By all logic, Claire Uhle should have spent the fall of her senior season competing on the Ambler (Pa.) Wissahickon High girls tennis team. For a single day, she was on the team, returning after a junior season in which she qualified for the state singles tournament.
Yet Uhle's fall appearance was for one day, and one day only, for a very simple reason: She needed to focus on her schoolwork to ensure that she would qualify for a scholarship to play tennis at Northern Colorado. The gamble worked, with Uhle qualifying academically thanks to improved grades.
At the same time, bypassing the girls season in the fall brought up a unique opportunity: Uhle still had a season of eligibility, and in Pennsylvania, the boys tennis season is played in the spring. That combination of factors has led to Uhle's emergence as one half of the team's top doubles partnership — a pairing which is expected to qualify for the state tournament — and a spot as the school's number three singles player.
As noted by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the results have been fantastic for Uhle, who said she was spurred to keep playing because she wanted to get more preparation for the Division I competition she'll face beginning in the fall. Uhle finished the regular season 7-1 in singles and was 4-1 in doubles.
Perhaps most significantly, she fit in seamlessly as the only girl on a boys team, an opportunity afforded athletes in Pennsylvania and a few other states which allow girls to play on boys teams despite the existence of girls squads, and vice versa.
"She just blended right in with everybody," Wissahickon boys tennis coach Mark Daniels told the Inquirer. "And I think that's why there was no problem with the guys on the team. They saw how hard she worked. They saw how good she was."
While Uhle claims she has had her share of confused opponents, everyone accepted her as a competitor, a stark contrast to what has occurred recently in some other sports in other states. Uhle credited some of that acceptance to general norms within the sport, as tennis remains one of the only sports where girls and boys routinely practice with one another. "I know I'm used to playing with boys," Uhle said.
Still, it seems unlikely she would have blended in so seamlessly if Uhle wasn't supremely talented, something her coach attested to by pairing her with his top male player to form the team's top doubles pair for the postseason tournaments.
"If they both play well, they can go somewhere in the state tournament," Daniels told the Inquirer of his top doubles pairing. "They are both mentally tough. Neither one of them will ever give up."
- Sports & Recreation