A high school tennis championship match came to an abrupt end when one player was bullied and heckled by the crowd so badly that she decided to walk off the court.
The incident happened in the New Hampshire girls’ state tournament in a match between Sunday Swett and top-ranked Brianna Leonard of Bishop Guertin. The two had played four times before, with Leonard winning all of the matches, but Swett won the first set in this tournament.
But when she got ready to start the next in the best-of-three match, Swett found her opponent was gone. Leonard’s family said the crowd had grown so hostile that they told the tennis player to leave the court and get away from the heckling.
“I thought it was a bathroom break and when everyone started cheering I thought it was more like, ‘First Set! Keep it going!’ And I was kind of like, thank you, but I’ve got to stay focused here,” Swett said. “But she just picked up her stuff and left.”
As soon as the tennis player left, she was disqualified, giving Swett the state title. She said she wouldn’t let the bizarre ending spoil her achievement.
“Absolutely not, it’s still the same work,” Swett said. “It was her choice. I’m not going to let it dampen my happiness.”
Some cast doubt on the severity of the crowd. A reporter for the Concord Monitor said that despite some early incidents — Leonard was penalized a point for arriving late to a semifinal match, and had some tense moments when she asked officials to clean up a mess on the court — the crowd didn’t seem out of line.
“And while the majority of the crowd was pulling for Swett, there didn’t seem to be any unreasonable or unsportsmanlike cheering during the final, although that was not how the Leonards felt,” wrote Tim O’Sullivan.
Even Leonard’s coach seemed to think the player was taking things a little far, and that the tennis player wasn’t bullied too badly.
“That’s sports, right? You can have the crowd cheering for you or against you, you have to deal with it,” said Bishop Gueran coach Barry Ndinya.
The girl’s parents said she was targeted because she lives in Massachusetts but goes to school in New Hampshire, but officials discounted that, noting that most of the players from her school live in Massachusetts.
“This has been going on for the last two years,” said Kristen Leonard after walking her daughter to the car. “This is an 18-year-old girl who fell and got hurt and people are cheering. They were bullying her. This has been going on for two years. They’ve wanted her out for two years because she’s not a New Hampshire girl. Because we live in Massachusetts.”
Her father added that the bullying was too much for a tennis player to have to endure.
“This is a hostile environment,” said her father, Tim Leonard. “They are cheering for people to lose rather than win. I don’t want to take anything away from Sunday. She deserves it. She’s an amazing tennis player. This is nothing against her. It’s about the environment created here and hopefully they learn from it.
“We are not going to file anything. The other girl won the match and she should be congratulated for her hard work. That’s the story.”
Do you think it was fair to disqualify the tennis player who left after being bullied?