The tennis ball is in her court

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Hannah Berner said she would love to be thought of as a role model for other girls.

Hannah Berner has plenty of tennis awards at her Park Slope, Brooklyn home. There are tall ones, short ones, plaques – every kind you could imagine.

There’s one that stands out above them all because it’s, well, broken.

Berner, who plays third singles on the Beacon boys’ tennis team because the school doesn’t have a team for girls, beat Cardozo junior Roland John in the PSAL Class A championship match and, afterward, John cracked his racket in half in frustration.

When no one else was around, Beacon coach Bayard Faithfull went to pick up the pieces, so to speak. He gave them to Berner.

“Bayard said, ‘Here, keep this as a trophy,’” she said with a laugh.

It isn’t like John was Berner’s first male victim this year. Up until the Mayor’s Cup final Sunday when she lost to Cardozo’s Hugh Mo in an abbreviated match, she had been undefeated. Mo had cramps and, instead of playing a third set, they played a 10−point tiebreaker. The result didn’t matter, because Beacon had already won.

The Blue Demons won the New England⁄­Mid−Atla­ntic (NEMA) Tennis Tournament in Maryland this season and Berner was the only girl among more than 300 guys competing. She didn’t lose a match.

“She was beating kids [at the NEMA tournament] that are at the top of the Eastern rankings,” Beacon senior second singles Jon Franzel said.

Berner, who transferred to Beacon from the Adams⁄Flynn International Tennis Academy in Weston, Fla., last year, is ranked No. 52 in the country among seniors by She will attend the University of Wisconsin next year on an athletic scholarship. She is one of the best female players on the East Coast, but what makes Berner stand out is her dominance on a male team.

At the NEMA tournament in Maryland, her mother, Lenore, said her daughter became somewhat of a spectacle. Every time she took the court, male players from other teams would gather. They would marvel at her skill level and her tendency to rush the net, unlike some other female players, Berner’s mom said.

“She had a fan club by the end,” Lenore said. “They would be like, ‘The girls playing, the girls playing!’”

Her presence on the Beacon team hasn’t come without controversy. When the Blue Demons beat Cardozo in the PSAL championship, Judges coach Howie Arons sounded off on the topic. He didn’t think it should be allowed.

“Hannah’s great, but she’s a girl playing on a boys’ team,” Arons said afterward. “I can’t help myself. She’s a top gun, a national player. This is the boys’ championship. … Give me the best two girls at Cardozo and I’m winning the match – game over.”

Of course, Title IX states that if a school does not have a girls’ team, a female student−athlete can play with the boys.

“It misses the larger point,” Faithfull said of Arons’ rant. “Title IX has been in place since 1972. I’m not sure if we want to fight that battle. … She can play. Congress decided that a long time ago. It’s a dead issue.”

Arons shuffled his lineup for the Mayor’s Cup because John “couldn’t play against Hannah Berner.” Instead, she faced Mo, though the result didn’t end up mattering.

“It’s creative,” she said. “He’s thinking deep about this. So it’ll be sweeter if we win this time.”

Beacon did win Sunday, its first−ever Mayor’s Cup title. It was an excellent send−off for Berner, who said she’s looking forward to Wisconsin, where she fell in love with “the team, the school and the coach.”

What she will leave behind is a legacy. Faithfull said she’s a role model not only because of her tennis ability, but her academic excellence and character. Berner does feel in some ways like a pioneer in women’s tennis; she doesn’t like the stigma that the men’s game is more exciting than its counterpart and she’s hoping to do her part to change that perception.

“I think it’s helping a lot of girls out there,” she said. “I would love to be considered a role model.”

Next year, she’ll go back to facing females full time at Wisconsin. Berner said she thinks playing with the Beacon boys’ team the last two years has elevated her game. But it really doesn’t matter all that much when she gets out there.

Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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