A stroke of the pen, coupled with the passage of Ohio’s state budget last summer, changed the present and future of boys tennis in Medina County.
When Gov. John Kasich signed into law that home-schooled students must be allowed to play sports at local public schools, it set the wheels in motion for Cloverleaf’s Austin Hanna to win the 2014 Gazette MVP award.
The incoming freshman jumped at the chance to represent the Colts, knowing he could continue to be educated at home as he has been his entire academic career.
“Austin’s world revolves around being on the court, so we were very happy that the state recognized the importance of including home-schooled students,” said April Hanna, who has taught all four of her children. “We’ve always supported the Cloverleaf district and love being part of the community. For Austin to have the chance to play for the school, it was something that he couldn’t pass up.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Hanna immediately established himself as one of the top high school players in Northeast Ohio, winning his first nine matches en route to compiling a 17-2 regular-season record.
The 15-year-old righty then finished third at the Medina Division I Sectional and put an exclamation point on his rookie campaign by advancing to the Oberlin College District.
In doing so, Hanna became the eighth consecutive Colts player to be named Gazette MVP, following Ethan Dunbar (2007-10) and Jacob Dunbar (2011-13).
“I’m pretty excited about the way the season went,” Hanna said. “There were a lot of things that happened so quickly, I didn’t even realize them at the time, but I appreciate them now.
“More than anything, though, I loved being part of such a great team with a great coach. It was a great experience.”
The Colts’ aforementioned coach, Mike McGee, made sure Hanna felt comfortable being the only non-senior on the team. So did first doubles player Matt Simon and second singles player J.J. Martin, in particular.
As McGee noted, the 12th-graders quickly took Hanna under their wing and nicknamed him “Young Blood,” making it clear he was “one of their guys” from the get-go.
“Because Austin is a shy kid, you would think it might take a little longer for him to fit in with a group of seniors, but they really made him feel welcome,” McGee said. “They all worked very well together and joked around a lot. Everyone wanted him to just enjoy himself and this new experience.”
While Hanna didn’t know any of his teammates until this spring, his family was familiar with McGee. Jake Hanna — Austin’s older brother — attended Cloverleaf as a sophomore and played on its junior varsity tennis team.
The Hannas, in fact, attended the 2011 state tournament to cheer on then-Colts freshman Jacob Dunbar, who finished third in the D-I singles bracket.
Those relationships were rekindled in October, when Austin and April Hanna traveled to the Oberlin College District girls tennis tournament to support Cloverleaf’s Emily Dunbar and North Canton Hoover’s Tessa Hill.
“The Dunbars had told me that Austin was taking lessons from them and was interested in playing for Cloverleaf,” McGee said while breaking into a hearty laugh. “As soon as they approached me at Oberlin, I went to (athletic director Craig) Walkup the next morning and got all the details for his family so we would be set to go. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity like this.”
Surprisingly, given his skills, the 5-foot-11 Hanna has only been playing tennis for five years. His first exposure to the sport occurred at Springside Racquet & Fitness Club, where his mom was taking lessons from USPTA pros Rocco Cona and Matt Howard.
Cona, the longtime coach at Walsh Jesuit, recognized his potential, but the family never considered having Austin join the Warriors.
“That would have totally defeated the purpose of home-schooling, which is very important to us,” April Hanna said. “My husband (Jeff) and I put in a court two years ago at our house, and Austin is diligent enough to get up early and do his schoolwork in order to be able to play tennis.
“Having had Jake on Mike’s team before, and knowing how the kids at Cloverleaf are, we felt good about this decision. All of them were fantastic, and Austin had the best time riding to matches with them in the team van.”
Hanna, a regionally ranked 16-and-under United States Tennis Association competitor, believes his footwork is his top on-court attribute. He rates Rafael Nadal as his favorite professional player, and enjoys watching television and playing board games.
His top two priorities, though, are spending time with his family, which also includes older sister Alexa and younger sister Averi, and becoming the best tennis player he can be.
“Austin has a great future because he works harder and practices more than anyone I know,” McGee said. “He has a great work ethic and is getting stronger — both mentally and physically — but we’re not going to put pressure on him at Cloverleaf. We’re just going to take it one day, one match, one season at a time, and enjoy the ride.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.