By Tom Hines
In 1968 a twenty-four year old Smithfield High School teacher and tennis coach approached the Smithfield Recreation Department with the idea of starting a summer tennis program. A Smithfield summer tradition had been born. Jack Lawrence, that young coach, initially wanted to promote tennis in order to create interest in the high school team. “I couldn’t get kids to go out for the team. Our first year, we had a record of 0 and 12.” Although the first summer had only nine participants playing at the old junior high, the program quickly grew, along with interest in the high school team.
During the seventies, Jack took a break for several years in order to work at Rally Point Tennis Club, but the program continued to expand. Over the past several years, the program has peaked with up to 300 participants, from the “tiny tots” to adults of all ages. Jack attributes much of the success to an extremely supportive recreation department and the creation of the Deerfield Park courts. For many years, the program has included tournaments throughout the summer. This year featured 50 players for mixed matches and a Rally Point tournament which saw about 100 kids, 8 to 15 years old, participating. Along with the tournaments, the program holds a doubles
clinic which is conducted by a local college coach. Of course there is an awards day where young players are recognized for honing their skills throughout the summer.
When asked about some of the many players that he has coached, Jack stated, “some of my favorite moments have been seeing kids, who couldn’t play at all, develop into skilled players and achieve success on high school and college teams.” He mentioned Julie Reddy who is currently one of his assistants and the all-time wins leader at Rhode Island College. “It’s a great sport. It’s a skill you’ll have the rest of your life. Look at me. I’m an antique and I’m still playing.”
Jack also pointed out that there is more to the program than tennis skills. “Learning good sportsmanship and self control is stressed. We always shake hands after a match and ‘temper tantrums’ are not allowed. I give a sportsmanship award to the player who has best exhibited what we expect on the courts. This year the award went to Gavin Schnieder.”
One may wonder what keeps Jack going after all these years. He will tell you that he truly looks forward to having fun with the kids every summer. “I enjoy seeing the progress in their skills from summer to summer and meeting and working with new kids.”
Jack is quick to give credit to the various recreation directors over the years and his numerous assistants for their support and dedication, but anyone who has been associated with the summer tennis program throughout these many years knows that the primary reason for its tremendous success has been the passion which Jack Lawrence brings to teaching the game he loves. Many thanks to you, Jack.