An emotional day as Roslyn boys tennis falls to Syosset, three weeks after tragedy

An emotional day as Roslyn boys tennis falls to Syosset, three weeks after tragedy
The Roslyn and Syosset boys tennis teams pose for photos after Tuesday's Nassau Co. large school semifinal match at Syosset H.S. The match took place three weeks after a car accident took the lives of two Roslyn players. Photo credit: Michael J. Lewis

The hug lasted for more than a minute, with neither person wanting to let go.

The Roslyn High School boys tennis team got off the yellow school bus at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday after arriving at Syosset High School.

A group of teenagers who’ve been through far too much over the past 21 days lugged their rackets, water bottles and gear near the benches at Syosset High School and dropped them off, and walked onto the courts to start stretching and warmup.

Their head coach, Kerri Jannotte-Hinkley, immediately sought out her Syosset counterpart, Shai Fisher. The two are close friends as their schools have grown into fierce rivals the past several years, trading the county large school crown back and forth.

But today, they weren’t rivals. They were two friends seeing each other for the first time after an unspeakable tragedy.

On May 3, Roslyn beat the Braves, a big win after the Bulldogs had knocked off Syosset to win counties last spring.

The team went out to celebrate at a nearby Buffalo Wild Wings.

On the way back home that night, an Alfa Romeo carrying four Roslyn players was struck by an alleged drunk driver going the wrong direction.

Two players, 14-year-old eighth graders Drew Hassenbein and Ethan Falkowitz, were killed instantly. Two others in the car, sophomore Ethan Solop and senior Zachary Sheena, were injured and hospitalized.

After several days of shock and mourning, the Roslyn players unanimously agreed: They wanted to continue the season.

And so Tuesday May 23, the Bulldogs journeyed to  the Syosset tennis courts, where the two teams would battle in a Nassau County large-school team semifinal.

But first, a long embrace between a coach who’s suffered so much loss, and her friend who was comforting her.

“You try to be there for Roslyn in any way possible, because we’re all one big family in tennis here,” Fisher said. “So whatever they need, if it’s a hug, a high-five, whatever feels right, that’s what we want to do today.”

(Jannotte-Hinkley politely declined an interview request, saying that she and her players have been asked by the Roslyn school district not to talk to the media.)

As expected, Tuesday’s scene was an emotional one. Before the match lots of differences were noticeable: Dozens of Roslyn parents and fans were there, many sporting T-shirts bearing Drew and Ethan’s names.

The Braves players also had special shirts on: Red “Syosset tennis” shirts with the initials “DH” and “EF” on the sleeves.

The idea came from the Syosset team captains, Fisher said, and was one of many ideas discussed.

Before the players took the court both teams gathered in a huddle, with Fisher telling them “we’re going to get through today, together as always, and continue to support each other.”

Jannotte-Hinkley also thanked the Syosset team and coaches for their support and urged the players to enjoy themselves out there today.

The mood during the match varied from court to court; on some of them it looked like a regular match, with players questioning each other’s line calls and staying super-serious throughout.

Then there was the approach taken by Roslyn’s first doubles team Gavin Koo and Justin Sherman, who seemed to be having the time of their lives.

Talking before, and mostly during the point to teach others, laughing and high-fiving constantly, the Bulldogs duo played with a delightful energy and verve that had the fans watching their match cheering and smiling throughout.

Koo and Sherman mockingly yelled at each other, had a running dialogue during many points and just looked to be so happy to be out there swinging a racket.

For once in this rivalry, it didn’t matter much who won the match (Syosset took it, 6-1, and became the Nassau County champs by beating Port Washington in the final, on May 24).

Both teams won, because they played, and one small step back toward normalcy returned to the tennis community.

When it was over, high-fives, hugs and congrats were exchanged, and the entire rosters of both teams gathered on court for photos and postmatch snacks.

“I’m extremely proud of how everyone handled themselves today, players, coaches, parents, everyone was great,” Fisher said. “All of these kids, they’re still going through their (grief) stages, and everyone handles it differently. I’m so glad they just went out there and appreciated the moment.”



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