Area Girls' Tennis POY: Madie Baillon
CHAMPAIGN – There's a fine line between passion and obsession.
While some kids immersed in high-level youth tennis can get consumed by the atmosphere created by adults, St. Thomas More's Madie Baillon and her parents, Ernie and Beth, seem to have struck the perfect balance.
Baillon, a sophomore, finished 16-2 in singles this season and won a sectional title. Her only two losses came at the state tournament and, as the area's dominant player, she is The News-Gazette's Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.
She has a bright future, one she hopes will include a spot on a college program, perhaps in the Big Ten. To assist in getting there, Baillon plays about two tournaments a month in the offseason and also makes two or three visits annually to the Dallas area, where she works with former Atkins Tennis Center pro Mark Vos.
At a tennis academy in Dallas, Baillon gets an up-close look at youngsters who have made major life sacrifices for the benefit of their tennis. Some experience the unfortunate side of the sport: burnout.
"I see some girls who I've played with who are doing it," Baillon said. "I'm not really scared. I look at what they do, and what I do, and I don't think it will happen to me."
Ernie and Beth have made that a central theme in their approach to Baillon's career.
"As important as it is to take her to tennis tournaments – and we've gone to a lot of them – we see those kids who get burned out, and it's all about the parents," Ernie Baillon said. "You look at the kid and they could care less if they're playing. And then you talk to the parent, and they're saying the kid is going to be the next Tracy Austin. It's like, 'Are you seeing the same girl I'm seeing?'
"We asked her if she wanted to be home-schooled. She said no. I've talked to some parents (whose) kids have never had cake. They've never had a McDonald's french fry. Madie's not that.
"We talk about her schedule and we make sure it doesn't conflict with her best friend's birthday party. We let her have fun. She gets to go to sleepovers. And I think that's why she still likes it and is still excited, because she isn't burnt out. I think she'll love the sport forever because she hasn't been put through that."
In August, when a back injury sidelined her for about six weeks, Baillon got a taste of life without tennis. She didn't like it.
"I think she realized then that it was a big part of her life, and she wanted to continue with it," Beth Baillon said. "Not being able to play and do what she loved was difficult for her, so I think she appreciates it that much more now. Her trainer even suggested taking this season off because she was in so much pain, but she worked through it because of that passion she has for it."
Her game has continued to evolve. Baillon credited increased strength as the biggest growth in her game, and the mental side has been spurred by working with Atkins head Jim Tressler and his assistant Jeremy Beach, the Sabers' coaches.
"There were some games (at state) I was down love-40 and I feel I wouldn't have been able to pull it out in the past," Baillon said. "This year I felt I had to come back and win. I guess it's just my maturity."
Baillon's increased maturity – she has "BELIEVE" written on the side of her tennis shoes – has given her the ability to put bad points and games behind her quickly. Tressler, in particular, has helped in that regard.
"Jim did an awesome job with her," Ernie Baillon said. "There were two matches on Thursday (at state) that she wouldn't have won last year."
But, more than the results, Baillon is focused on growing her game and having fun at the same time, without sacrificing the areas of a teen's life that deserve to be savored. Cake, french fries and everything else.
"She loves the competition and her attitude is if she can walk off the court, whether she's won or lost, and say she learned something about herself, that's what matters the most," Beth Baillon said.