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Will North’s Kessler achieves rare double

Golf used to be the “other sport” Mike Kessler played on weekends, something to take his mind off tennis, something to do for fun.

He’ll get his fill of both this week as the Williamsville North junior accomplished a rare feat. Kessler qualified for the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship tournaments in both sports.

But there’s a catch.

A long run in the tennis tournament in New York City means he’d have to abandon the dream of teeing it up against the other 98 top public school golfers in the state at Cornell University’s Robert Trent Jones Course in Ithaca. The state tennis tournament begins Thursday morning at the United States National Tennis Center, while state golf starts with the official-attendance-is-mandatory practice round Saturday morning at 8:36. The tournament is Sunday and Monday.

So as long as the tennis tournament doesn’t experience any weather delays, the only things that would likely prevent Kessler from participating in both is a run to the state finals or third-place match – scheduled for Saturday morning – or transportation issues.

Kessler was driven to state tennis by his mother, Cristen, who also planned to shuttle him from New York City to Ithaca for golf.

“My tennis goal is to win a round or two and whatever happens we’ll take it step by step … discuss it with” Section VI Executive Director Timm “Slade,” said Kessler, who also qualified for states in tennis last spring. “It’s going to be hard to make a run at either because me doing two sports limits the amount of intense training I can do, but whatever happens, happens.

“The field is such a high talent level.”

That may be the case, but it still takes a special athlete to qualify for states in two sports, especially when one, golf, is considered a fall sport in Section VI.

Kessler, who has private golf and tennis coaches in addition to his coaches at school, achieved his goal of qualifying for states in both sports last week. On May 18, he shot 116 for 27 holes at the Section VI golf state qualifier. The score placed him among the top nine finishers – tied for sixth – meaning he achieved the first half of his quest. He accomplished the tennis portion last Thursday when he lost in the sectional final to East Aurora’s Jack McClaren, 7-6 (6), 6-2.

It is believed he’s the first Section VI athlete to qualify for states in golf and tennis since Aaron Holender of Williamsville North in 2001.

“It’s an accomplishment,” said Steve Ferenczy, North’s athletic director. “Everyone has been supportive of him trying to do this in a tight time frame. Both sports are very technical and take a lot of practice to be accomplished.”

“I’ve always wanted to be a different athlete and accomplish something very rare,” Kessler said. “I’ve put a lot of time into both. … I’m just going to give it my all and we’ll go from there.”

Kessler’s only two losses this season on the tennis court came at the hands of McClaren. He punched his ticket for states in golf by firing a back-nine 1-over-par 37 in windy conditions at River Oaks Golf Club on Grand Island. Only one golfer, Kessler’s teammate Ben Reichert, broke par at sectionals. Should tennis commitments prevent Kessler from making it to the golf tournament, first-alternate J.P. Rehak of Williamsville South will take his spot.

For those thinking why play for third place in tennis over the chance of starting anew at golf and making a run at that title, athletes sign a code of conduct for the state tennis tournament that prohibits non-injury withdrawals. It would be frowned upon for him to drop out with an injury excuse only to play golf.

While the state golf tournament crowns an individual winner, it gives out all-state honors to the top 20 and qualifies the top six for the season-ending Federation Tournament at Bethpage Black – it is also a team tournament for each section with the top three finishers earning awards.

It is because of the team aspect of the tournament that Kessler just can’t show up before his tee time Sunday and start participating in the tourney. Section VI wants to beat its counterparts. Golfers who don’t participate in the practice round at Cornell typically don’t score well, which is why Rehak is on call.

But that’s something for Kessler to deal with later. He’s got more pressing issues at the moment, like trying to win a tennis match.

“I just want to keep a steady mind in tennis and take that enthusiasm and momentum to golf,” Kessler said. “When I stay positive and I stay relaxed, I tend to play my best in both sports.”