Making the best of a second chance

Once an athlete quits a sport, very rarely does he or she get an opportunity to return to the game, let alone improve and perhaps meet the potential he or she had before the hiatus.

Poland tennis star Garrett Gardner defies that logic and is, in fact, almost doing laps around it.

Having played tennis as a kid, the Poland junior quit the game going into his seventh-grade season, opting to participate in more popular sports such as football and basketball.

“When I was in seventh grade, I actually put my racquet down and for two to three years played basketball and football,” Gardner said. “I took a huge break from tennis because I honestly didn’t feel like playing it anymore.”

After a two-year experiment off the tennis courts, high school brought about a change in his mindset and a rediscovery of his love for the sport.

Granted, struggling in the other sports helped make the decision of which sport to participate in during his high school days, and he always knew his “fall-back” sport was tennis.

“Going back to tennis has probably been the wisest choice I’ve ever had in my life,” Gardner said. “I knew I wasn’t big enough for football, I wasn’t the type of kid that can make plays in basketball. Once in high school, I just had to choose a sport. Tennis, I was just naturally good at. Many people said I was going to be very good one day.

“So I stuck with that and trained as hard as I could, and here I am now.”

Gardner is now the sectional and district champion and will make his second trip to Columbus for the state tennis tournament on Friday at the Ohio State Outdoor Varsity Tennis Courts. As a district first seed, he squares off with Cincinnati Seven Hills’ John Larkin.

Poland coach Annie Marian, who’s good friends with Gardner’s mother, Joanne, said that based on the information she received from Joanne, she had an inkling the junior could make a run like he has this season.

“I know that Garrett’s been having a good year in tournaments (before the season),” Marian said. “I kind of had the feeling that once he had the experience under his belt, he was going to see more success this year.”

Going forward, Gardner will hope to have more success than his first rodeo at the state meet. During his freshman season in 2011, Gardner and Ken Duncan qualified for the state tournament, only to lose to Bellbrook’s Jackson and Wyatt Heinz in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0.

In that tournament, though, the doubles duo was the last seed coming out of the northeast district. This time around in the singles tournament, Gardner has the confidence-booster that is a first seed, even if the draw was not particularly favorable for him.

“Every kid down at state is very, very tough,” Gardner said. “But getting the one seed out of districts is a huge, huge breakthrough. (The individual) I will face in the first round will probably be good, but I’m pretty sure that I can make a far run this year, and I think I can do very well at the state tournament.”

No matter what, Gardner has come a long way from the junior high kid who hung up his racquet five years ago.