AUBURN — Their bright yellow shirts flapped in the stiff breeze as tears welled in their eyes. Gathered in a circle with Edward Little’s tennis teams on the courts at the Auburn school, the Lewiston boys’ and girls’ squads stood stoic as the EL captains walked toward them with a pair of white boxes.
One Lewiston girl hugged tearful coach Anita Murphy as the Blue Devils’ captains accepted the gift — flowers — and brought them to a safe place outside the fence.
Yellow replaced Lewiston’s traditional blue and white on this day.
“They were doing it in support of Ronnie and Juli,” Murphy said. “Juli loved yellow.”
Juli Chicoine, Murphy’s daughter-in-law and wife of boys’ coach Ron Chicoine, died Tuesday, more than a week after suffering a cerebral aneurysm. Friday’s match against traditional rival Edward Little was the team’s second this week. With both teams on site, and with the match just across the river, many members of the extended Lewiston tennis family — including former players and several parents and grandparents of the current players — gathered at the Auburn courts, and all donned the special yellow shirts.
“The little things, like these shirts and these bracelets we’re wearing, they help us keep our chins up,” singles player Scott Gagne said.
“This match, it means a lot more than just another match,” singles player Emilie Cloutier said. “We’re doing it for Juli. She’s always in our thoughts now, it’s not something we can ignore.”
On the court, the Blue Devils were all business, as usual. The Lewiston boys and girls both dispatched the Eddies by a 5-0 count; the girls lost just five games.
“You have to show up to play; it doesn’t matter who it is,” Lewiston assistant Chris Roy said. “The emotion today, it’s business-like. The kids have been handling it really well. They’ve shown a lot of maturity.”
Roy, a former Lewiston tennis standout, began the season as Ron Chicoine’s assistant, and has stepped in to lead the team in his absence.
“This is still Ron’s team,” Roy was quick to say.
And Chicoine proved his love of the game all week. The morning he flew back from Florida, where his wife died, he attended the team’s practice. Friday, clad in his trademark straw hat and wearing a t-shirt honoring his wife, he stood apart from the rest of the team. He borrowed an old envelope and a well-worn pencil and he started jotting notes on the matches.
“You can’t keep him from it,” Roy said.
“They’re the first family of tennis as far as I am concerned,” EL girls’ coach Shawn Rice said. “Frankly, I can’t believe they’re here today. That’s the kind of dedication they have.”
Sproradically, members of the crowd would approach Chicoine, shake his hand or pat him on the back, offering their support.
Then he went back to coaching tennis, walking onto the court between sets as he watched Scott Gagne take care of Clark Chamberlin at No. 1 singles, and Alex Chicoine and Jon McDonough finish off Derrick Lacasse and Sam Cullen at No. 1 doubles.
Keagan Cote and Brett Vallee won over Alex Smith and Ben Armstrong at No. 2 doubles to seal the match win, and Eric Morin and Jake Berube won their respective singles matches to complete the sweep.
The emotions were as plentiful in the girls’ match, but tempered from earlier in the week.
“This match was a little looser than the first one we played right after we found out,” admitted Cloutier, “but it was still hard. You go out there and you try as hard as you can to stay positive.”
Cloutier dispatched Lindsey Rogers, playing No. 1 for the shorthanded Eddies, who were without their regular No. 1 on Friday. Abby Blaisdell defeated Amanda Bellefleur 6-1, 6-1 and Michelle Nadeau took out Victoria Bunker 6-0, 6-1 in the remaining singles matches.
In doubles, Paige LeBlond and Brittany Martin teamed up to upend Ashley Gallagher and Jessi Davis, while Jessica Bowen and Becca Lessard ousted Ashley Deblois and Phoebe Chamberlin.
“A couple of years ago, you’d see us rally maybe once or twice,” Rice said. “Now, we’re getting more consistent, and you can see that we’re going deeper into those points, and that’s a positive for the program.”
The Lewiston boys are scheduled to be back to practice again Saturday morning, with Chicoine at the helm. After services for his wife, Chicoine said Friday he’d be ready to get back involved on a full-time basis by next Wednesday.
“I really think you see them out there, the kids, and they want to win, they want to do it to make Ron proud,” Murphy said. “They want to do it for him, to be supportive.
“We all loved Juli, she was a part of my own family, but she was also a part of our bigger family, and I think you see that on a day like this.”