ROCKTON — Thomas Ptacin, Brandon McAllister and Brendon Wang will represent Hononegah in the state tennis tournament.
They represent Hononegah even better in the classroom as the top three students in their class. The odds of that happening randomly are nearly 1 in 17 million.
Hononegah tennis coach Harrison did the math and the probability of the three top tennis players also being the three top students in a class of almost 480 students with all other factors being random is .00000006%.
“That is point zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, zero, six neat,” said Hearne, who also taught Ptacin, McAllister and Wang as sophomores in his Algebra II/Pre-calculus class.
Tennis players have a long history of being model student-athletes. For instance, all eight players on Auburn’s three-time defending NIC-10 championship boys team are in the gifted program. The same is often true of Auburn’s girls team.
“Our sport takes on players who look at the game like a chess board,” Auburn coach Tracy Palmer said. “It’s more of a thinking game than reacting — although sometimes they can think too much and over-analyze.”
“Most of the schools could talk about their tennis team’s academics,” Hearne agreed. “And golf. Those sports take a lot of discipline. You can’t just be fast and be good at tennis. You can’t just be strong and be good at tennis. There is a lot of discipline and precision that goes into tennis.”
Still, it’s one thing for a sport to attract smart, dedicated students. It’s another for the three best students at the area’s second-largest high school to also qualify for the state tennis tournament Thursday through Saturday in Arlington Heights.
“I’ve had the pleasure of having a lot of valedictorians and salutatorians on the tennis team,” Hearne said. “Maybe the culture just breeds itself. When our top students play and they are in clubs with younger guys, maybe that’s part of it.”
Ptacin, the Class 2A sectional singles champion, says the same drive that makes him want to win in tennis makes him want to succeed in the classroom.
“People who play sports in general are going to be more focused and motivated,” Ptacin said. “That translates over into the classroom. I want to challenge myself. It’s taken a lot of work year-round, but it makes me happy. Brendon and Brandon feel the same way.”
Ptacin, the co-valedictorian along with McAllister, will study aerospace engineering at the University of Illinois. McAllister has a scholarship at Illinois to study bioengineering. Wang is the salutatorian and will study biochemistry at Washington University in St. Louis.
“I am not sure how much I was behind,” said Wang, who finished second in doubles at both sectionals and in the NIC-10 with McAllister. “The difference is they took an online class over the summer and I didn’t. I didn’t look at it as a competition. Getting good grades was just to satisfy myself, not to beat other people.”
Wang also played down the .00000006 chance that Hononegah’s top three tennis players could randomly be its top three students.
“I don’t feel any better than the next person,” Wang said. “Sure, we might be the top three on the tennis team, but there are a lot of people who can come close. And the same academically. There are a lot of people who could be in the top three of our class.”
“Everyone on the tennis team is smart, so it hasn’t had a huge effect,” McAllister said. “It’s just cool to talk about. A fun title to have.”