Doug James tosses the ball over the net. Fiona Galligan has an eye on it. She swings and whacks the ball, moving her body forward. The ball hits Doug in the chest. Fiona shrieks with delight. Doug feigns surprise. Fiona, age 5, wants to try it again, but
Doug James tosses the ball over the net. Fiona Galligan has an eye on it. She swings and whacks the ball, moving her body forward. The ball hits Doug in the chest. Fiona shrieks with delight.
Doug feigns surprise. Fiona, age 5, wants to try it again, but now it’s her sister’s turn. Maeve, who is 2½ years older, goes through the same drill of backhands. She scores at least one Doug hit that thrills Fiona. Throughout the exercise, Doug gives the girls pointers from how they are holding their rackets to following through with their stokes and positioning themselves. Their father, Andrew, watches from the glass enclosure of Tennis Rhode Island off Centerville Road. It’s Saturday at 9 a.m. The six courts have been open since 7 in preparation for the first group of league players that have booked all six courts since the mid 1970s, when it was started by the faculty at Toll Gate High School. The league’s founder, Toll Gate tennis coach Bob Coker, now 91, still plays Saturday mornings.
As the league players, all masked, leave the courts, the next players are ready to fill the courts. One of the league players, Dave Goodwin, finds a gallery seat. He’s watching his 11-year-old daughter, Lilly, a sixth-grader at Bayview Academy, and her instructor, Orsi Golovics. Lilly is consistent. She says she enjoys the exercise and confides of hopes of making the Bayview team when she’s old enough.
On another court, Dan Pillero works with her older brother, Ryan, an eighth-grader at Bishop Hendricken High School. He’s practicing his serve.
As with the case of gyms and fitness centers across the state, the pandemic has thrown Tennis Rhode Island a curve ball. The governor’s prolonged pause meant closure of the facility and the challenge of fulfilling the time customers had prepaid for. That’s been part of it. Getting some players to adhere to guidelines and especially the wearing of masks during play has been difficult. Players are reminded to wear masks and if they refuse are told to leave. Infraction of the state directive could result in a stiff fine or even closure for Tennis Rhode Island.
The kids seem to have no issue with masks. The masks are all part of tennis lessons and playing tennis these days.
And for the younger set, Maeve and her sister Fiona, it’s not all about following through on the stoke, keeping an eye on the ball and positioning the shot. It’s also at the end of the lesson about picking up a ball and touching Doug with it for a reward. The sisters started off at one end of the court and ran to the other. Doug dodged Fiona and then Maeve. The girls were intent on trapping him. Finally, they had him cornered and they touched him simultaneously. They would both get popsicles.
And, yes, they were permitted to lower their masks to enjoy the fruits of their lessons.
Text and photos by John Howell