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Hart tennis player Tommy LaBat: Optimistic appraisal

Despite numerous setbacks, Hart’s LaBat has kept a positive outlook

Posted: April 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 23, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Hart junior Tommy LaBat was slated to be the No. 1 singles player this season, but he unexpectedly began having back spasms. Since moving to doubles, he and teammate Rohan Shankar have been a formidable duo.

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The tennis gods haven’t been kind to Tommy LaBat.

It’s been one stroke of bad luck after the other for the Hart High junior in the past three years.

Through all the badly timed injuries and the unexpected illnesses though, here he stands.

He’s still playing, still winning and most importantly, he’s still getting better.

“If you don’t get through it, then the tennis gods have won,” LaBat says.

Dating back to grade school, LaBat has suffered broken bones, pulled tendons, different sicknesses and plenty of bumps and bruises along the way.

Yet he hasn’t let it get in the way of his development as a tennis player.

“I think it’s made him a better kid because he doesn’t take anything for granted,” says Tommy’s mom, Patty.

It isn’t something he uses as an excuse and he doesn’t allow it to prevent his success.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. LaBat is known as one of the happiest, goofiest players on the team.

“He’s just generally a pretty happy-go-lucky person, and he doesn’t let anything get him down so he’s able to be pretty resilient and he always stays optimistic,” says LaBat’s teammate, Rohan Shankar.

Technically, this is LaBat’s third year on varsity — though he missed most of his freshman season due to a broken wrist.
So far, this year has been his best and healthiest on the team.

While playing doubles alongside Shankar most of the season, he’s bolstered the lineup into one of the most dangerous in the Foothill League.

LaBat and Shankar picked up two dominant set victories 6-0, 6-0 in a win over Saugus on March 20 where every game was needed. The final tally was 9-9, but the Indians won 79-65 in overall games.

A week later, the pairing again won two key sets, 6-3, 6-0 to help push Hart to a 10-8 win over Golden Valley.

It’s been an impressive showing considering LaBat began the season slated to play at the team’s No. 1 singles spot.

A few matches into the season, those plans changed.

In the middle of a match against Buckley High on March 6, LaBat bent over to pick up a ball in preparation for a serve.
Without warning, he fell to the ground in writhing pain from sudden back spasms.

He had no history of back problems prior to the incident, which left him unable to walk for a few days.

“I’m a 17-year-old kid,” LaBat says. “I’m not supposed to have back problems.”

Fortunately for LaBat, the injury wasn’t serious and he was able to return to the court shortly. Only this time, he was on the doubles side.

Both coaches and doctors felt it would take pressure off his back because he wouldn’t be serving as much with a playing partner.

Before long, LaBat carved out a niche in his new spot.

“I kept asking him if he wanted to go back to singles, but he said he wanted to stay with doubles because he was winning more and it was helping out the team more,” says Hart head coach Chris Mansfield. “And I thought that was really self-sacrificing.”

He’s happy to play anywhere after the gauntlet he’s been through in recent years.

First, it was a sprained ankle while playing soccer in sixth grade. Then, he hurt his knee while playing basketball in eighth grade.

The worst blow came his freshman year at Hart, when he was set to play for the school’s varsity tennis team.

Just days before the start of tennis season, LaBat was brought into a freshman basketball game to play out the final seconds.

That’s when disaster struck, and he suffered a broken wrist that ended up costing him the bulk of the 2010 tennis season.

“I think it’s bad luck,” Patty says. “I think he gives 110 percent all the time and so he gets injured that way. He doesn’t know when to slow down.”

Sophomore year, it was back to the tennis court free of broken bones.

Yet again though, LaBat was hampered by a serious sinus infection and bronchitis that lingered throughout the season.

“It was frustrating for me but it was really more frustrating because I couldn’t be there for my team,” LaBat says.

But as frustrated as he may have been, he never showed it.

He kept pressing on with a smile on his face. He kept cracking jokes. The thought of quitting was never even considered.

“That’s the neat thing about him,” Mansfield says. “He’s such a positive kid. He’s very, very funny.”

After all these year, the bad breaks haven’t gotten to LaBat, and his resiliency is paying off.

He’s now reporting that he is 100 percent healthy, and he’s having the time of his life as a result.

“I figure if you can’t have fun while your playing tennis, what’s the point?” LaBat says.



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