Courts back in session at Slater Park

Courts back in session at Slater Park

Pawtucket’s Joanne Vadnais keeps her eye on the ball as she returns a volley during her singles match last Thursday night at Slater Park’s Mike Kenny Courts. The city’s adult tennis leagues will play seven-match schedules this summer. (Breeze photos by Eric Benevides)
Adult tennis leagues kick off season; youth camps start Monday

PAWTUCKET – Ever since she was 5 years old, learning the sport of tennis at a weekly youth camp that was conducted by the Pawtucket Parks & Recreation Department, Katherine Braganca has been a fixture each summer at Slater Park’s Mike Kenny Courts, not only as a player, but also as an instructor for the past six years at the same camp she once attended.

But when the COVID-19 pandemic shook up the entire sports world in March, forcing the cancellations and suspensions of leagues and events, the 24-year-old Braganca was left wondering if she was going to face a summer without her favorite pastime.

“We had no idea,” the Pawtucket native recalled. “When we originally talked, we didn’t know what we were going to roll out.”

Luckily for Braganca, Parks and Recreation director John Blais, and the tennis program’s staff of instructors, what they “rolled out” last week was the opening matches in their men’s singles and women’s singles and doubles leagues, and next Monday, they will also begin their popular youth camp.

Braganca, who is also the organizer of the women’s singles division that plays on Thursday nights, talked a little bit about the return of the city’s tennis program before last Thursday’s matches, and before she allowed her players to step onto the court, she took their temperatures with an infrared forehead thermometer and made them answer a series of questions regarding their current health with a COVID-19 screening tool.

“We have a thorough check-in process that the players go through,” she said, adding that post-match handshakes will not be allowed and players will be encouraged to supply their own cans of tennis balls. “We have to do everything that we can to make sure that we’re keeping everyone safe.”

Braganca, who played tennis at La Salle Academy and Rhode Island College and was a three-time All-Little East Conference pick at RIC, is one of three organizers this summer, joining St. Raphael Academy boys’ and girls’ tennis coach Scott Corain, who runs the men’s singles league on Wednesday nights, and Diana Adamczyk, who runs the women’s double league on Tuesday nights.

The leagues, which have traditionally started on the first week of June and lasted for 10 weeks, will only play seven-week schedules, noted Braganca, who reported that she has two more players in her division this year than she had last summer. And instead of having a postseason, the leagues will crown their champions based on their regular-season play.

As for the youth camp, which also has Nate Rebello, Sean McClelland, Serena Gaskin, Sarah Colson, and Peter Anghinetti serving as instructors, “we had to cap our numbers this year at 28,” added Braganca, noting that the children will be divided into groups of seven.

“We’re not going to have the five and six-year-olds this summer for safety precautions,” continued Braganca. “But the hope is to restore that program next summer. That was my favorite program and I was really sad to see it not be able to happen.”

On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, the instructional groups, which usually range from ages 7-12, meet and work on the fundamentals, and on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, the advanced groups, which are mostly teenagers, take the court and focus on match play.

“It will be nice for those kids to be able to have some sort of normal activity,” added Braganca, who also coaches high school boys’ and girls’ tennis and middle school girls’ basketball at the Wheeler School.

As for the Pawtucket Open tennis tournament, which is scheduled to host its 47th annual event on the weekend of Sept. 20-22, “I am unsure if the Open will take place,” reported Blais. “There are a lot of items to address with our standard programming to ensure the safety of our patrons. We will see where we are heading at that time. We had received mixed reviews about holding it in September last year, but the weather was perfect, so there is a lot to consider.”

Tennis director Katherine Braganca, left, uses an infrared forehead thermometer to check the temperature of Vangy Auclair of Rehoboth, Mass., before she takes the courts for her singles match last Thursday night.
Pawtucket’s Emily Fournier gets ready to return a serve during her singles match last Thursday night at Slater Park.