When the going gets tough — aw, the heck with it
When the going gets tough, we know what the tough do.
But what about those individuals who aren’t so physically — or mentally — rugged? What is their preferred course of action?
One teenaged tennis player also got going, but chose to do so in a rather unusual way. She abruptly departed from a state-championship match following the completion of only one set in the best-of-three encounter.
Briana Leonard, a senior at Bishop Guertin High School in New Hampshire, left the court and climbed into a waiting family vehicle, which whisked her away from the scene and automatically handed the title to her opponent via forfeit. The bizarre ending was in response to what Leonard’s parents referred to as a “hostile environment.”
According to a Nashua Telegraph version of the story, the Leonards thought Briana had been treated harshly for the past two years, at least in part, because the family resides in Massachusetts. Why a Massachusetts girl was attending a New Hampshire high school was never clarified in the story, but that apparently didn’t matter.
What did matter was that Briana was evidently not a fan favorite, and those in attendance at the state meet apparently made that plain by openly cheering for her opponent, who boasted one of sports’ greatest names: Sunday Swett.
Worse than that, though, was the claim made by Kristen Leonard, Briana’s mother, who asserted that many of those same fans were applauding when Briana fell during the match.
If indeed true, those are some genuinely warped individuals. An adult expressing glee over some kid’s misfortune? Wow, what comes next — booing a Special Olympian?
In all honesty, there is no valid excuse for such a response. Remember, these are high school athletes, not big-money-earning jocks, who can easily remedy any hurt feelings by cashing their next paycheck.
Generally speaking, we’re talking about kids who don’t act like prima donnas, which rules out any need for “parental guidance” in the form of a verbal slap down. That’s especially the case in the so-called minor sports — you know, the ones not named “football” and “basketball.”
Young people engage in less-publicized athletic activities simply because they love doing them. It doesn’t get any more pure than that in a sporting sense, so let’s give the kids a break already and back off.
That being said, however, the Leonards are not without fault in this instance.
The Telegraph article mentioned a pre-match altercation between Leonard’s dad, Tim, and a New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association official. The disagreement involved Briana’s getting docked a point and losing a serve for being one minute late for the 3:30 start time.
As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, governing bodies of all sorts tend to be heavily populated by pinheads, people for whom common sense is all too commonly absent from their personal inventory. High school associations have proved more than once that they don’t encourage latitude where rules are concerned — participants must obey them in full and without hesitation, or some form of punishment will be meted out.
Did it really matter whether the Leonard-Swett match got underway at 3:30 or 3:31? Not to any rational thinker, but again consider the source of the decision-making.
Surely, Tim Leonard had to have been aware that the NHIAA would grant no leniency, even though Briana’s oh-so-late arrival was due to a couldn’t-be-avoided traffic jam. After all, he placed some of the blame on the NHIAA for fostering that aforementioned “hostile environment.”
So why didn’t the Leonards build more cushion into their travel time? Better to get to a destination one hour ahead of schedule instead of a few minutes too late.
More importantly, though, what was accomplished by having Briana exit early? If making her a sympathetic figure was the ultimate goal, it was only partially accomplished.
Unfortunately, Briana — or at least her parents — also came off looking pretty shallow. Hightailing it out of the trouble zone really wasn’t the best response.
It would have been much better if Briana had hung tough and finished the match, ideally channeling all the negative energy aimed at her into a dominating performance. Nothing shuts an unruly sports crowd up quite like a masterful showing by the object of its derision.
And even if she lost, Briana wouldn’t have seen any of the numskulls again, so there was absolutely no reason for her to care even one iota about their opinion on anything.
Besides, what are Tim and Kristen Leonard showing their daughter? While every worthwhile parent has that protective instinct within them, it’s OK to let kids get figuratively bruised every now and then.
What will Briana do when she has to deal one day with an overly demanding boss or pain-in-the-posterior customer or whiny children, and daddy’s not accessible? Assuming the fetal position is not an option.
Briana’s still a kid, but she’s also on the cusp of adulthood, where difficult decisions have to be made on a pretty regular basis and unpleasant circumstances handled in a reasonable manner. And I’ve got news for her — life throws a lot of curveballs, all of which carry more weight than a high school tennis match.
This was, in some ways, a trial run for Briana. Let’s hope she’s better prepared to cope with the real thing when it happens.