Under the archway of the Haldeman Pool in between two collapsible, plastic signs that read “This Pomona College outdoor facility is open by appointment only for POMONA FACULTY and STAFF and CURRENT POMONA and PITZER STUDENTS,” Nina Ye PO ’24 sent me a text at 12:27 p.m. –– she had gotten lost on her way to the Pomona tennis courts, which we had booked for 12:00 p.m.
In our online registration for that afternoon, we had our choice of three outdoor athletic facilities: Haldeman Pool, Strehle Track and the Pauley Tennis Complex that have been reopened as of March 18. Considering Ye is a member of the Pomona-Pitzer varsity tennis team and proud owner of two spare rackets, I opted for the tennis and pickleball courts, even though we had to bring our own equipment, according to Pomona-Pitzer’s guidelines.
It was understandable that Ye had trouble finding the right court. As a first-year, Ye explained, she hadn’t spent much time on campus yet, but she was thankful for the opportunity to explore now that athletic facilities have started to reopen.
“We didn’t start practicing on our court until a few weeks ago,” she said. “As an incoming first-year, I had no clue what campus has to offer. For me, it’s funny because in a weird way, I didn’t know what I was missing out on.”
When Ye finally arrived, Chris Johnson, P-P interim assistant athletic director for compliance and student-athlete services, took our temperature before we entered the court. After confirming our student IDs, he instructed us to keep our masks on at all times and sent us on our way through Court 7’s open gate. Ye apologized for being late and I told her not to worry: Even as a rising junior, I had gotten lost earlier, too.
I felt anxious at first as she handed me her spare racket. The day was full of new experiences for the both of us. Ye and I had never met in person before scheduling our hour-and-a-half tennis slot online. Like many other friendships made during the virtual year, she and I had only ever talked through our philosophy class and a few impromptu FaceTimes to rant about our essay topics.
But Ye comforted me with a smile as she finished tying her shoes, telling me that limited campus reopening and team practices have played a major role in allowing her to see most of her friends.
“I love the structured practice, but it doesn’t make up the entirety of my 5C experience. I think the classes make me feel more like a 5C student,” Ye said. “It’s been pretty good in all honesty, because I’m lucky to live in Claremont. Being in person just adds to [my experience]. Now, I’m able to casually ask my friends on the team if they want to go for a hit or something.”
In her case, I was just another athlete friend asking her to go hit around at the outdoor Pauley Tennis Complex with a few caveats. The first is that I was not a member of the tennis team. I play for the P-P volleyball team, but we haven’t officially practiced in over a year and a half. The second is that I had actually never played tennis before that day, which Ye quickly discovered when I tried to pick up the racket and my thumb was on the wrong side.
I booked the appointment on April 21 for the very next day, so I was left with almost no time to study the sport in preparation for my debut. Registering for space on Court 7 was so easy that I didn’t think much of it. I scheduled the court reservation on a Wednesday including my first and last name, student ID and the date and time I wanted.
When Ye threw the ball at me to serve, I quickly realized that relying on my “Wii Tennis” knowledge might not be enough to make it through a match with a collegiate tennis player.
Ye realized it, too, sometime after I swung at the ball and completely missed, two times in a row. We had kept our masks on on the court as was required, but we both had a good laugh about my incompetence. Thankfully, Johnson didn’t see; he was turned around, sitting at the table he had set up outside of our court with the thermometer and consent forms.
Aside from the three of us, there were hardly any students or staff in the area. Despite being surrounded by four other courts, Ye and I were the only ones there to play that afternoon. It felt strange for campus to be so unusually quiet, but we both appreciated the privacy.
Although Ye didn’t get many reps in during our session, she was a good sport about it and didn’t even charge me for her tennis lesson. By the end of the hour and a half, I was making solid contact on the ball which was definitely progress. Despite the windy day, I was sweating and ready to stop, so Ye offered to take a photo to commemorate our first time hanging out together. We didn’t have to pose much for the picture; we were already smiling.
Before signing up to use the athletic facilities that Thursday, it had been over a year since I had played sports, but I was quickly reminded how athletic experiences could break the ice, even if we weren’t quite at the same skill level. My skill level, of course, being none at all, but thankfully, it was all love in the end.