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MOUNT ZION – When Mount Zion student Andy Hinch plays tennis with his family, he said he has only one motivation: “You have to have bragging rights.”

But being part of the school's tennis team seems to have an effect on Hinch and the rest of his teammates, including his sister, Alena.

According to Mike Roberts, a coach for the Mount Zion tennis team, many of the players excel at the sport, but that's not the only coincidence. Many of the players are siblings.

“It's kind of a family thing,” he said. “They started to play tennis because their families play tennis. They are very competitive, too.”

Rafael Santos moved with his family from Brazil three years ago. One of the things that helped him and his younger sister, Gabriela, fit in to their new school and new country was the family's love for tennis.

“We practice together more than we play to together,” he said.

Roberts' players like to play, and they like to win. Contrary to what the coaches may think, part of the desire to win isn't given by the drive to beat their sibling. Instead, they find support in one another.

“We encourage each other,” Alena said. “I go to most of his sports and cheer him on.”

For many of the players, the opportunity to excel can also be seen in the classroom. After a few years, the Santos children have ranked in the top 10 percent of their classes with a grade-point average 4.0 and higher.

Ann Kappenman's three children placed in top levels while playing tennis, but the honors were given to her daughters when they were recognized as salutatorians upon graduation, Ashley in 2009; Jennifer in 2011. Not to be outdone, her son, Kevin, graduated this year as valedictorian.

“They aren't competitive kids,” she said. “They just did their best. That's all we asked of them.”

The parents have this one parenting technique in common: allow the children to do their best.

Mi Balgemann didn't have to push her children to do well.

“It's a self-movitivaitng thing,” she said. “My daughter sets the lead and she seeks out opportunities, but her younger brother may feel the pressure to just as well.”

The Balgemann parents also played tennis but found it a challenge to find a sport the children would enjoy. They tried several sports, including baseball and dance. Her son, Tristan, even competed with the cross country team last school year.

“I've never seen Tristan try so hard,” his mother said. “I couldn't help him, but he plans on going out again.”

Another struggle parents have is knowing when to help their children and when to take a step back.

“I don't know how you do that,” Kappenman said.

Most parents find children who excel drive themselves to do well. Balgemann found her support to be the best motivation.

“Find that moment to connect with them,” she said. “They are so hard on themselves. Just be supportive.”

When the children can't see the support in their parents, they can look for it in their siblings.

The Balgemann children are two years apart but have found benefits to helping each other out instead of competing with one another.

“We are in different classes, so there's no way to compare grades,” Tristan said. “Except to watch out for certain teachers.”

As an incoming Junior, Tristan will have to navigate the halls of Mount Zion High School alone next school year. His sister Megan graduated in May, ranked fifth in her class, and will be attending Ohio State in the fall.

With their parents joining them, the Balgemann children have used the tennis courts as family bonding time.

“We play with our parents a lot recreationally,” Megan said. “We are nice to our mom, but our dad is really competitive.”

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"Together Decatur" Columnist and Food and Drink Reporter

“Together Decatur” columnist and food and drink reporter for Lee Enterprises Central Illinois.

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