Disability doesn’t define her
Pleasant Valley’s Hope Hoppe serves the ball during a match earlier this season. Hoppe excels at the sport despite being born with just one arm. BOB FORD/TIMES NEWS
Mark Allison has coached boys and girls tennis at Pleasant Valley for nearly 30 years.
He has coached Division 1 athletes, District 11 champions, and PIAA state qualifiers.
This year’s girls tennis team doesn’t have a player who falls into any of those categories. But it does have a player whose accomplishments on the court are just as impressive as any medal winner or highly recruited athlete that Allison has coached.
Hope Hoppe plays on the Bears’ No. 4 doubles team. It’s not a position in the lineup that usually will draw a lot of attention.
But Hoppe does.
It’s not because she has an overpowering serve or because she can dazzle you with precise ground strokes.
In her own words, Hoppe said her game “has really improved, but still isn’t where she wants it to ultimately be.”
No, what makes Hoppe’s tennis game so compelling is that she was born with just one arm. But she has never used that as an excuse or a handicap.
Not in tennis — and not in life.
“I’ve always tried to not let it (having one arm) prevent me from trying different things,” said Hoppe. “Since I can remember, I never wanted to think of myself as different. I’ve never been afraid of trying something new and seeing if I’m able to do it.”
That’s exactly how Hoppe discovered tennis. Having never played the sport until a year ago, Hoppe made the JV team as a sophomore. This year, she earned a spot in the varsity lineup.
“I really didn’t know anything about the sport,” Hoppe admitted. “But I had some friends on the team and just figured I’d give it a try. I started playing in the summer between my freshman and sophomore year and was able to make the JV lineup as a sophomore.”
Hoppe wasn’t satisfied with that, however, as she dedicated herself to improving her game this past offseason.
“Hope has really worked hard on improving her game,” Allison said. “She was a regular during our summer intramural program, and it paid off. She was always very athletic. But now, her strokes are much better. Since last season, she improved in all areas of her game.
“Hope has never asked for any favors, and she hasn’t received any. She earned her varsity spot during our preseason qualifying and has played extremely well this season.”
Starting for a rebuilding Bears squad that managed to overcome some heavy graduation losses to post a .500 record, Hoppe and doubles partner Kara Throurot made a significant contribution to the team’s success, compiling a 6-4 record.
Hoppe said she spends her court time working on all her strokes, especially the one area of her game that took the most time to develop — her serve.
“Definitely the most difficult thing for me to do was trying to get a consistent serve,” said Hoppe. “Having one arm impacted how I tossed the ball.
“But I worked hard on using my nubby (the name Hope uses for her partial left arm) to kind of trap the ball and then toss it. It took me a while to get good at doing it, but after a while I was able to come up with a way that works for me.”
Although she just recently discovered tennis, Hoppe has always been active and loves to compete.
“I’ve played on the JV softball team at Pleasant Valley the last two years and also played youth softball before that,” said Hoppe. “I love playing volleyball in gym class, and this year my plan is to throw the javelin for the high school track team.”
Hoppe isn’t worried about trying to do something and failing — whether it’s because she doesn’t have the necessary skills or because her lack of two arms significantly hinders her from succeeding.
“I know most people look at my one arm and refer to it as a handicap, but I don’t look at it like that,” said Hoppe. “I don’t want to limit myself and what I can do by being afraid to try something.
“I might not always succeed, or it might take me longer to perfect how I do something that someone with two arms might be able to do easier — like serving a tennis ball or catching a ball in my glove, then quickly discarding the glove and throwing the ball in softball — but I have discovered there is usually a way I can find to do something.”
Although Hoppe said that she has never had a disabled athlete or a disabled peer that she has looked up to and used as a role model, she has been able to fill that role for someone else.
“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that I was able to help another girl at Pleasant Valley who is a few years younger than me and also has one arm,” said Hoppe. “Last year, one of my former coaches in middle school said he had a girl on the softball team who had one arm and was struggling with some of the skills she needed to play. He thought I might be able to help her out.”
Hoppe reached out to Kelly Kaye, and they shared an instant bond.
“Not only was I able to give her some softball advice, but we share a lot of the same struggles outside of sports,” Hoppe said. “I think I helped her be more comfortable in her own skin.
“She was dealing with some things like hiding her arm any way she could or feeling uncomfortable because she felt people were staring at the arm and not looking at her. They are things that I used to do and sometimes still do. So we had a lot in common that we were able to share with each other.”
The fact that Hoppe was open to talking to Kaye and helping her any way she could doesn’t surprise Allison.
“Hope is just a great kid,” said the veteran Bears’ coach. “She always has a smile on her face. Everyone on the team loves her. She is one of those reasons that you love being a coach.
“She really is an inspiration to myself and to her teammates. Her positive attitude and her upbeat approach, both on and off the court, is a great example for all of us.”
Although she said she doesn’t look at herself as an inspiration, Hoppe is flattered if others see her that way.
“Sometimes, kids with disabilities feel like their disabilities define them,” she said. “I’ve always believed in not letting that happen to myself.
“Whether its playing tennis or softball or whatever I do in life, I want my determination and positive attitude to be what people notice, and not my handicap.”