RIPCOA welcomes tennis to spring slate

RIPCOA welcomes tennis to spring slate

The Smithfield Surge club tennis team will be competing as the Gallagher Middle School tennis team this spring. Seven teams from across the state, including Gallagher and Ponaganset, will make up the RIPCOA’s new league.
Gallagher, Ponaganset join seven-team league

SMITHFIELD – In past seasons, the Smithfield Surge co-ed club tennis team, for middle school players who lived in Smithfield, was among a group of middle school squads around the state that had played in their own league.

Today, not only is the Surge an official middle school team at Gallagher, but RIPCOA (R.I. Principals’ Committee on Athletics) has now recognized tennis as a middle school sport.

Patrick Leonard, who took it upon himself two years ago to run the Surge and spark interest in the program to grow the team’s numbers, was one of the reasons why Gallagher sponsored the team. He said that last year the Surge was one of the only non-school teams in the league; most of the teams were sponsored by their respective middle schools.

As a result, Leonard had to perform extra duties, such as getting in touch with the other athletic directors for scheduling purposes, getting equipment for his team, and putting together transportation.

“(The parents and I) went to a school committee meeting,” Leonard recalled. “We asked if Gallagher could pick us up, as we were the only team left out. Parents had gotten together; kids had signs and made speeches. And (Gallagher) said yes. I didn’t expect it. I thought it would take a couple of years.”

The Surge would still be co-ed and made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. All the equipment they have is being donated to the Gallagher team. It was still a club team, but now coaches and athletic directors were pushing and lobbying for tennis to become a recognized middle school sport.

And before the spring season officially began, RIPCOA anointed tennis as an official middle school sport. Leonard, whose son has been on the team (and hopes his daughter will play in the future), will still follow the team, but he can longer coach.

As a result, Gallagher hired Sam Perry, who has coached basketball at Gallagher, to lead the tennis team. Perry, 25, played tennis in high school at Central, as well as at CCRI and Rhode Island College.

He said that a lot of middle schools wanted this sport, especially as a filter program for their high schools.

“I think it’s a great opportunity, especially going into a D-I school (like Smithfield),” he said. “It will get kids ready to play.”

Perry said that he’s close with Derek Snow, a teacher at Smithfield High and the Sentinels’ former boys’ tennis head coach, so he’s been getting pointers from him.

There are seven middle school teams that will play 12 games starting on April 8. The other six teams are Ponaganset, Warwick Vets, Winman, Mount Saint Charles Academy, Thompson, and Jamestown.

When Leonard was coaching, he never made cuts, as it was a club team and they were trying to get as many kids interested. When he started, he had two 8th-graders and was forced to build from there. Two years ago, they got up to 18 players, but last year, the roster grew to 29.

This year, with tennis now an official sport, Perry will have to make cuts. He said as of now they haven’t been out on the court, but they have been doing conditioning indoors. He has 31 kids so far, but will have to take the top 20.

Gallagher will play their home games at Deerfield Park, where Perry said they redid the tennis courts a year or two ago.

“It’s the first year it’s an actual sport and the kids are excited,” Perry said.

Because of the success of the club team the last few years, Perry likes where his team will be this year. Last year, they were 8-2 and before that, they went 9-1. As it is the first official season, Perry said he will work on fundamentals. He also wants to make sure the kids will be prepared to play in high school. And he wants to win some games.

While Perry prepares the Surge to become Gallagher Middle School’s tennis team, Leonard is happy he was part of making that happen.

“I have to give the school committee props,” Leonard said. “We were so surprised. We had past tennis players and high school tennis players in attendance (at the school committee meeting). It was held at the high school and it was standing room only.”