Girls Preparatory School senior Barbie Edwards has played tennis since she was four years old, so when asked what she would miss the most, you might expect her response to be about something that’s happened on the court.
And while her on-court achievements are certainly a part of what makes her contagious smile so big, she said what she’ll cherish the most are all of the experiences off the court.
“In the end, I’m not going to remember every match I played.
But I am going to remember the stories my friends and I told each other on the bus, the times we went to dinner together outside of tennis, and the laughs we shared every day at practice,” Barbie said. “All of those good times are what I’ll definitely cherish the most.”
Arguably one of the greatest compliments someone can be paid is that they are loved by everyone because of the way they carry and endear themselves to those around them. That’s how GPS tennis coach Sue Bartlett described her top tennis player.
“Barbie has been a great leader and has kind of shepherded the younger girls on the team,” Bartlett said. “She has a lot of energy, and she always has that big smile going. The girls trust her, and they feel like they can talk to her, and that means a lot.”
“I just try to include everyone, especially people that are younger. I don’t know how to explain it, but I just enjoy hanging out with everyone, especially the underclassmen. I want them to know that I won’t judge them, and that they don’t have to act a certain way around me. I just love being friends with pretty much everybody.”
Barbie isn’t just friendly with her teammates; she also shows the same kindness to her opponents.
“We are always amused that she hugs her opponents whether she wins or learns,” said Bartlett, who said there are no losers, only winners or learners.
Having played tennis since she was old enough to pick up a racket, she said that one of the people who has had the biggest impact on her tennis career is her aunt, Meg Bandy. Bandy was a star tennis player for GPS, and graduated in 1987 before going on to play for the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
“I tried so many different sports, but then my aunt encouraged me to play tennis,” Barbie said. “When I was four I just clicked with the sport, and I’ve stuck with it ever since then. It’s always been something I loved.”
Barbie, who has an older sister who also played tennis for the Bruisers and two younger brothers who play for McCallie, came to GPS in the sixth grade. She also said that Bartlett has had a profound influence on her life during that time.
“I used to be really shy, but after I came to GPS I became the biggest social butterfly… I love meeting new people. As a tennis player, Coach Bartlett has been so inspiring to me. Both my Aunt Meg and Coach Bartlett are people that I look up to on and off the court.”
Even with her peaceful demeanor, make no mistake about Barbie’s intensely competitive nature, and her ability on the court is worthy of playing as the top seed for GPS. She had a combined 25-12 record in her first two years with the Bruisers, when she primarily played as the No. 5 or 6 seed. She also helped her team get to the state tournament for the past three years, with a runner-up finish her sophomore year.
Last season, she understandably went through a steep learning curve as she transitioned to the top seed after GPS lost five players to graduation the year before. Her record of 6-12 was incredibly misleading when put into the context of the drastic shift in competition she was faced, but both player and coach felt that her evolution as a player had helped her to grow on the court.
“I can’t remember but one other time in all of my years of coaching that I’ve had a player have to make that kind of jump,” said Bartlett, who has coached for nearly 30 years. “I know it was hard for her last year, but she really improved her game a lot. Having to come in and play number one was a huge adjustment. But her attitude never wavered; she stayed positive, never gave her, and her sportsmanship has always been admirable. We knew that the experience she gained was going to set her up for a really big senior season.”
Her tennis career nearly came to a screeching halt during the summer before her sophomore year. She was involved in a horrific golf-cart accident that left a gash in her leg that cut all the way through to the bone and required 80 stitches.
Driving the cart with her cousin and cousin’s friend as passengers, Barbie skidded while going down a hill before wrecking into a stone wall and then landing in a ditch.
“When we started to skid, I was turning with one hand and I put my other arm over my cousin and her friend to make sure they didn’t fly through the front of the cart. The wall we wrecked into had ragged, sharp edges, and my leg hit one of the stones and it split to the bone before I fell back into the ditch. When I got up, I didn’t even look at my leg. I immediately went to where they girls were and asked if they were ok.”
“My cousin looked down at my leg and started screaming, and when I finally looked down I thought this was not real, it had to be a dream. They ran for help, while I sat on the golf cart seat. A woman who lived in a house beside the accident was a nurse, and she came out to help until an ambulance came and took me to the emergency room.”
Showing resiliency, it didn’t take long for her to recover. Nine days later she was on a vacation with her family in Hawaii, and three months after that she was back to playing tennis. But even as she reflected on something that would’ve been a traumatic experience for many students her age, she focused on the positives.
“I’m just thankful to be okay and to still have a leg; you have to put things in perspective. The slice in my leg missed a major artery, which is a huge blessing from God that I thank Him for. I didn’t have a single broken bone, which is crazy. It also didn’t sever any muscles, instead going between two muscles, so I didn’t have to do any physical therapy. I got so lucky; I told my parents that God was looking out for me.”
“Also, my family and I like to make jokes about it when we went on the trip to Hawaii. We told people it was from a shark attack, and we all thought it was funny.”
Barbie has tried to maintain that same positive outlook at the thought of losing her final prep season to the unprecedented consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, but she admits that it’s been difficult to think about missing out on something she’s been working towards for so long.
“I’m devastated; I cried about it for a while. This is something I had been working up to my entire life, and especially because I felt like we had a really good team this year. I’ve just been trying to get out and play some tennis with my brothers because I’m too competitive to just sit around the house.”
She hasn’t officially decided what she wants to do after she graduates or whether she wants to continue her tennis career at the college level. She is considering UTC or Tennessee Tech, but said there are other schools in play, particularly if she decides to pursue tennis.
One thing she is sure of is what she wants to pursue as a career, saying that she’s known that for some time.
“I’ve kind of had my life planned out since I was a little girl. My grandma has always told me that I should be a dermatologist because I notice little details. I’ve never given up on that dream, and I still want to pursue it. It has some of the best pay and hours, which is a perfect combination since I also want to be a mother and have a family……of four,” Barbie said that last part with a laugh at the irony of one day having a family just like her own.
When asked what she hoped others learned from her during her time in school, her response came as no surprise.
“I hope they feel loved by me, and that they take that love and spread that to the underclassmen as well, and be kind and include them. There’s always going to be someone that is going to feel left out. There have been times in my life, both in tennis and in school, where I haven’t always felt like I could be myself. That’s why I’ve always tried to be accepting of those that are younger than me, and to be someone they can talk to about anything. I just want everyone that comes behind me to learn from that and treat people the same way.”
The Chattanoogan Senior Spotlight series highlights local prep seniors whose seasons have been put on hold due to the unprecedented situation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. If you are associated with a high school spring sports team and would like your seniors featured, please encourage the coach to reach out to me at email@example.com. Also, share this article and others like it from this series on social media using #ChattanooganSeniorSpotlight.