WOONSOCKET — It was nearly 40 years ago, back in 1973, that Richard Lawrence founded the Mount St. Charles' boys tennis program, and he well recalls how primitive the playing conditions were.
“We had two old concrete courts over by the third-base line (of the current baseball diamond, located on the upper-campus field),” smiled Lawrence, now the school's athletic director. “We also had two courts inside the (Adelard hockey) arena. Those outdoor courts were in terrible shape, and the ones inside, the kids had very little room to maneuver.”
The Mounties have bounced from complex to complex over the decades, but Lawrence has always dreamed his athletes would someday have a home to call their own.
Finally, after all that time, it's going to happen. MSC officials, designers and builders broke ground last week on a two-acre parcel of land directly across Logee Street from the main entrance. There they will construct a new six-court tennis complex, one that Lawrence and school President Herve Richer hope will open by the middle of April 2013.
“It's going to be a beautiful facility; it really will,” Richer noted of the complex, which will come at a cost of approximately $600,000, most of those funds gleaned from former tennis players, alumni and their families. “I don't think anyone's as excited as Richard, but we're all thrilled for our school and students. It will help us support and enhance our programs.
“It's also another opportunity for our physical education department to enhance its programs,” he continued. “There are a lot of things the complex will present to us, but – most importantly – we're finally able to give our excellent boys' and girls' tennis teams a home.”
Lawrence also pointed out he hopes the courts – to be used primarily by varsity, JV and junior-high squads – will provide a recreational/educational site for attendees of the MSC Summer Fine Arts Camp.
The complex will consist of two green-colored courts, side-by-side, in three rows. Richer explained Jonathan Ford of Morris Beacon Design of Providence has created detailed plans for the facility, which will be built by Catalano Construction of Cumberland.
“The owners are graduates of the school,” stated Richer, himself a 1974 MSC graduate. “Bernie Catalano was in the Class of 1969, and his son, Jason, who graduated in 1998, is the project manager. We went through a bidding process, and we decided to go with them because they're part of the Mount St. Charles family.
“They were very excited about it, as they did the excavation work for our gymnasium back in 1999-2000,” he added. “We'd love to see it open in time for our teams to use at the beginning of the season, but it probably won't be – unless we have a really mild winter like last year. If we do, it won't be too cold to pour the surface for the courts, but, realistically, we don't think it will be (ready).
Noted Lawrence: “The courts will be on top of the hill, the highest point in Woonsocket. There will be a great panoramic view of the surrounding community.”
Lawrence admitted he can't believe the time has come. Back in 1974 or '75, he figured those old courts on campus were too antiquated for his boys' teams, so they traveled to Dunn Park.
“They were pretty good, but there were only three or four of them,” he said, adding that amount isn't enough for timely play in matches where four singles players and three doubles teams from each opponent battle for a point. The first totaling four points snatches victory.
“In the mid-to-late '80s, I asked the city if we could play at the Aylsworth Avenue Courts right behind (Woonsocket High), and they said it was OK.
“But then Woonsocket put together a team, so we were looking again,” he continued. “They had just finished building the ones at Social Park, so we had another place to play. In about 1990, Lincoln High School built its facility; they had been leasing from High Ridge (Swim & Tennis Club), so that site became available. We've been using that ever since, as well as, at times, Kirkbrae (Country Club).
“I also remember playing one season at Abbott Run (in Cumberland). That's really the history of the odyssey , this journey, our teams have traveled since 1973.”
Throughout that time, folks at the school and in the neighborhoods had conversed about building a complex for the Mounties; time after time, however, a snag or two squelched those plans.
“Like St. Thomas, I always needed to touch those wounds,” Lawrence chuckled. “It always seemed something got in the way, and I just thought maybe it wasn't meant to be.
“Until the machinery got there, I was skeptical about it,” he added. “We have six terrific teams here, and they've been, for years, vagabonds in this school. Not anymore.”
About two years ago, an alumnus who had played tennis approached Lawrence with an interest in donating to the cause, and keeping it as close to MSC as possible. Lawrence and Richer chatted with others, and they chose the parcel across from the entrance, the reason being the school owned the land.
“At this point, we're not expecting the courts to be lighted, but we have applied for a grant through a private foundation,” Richer said. “If it comes through, it will pay for the lighting. If not, we'll still have an underground infrastructure in place where we can install lighting somewhere down the road.”
Richer also explained the complex will not be named for anyone as of yet, but donors have claimed an individual court to have their names emblazoned upon it.
“There are few schools around the state that can say they've had the kind of success that this school has,” Lawrence offered. “I started the boys' program in 1973, and the girls started up around 1985-86. Over the past 12 years, our girls have been to 10 Division I state team finals, and we've won at least five or six.”
Actually, the MSC females have collected exactly five state titles since 2002 (with others claimed in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2008). Prior to climbing into D-I, they secured Rhode Island D-II crowns in 1984, '85 and '91.
As for the boys, they garnered D-II championships in 1980 and '85, then a pair in the top tier in 1990 and '91.
“Including the boys and girls, there have been nearly 40 divisional, league or state championships won by the Mount,” Lawrence stated. “The girls had a streak of 63 consecutive league wins between 2002 and 2006. That's the kind of success these programs have experienced, and now they're going to have a place where they can play in front of their peers.
“It's important for them to play here on campus; now they'll get that chance, and I couldn't be happier for them.”