's hard to narrow it down. Then there's how much it costs.
ET: You'll have to get, have you heard of Scoutmob?
CT: Oh, yes. I use it here in Atlanta.
ET: It's Michael's company. Michael is the co-founder of Scoutmob.
CT: Oh, I had no idea.
ET: Yep. If you go to New York you can use it there, too.
CT: What kind of music do you listen to most often?
ET: I love Frank Sinatra and anything rock and roll from that era.
CT: Are there any TV shows you try not to miss?
ET: We like "Mad Men."
CT: You lived and worked in New York around that time -- how accurate is it?
ET: Very accurate. The whole culture. We actually started in watching on the fourth year and we loved it so much ended up going all the way back.
CT: Were you into sports before you met your husband?
ET: I was athletic, but I wasn't into anything specific. I surely never played soccer. But years back, people didn't do recreational sports like they today. I did bike ride and I played a little ALTA.
CT: Do you have any favorite movies?
ET: Yes. I love "The Way We Were," "The Godfather," "When Harry Met Sally." I love anything with Paul Newman in it. Robert Redford, too. So "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" is great.