WNPR

The Connecticut Open: A Summer Job In Tennis For "Ball Kids"

Aug 25, 2017

The Connecticut Open Women’s Tennis Association event may not have the Williams sisters in 2017, but it has the Wijesekera sisters instead. The trio from Bethany are ball kids.

The oldest is Adithi Wijesekera. She’s 13.

“We’re big tennis fans, and we play tennis a lot,” she said.

A family friend told the Wijesekeras about the event. Last year for the first time, Adithi volunteered. I recently met the girls under a white tent just yards away from where play was happening.

Aadya, 12, is the middle sister of the three.

“We’re really close -- we used to share a room before,” Aadya said.

I asked Aadya what kind of bond the sisters had -- and Soumya, 9, was quick to interrupt her big sister.

“A fighting bond,” Soumya said.

The ball kid rest area reminded me of summer camp. The loud boys competed for Uno bragging rights at one table, while other kids took a breather by eating a snack or reading a book.

The experienced Bryce Thomson, 19, was one of the quietest ones. He explained to me how ball kids are broken up into teams to do their job.

“There’s two different positions: a back and a net,” he said.

Size is a factor, he said, in what position you take on. Bryce is 6-foot-2.

“Yeah, I’m usually a back -- too tall to be a net,” he said. “Usually, we have the smaller kids be the nets.”

Adithi is a “back.”

“I’m a back, and I like it better, because it seems like more of a fun job,” she said.

But her younger (and taller) sister Aadya is a “net”... for now.

“They asked me to be a back,” Aadya said, “but I like being net better, so I asked to be it for one more year. Next year, I’ll probably end up being a back.”

Paisley Thomson looks after ball kids as head coordinator.
Credit Frankie Graziano / WNPR

So who’s in charge of all these kids? It’s Bryce’s sister Paisley, 25. She was a ball kid when she was 12, but she has moved all the way up to head coordinator. She schedules the teams and makes sure that each is stocked with experience so the rookies will have some help.

“You want to give them lots of breaks on a day like today where it’s really hot,” she said. “You want to make sure they have time to eat, go to the bathrooms, and refill their water bottles.”

In the August sun, healthy rotation is key when you factor in much-needed water breaks.

Aadya explained what can happen if you don’t get yourself a break.

“So last year,” she said, “I had to stay on for a couple of rotations because people were out taking lunch -- and then I fainted.”

Above all else, the ball kids have a clear directive: get the ball back to the pros.

“Serve the player first, and then get the balls that are rolling your way, because the player comes first,” Adithi said.

It’s estimated that 500 people will volunteer in the tournament that runs until Saturday, August 26.