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Friday, June 7, 2013

Real losers in tennis flap churning disorder off the court

George Scione
George Scione

Bishop Guertin High School tennis star Briana Leonard and her family feel as though they are under attack.

A target has been on their backs since Leonard transferred to the Nashua private school two years ago from Westford Academy. ...

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Bishop Guertin High School tennis star Briana Leonard and her family feel as though they are under attack.

A target has been on their backs since Leonard transferred to the Nashua private school two years ago from Westford Academy.

Tuesday afternoon, around the tennis courts of The Derryfield School in Manchester, teen drama normally reserved for TV or movies was witnessed by everyone in attendance at the NHIAA Girls Singles Tournament final.

Trailing 1-0 in the best-of-three-set final, top-seeded Leonard retired from the match, and the title was awarded to second-seeded Sunday Swett, of Bow.

While injuries were briefly discussed, the focus of Leonard’s departure Tuesday night was on a “hostile environment” that her parents say was not controlled properly by the NHIAA site directors.

Fact: Swett was pumped up. Every other point made produced a scream as if she’d just won the final set at the All England Club in Wimbledon, London.

Fact: The Bow crowd got louder with every point Swett recorded.

Fact: To spin thunderous cheers for the opposition into a charge of “bullying” or “heckling” is inaccurate.

That said, there appears to be some truth to claims the Leonard family made. In high school tennis circles, their daughter may not have been the most popular girl among her peers.

It has nothing to do with her being from Westford, Mass., or the old standby that Bishop Guertin recruits athletes. Sometimes teenage girls just don’t get along with each other. That’s life, folks. Sad, but true.

Also, it appears Swett and Leonard have some history on the court.

Between USTA events and the NHIAA singles tournaments, Leonard had a 4-0 advantage over Swett heading into Tuesday’s match – including a 6-0, 6-1 quarterfinal win in this same event last season.

Swett didn’t hold back expressing her feelings regarding Leonard, and it appears those belonging to others, after Tuesday’s event.

“I’ve played her before, and not to be mean, but I know she has an attitude, and I was ready to put up with it,” Swett said, “but this brought it to a whole new level.”

As a matter of fact, after beating Londonderry’s Cassie Burbine in the semifinals, Swett said everyone was rooting for her to win the event. Even stressing that as they shook hands at the net, “Burbine told me to go kick her (expletive).”

The expletives haven’t stopped there. Barstool Sports, a notoriously vulgar Internet site, and Yahoo picked up the story. The responses from a national audience have been all over the map, from one extreme to the other. And yes, sexual references about both high school girls were posted. Let’s just say a good portion of these comments would make Andrew Dice Clay and Howard Stern blush.

Wednesday afternoon, the decision to withdraw from Thursday’s NHIAA Girls Doubles semifinals was made.

While the “emotional experience” was still a reason offered by her father, Tim Leonard, he stressed injuries were the No. 1 factor that Briana retired Tuesday and could not play Thursday.

According to her dad, Leonard was shaken up with a fall during that 6-4 Set 1 loss. She got up from the fall and played through the next five points despite banging up both knees – which the on-site trainer says he tended to – and hurt her ailing wrist.

According to her dad, Briana has contusions on both knees, including a black and blue on one leg from the knee down to her calf, and a slightly sprained left wrist. But what is now classified as a slight sprain was feared to be worse by her parents.

“Her mother and I were both worried that she re-broke the same wrist she broke in ninth grade,” said Tim Leonard , referring to a cross-country meet her freshman year at Westford Academy when Briana was bumped to the ground and broke her wrist trying to stop herself from face-planting.

“She broke two bones in her left wrist back then, and Tuesday she was complaining of her wrist hurting after the fall. My wife was scared she broke it again. She called me in a panic that she had to take her to the emergency room because it looked like she broke it again.

“She was recruited to play Division I tennis at Bentley. Why would we risk her making things worse for a high school match? Her health is most important at that point, and we felt it would be best to end the match then. That’s the real reason she stopped playing.”

That’s when all the drama unfolded.

It’s understandable that a parent would be upset if they truly believed their child was hurt. It makes sense that her mom would be upset if she believed the crowd was cheering not for Swett winning as much as they were rooting against her daughter. From her perspective, that’s what she believed to be the case.

For others on hand, it was a situation seen at just about every other sporting event. It was one team or player gaining a mental edge because their cheering section was louder.

As BG head coach Barry Ndinya put it: “Bri was heavily not the crowd favorite today. But in sports, that’s something you have to deal with. Some people will not cheer for you. They’ll cheer for your opponent.”

It’s understandable that the crowd, her opponent and the injuries were perhaps too much for Leonard to handle all at once. After all, she is just an 18-year-old girl.

But it’s more the post-game commentary that is telling about the type of society we live in.

It’s one thing to make the claim that you have to deal with the pressure and gut it out as an athlete. Yes, it’s part of the learning experience on the athletic field. Right or wrong, student athletes overcome much worse “heckling” than was witnessed Tuesday.

But it’s another thing entirely to make personal attacks and/or vulgar sexual references regarding high school girls.

This week, the NHIAA, high school tennis and its fans lost. It was supposed to be No. 1 versus No. 2 playing it out on the court. Now, the 2013 Girls Singles Tennis Tournament will go down as a joke in the record books.

Everyone’s just waiting on Clay to deliver that vulgar, not too funny punch line and wrap up the story for good.

George Scione can be reached at 594-6520 or gscione@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Scione on Twitter (@Telegraph_BigG).