There was never much doubt Emily Hadler was going to be a good high school tennis player, a great student and an even better person.
The Highland sophomore and 2017 Gazette MVP for girls tennis is the latest in a long line of Elizabeth and Gary Hadler’s successful offspring.
Danielle (Chambers), 24, lettered one year in Nevada, Mo., and three years at Highland after the family moved to Medina County. She was the No. 1 singles player all four years, went on to play at Kentucky Wesleyan and is currently working on her doctorate in pediatric psychology at Southern Illinois-Carbondale.
Nicole, 22, was a four-year varsity player at Highland, graduated from the Naval Academy and is currently in medical school at the University of Michigan.
Joshua, 20, lettered four years for the Hornets and is playing club tennis at the University of Missouri-Rolla — the school doesn’t have a men’s program — while majoring in chemical engineering.
Isaac, 18, also lettered four years at Highland and is a freshman playing club tennis — again, no men’s team — at Bowling Green, where he is in the honors business college.
Emily, 15, comes next and will be followed by 13-year-old Elijah, a seventh-grader at Highland Middle School who will almost certainly join his five siblings as All-Gazette choices — “Predictions are he’ll be the best one,” Elizabeth said — and National Honor Society members.
“They all have a great perspective on life in general,” 15th-year Highland coach Lisa Reynolds said. “Tennis is one of many vehicles they use to be a successful individual. Obviously, what they give back to their family, their church and academics come first.”
The best player of the three girls — not counting 51-year-old Elizabeth, who lettered in tennis, basketball and cross country at Division II Missouri-Rolla and still plays at the 5.0 United States Tennis Association level — Emily has been around the sport since she was old enough to walk.
She was hitting tennis balls by the age of 2 and entered her first tournament at 8, though the first time she served she attempted to hit to the ad-court first. When she wasn’t playing, she was attending — and sometimes even watching — Danielle and Nicole’s matches for Highland.
By 11, she started “getting into it a little more” and has already played competitively in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Georgia.
Now 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds — and the owner of a 4.5 grade-point average at Highland — Emily finished 34-7 as a sophomore. She won the Suburban League American Conference first singles title for the second straight year as the Hornets repeated as team champion, captured the Medina D-I Sectional title and was sixth at the Medina District. The latter resulted in her first berth in the state tournament, where she was eliminated in the first round.
Not a person who likes to talk about herself, Emily is much more open when it comes to speaking about her brothers and sisters and, most of all, her parents.
“I just remember when we were young, one of the main things we did was go out to tennis courts and hit around together,” she said. “My mom picked up tennis when she was 16. She loved the sport, so she passed it down to all of us. It’s a great sport because we can play until we get really old. You can play as long as you can walk.”
Elizabeth, a self-taught player who didn’t pick up the sport until she was attending Knoxville High in Iowa, owns a bachelor’s degree in applied math and master’s degrees in education and theology. She has been a volunteer assistant at Highland since 2009, teaches math classes at the Brunswick branch of Cuyahoga Community College and serves as a pastor at Living Word in Medina.
Gary, 51, didn’t play prep tennis because Steeleville High in Illinois didn’t offer it, but is now a 4.0 USTA player and works as an engineer for 3M. He’s also been the person most responsible for getting all the kids to various tournaments over the years.
Neither Elizabeth nor Gary pushed any of their children into tennis. They exposed them to the sport at an early age and let them decide. All liked it and continue to like it.
“It was always our choice to play,” Emily said. “They never pushed us into it. We all just loved it so much we decided to play.”
Quiet, unassuming people who are no muss, no fuss about their children’s athletic accomplishments — they won’t bring up their academic successes, either, unless specifically asked — Elizabeth and Gary demand only one thing on the tennis court: All their kids will conduct themselves in the most sportsmanlike manner possible.
“The best part is how they handle themselves on the court and their attitude and their sportsmanship,” Elizabeth said. “Tennis is one of the most frustrating sports, but the way they handle themselves on the court is what I’m most proud of, with all six of them. They know if they don’t act that way, they’re pretty much going to get pulled off the court.”
Elizabeth and Gary, who lived in Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Missouri before coming to Ohio, chuckle when asked about the money they’ve spent to help their children enjoy and succeed at the sport, but a chunk of that change has been offset by the fact Elizabeth is a teaching pro at Paramount Tennis Club.
Plus, it’s been money well spent.
“They can play tennis their entire lives if they want to,” Elizabeth said. “We don’t have any lofty goals. We just want them to enjoy playing, and they all still play. They never got burned out on it. It seems kind of simple, but it really is.”
Emily still has two more high school seasons left, and probably four more at the college level if she chooses to go that route. She would love to make two more trips to the state tournament and win a few matches, but vows not to let her successes and failures in the sport define her.
“Being a good sport about it, to my parents and all my siblings, is more important than winning the match,” she said. “That’s what we’ve always been taught, and that’s what I believe, too.”
So committed to academics and so unimpressed with her athletic accomplishments, Emily bypassed practice time at the Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason the day before the start of the state tournament.
The reason was simple: She wanted to stay at Highland through the end of the school day.
“It’s an honor to coach kids like that,” Reynolds said. “It’s really not difficult at all.”
Emily is currently taking one advanced placement class at Highland, with the rest being honors courses. As a junior, she will take all AP classes. She also decided not play basketball this season so she could concentrate on tennis.
“I love playing the sport,” she said. “It’s not about the attention I get. I don’t play for that. I play because I love the sport. I love that there are so many different games someone can play, so many aspects of the sport. You have to be good at a lot of things to be a well-rounded player.”
Even more important, though, is being a well-rounded person. That’s the No. 1 thing Emily has learned from her family.
“Watching all of them go through all their high school seasons, I know how quickly it goes,” she said of her older siblings. “I’ve just been trying to enjoy every minute of it.
“My parents? I owe them everything. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, both as a person and an athlete. I give them credit for everything.”
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