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Bow school officials go on defense after tennis story makes national news

Sunday Swett competes for Bow against Profile in the girls' division III tennis championships on Thursday afternoon, May 30, 2013. 
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Sunday Swett competes for Bow against Profile in the girls' division III tennis championships on Thursday afternoon, May 30, 2013. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

School officials in Bow went on the defensive yesterday after accounts of tennis player Sunday Swett’s unusual state title win took what they described as a tailspin in national media.

Swett, a senior at Bow High School and the No. 2 seed, won Tuesday’s singles match when her opponent, Briana Leonard of Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, forfeited because of excessive heckling from the crowd, Leonard’s family said.

“This is a hostile environment,” her father, Tim, told The Telegraph. “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.”

By yesterday morning, the Leonards’ version of the story had gone viral.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a crowd-induced state champion,” Yahoo Sports writer Cameron Smith wrote in a blog post. “This may be a first.”

The actual story was perhaps a bit more complicated.

As Monitor sports writer Tim O’Sullivan, who attended the tournament in Manchester, reported Wednesday, the tension in the Leonard camp began when she was penalized for arriving late to her semifinal match. It escalated when she slipped during the final and asked tournament directors to clean the court.

The misstep resulted in a “tense interchange between player and tournament officials,” O’Sullivan wrote.

Swett went on to win the first set, 6-4, and was waiting for the second set to begin when Leonard walked off the court and never returned.

Leonard’s mother, Kristen, told The Telegraph that the crowd’s behavior had to do with her daughter going to school in New Hampshire but living in Massachusetts.

“This has been going on for the last two years,” she said.

O’Sullivan reported that the majority of the crowd appeared to be cheering for Swett. And in a posting yesterday on the Bow School District’s Facebook page, Superintendent Dean Cascadden wrote that he had
checked with tournament organizers and was assured that “there has been no substantiated allegation of any heckling or bad sportsmanship, let alone bullying. Especially, by anyone associated with Bow.”

New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association Executive Director Patrick Corbin, who watched the event, did not immediately return a voicemail yesterday afternoon, but after the match he speculated that geography had played no part in the crowd’s behavior.

“Most of the kids that go to (Bishop Guertin) are probably from Massachusetts,” he told The Telegraph. “It makes no difference.”

Cascadden said yesterday that his wife had notified him yesterday morning about the Yahoo story. By last night, the story had more than 10,000 comments. Bow Principal John House-Myers was fielding angry phone calls from as far away as Utah, he said.

“When I first heard about it, I said if we’ve been unsportsmanlike, I need to check into that,” Cascadden said. “But every single person I talked to made it clear that that wasn’t the case.”

Cascadden said the controversy has been upsetting because it does not fit what he believes the school and its fans stand for.

“That’s not what we’re about,” he said. “And that’s especially not what (Sunday Swett) is all about.”

Swett had never beaten Leonard, and this was her first singles title win.

“It is sad,” Cascadden wrote on Facebook, “that this type of story has tarnished what should have been a great story about competition, digging in to come back from adversity and winning showing grit, character and determination.

“I can’t change the national report,” he said. “But I wanted our community to know that wasn’t the real story.”

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319, or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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