Sue McLaughlin

Sue McLaughlin is pictured on May 2, 2018, after the tennis courts in Buhl Park were renamed after her. The biannual Tri-County Tennis Tournament is held at the Sue McLaughlin Buhl Park Tennis Center, but this spring’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

HERMITAGE – Traditionally, Buhl Farm Park’s tennis courts would be enjoying a busy Memorial Day opening weekend to the summer season; instead, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, the courts remain vacant.

“Alas,” Program Director Sue McLaughlin lamented, “at this point, the tennis courts are still on lockdown.”

For the first time in decades, McLaughlin had to cancel the annual boys’ Tri-County tournament in late April. Tentatively the annual girls’ Buhl Farm Invitational tourney is set to take place Sept. 30, but even that is not a given. Similarly, pre-season practice for girls’ scholastic players is scheduled to begin Aug. 8.

Currently, the commonwealth of Pennsylvania remains in the “Yellow” phase of Gov. Tom Wolf’s gradual return to somewhat normal activities.

McLaughlin, the Mercer County Hall-of-Famer, expressed the sentiments of her fellow enthusiasts who ordinarily would frequent the 8-court complex (renovated in 2017) at this time of year. The recent warm weather has added depths to the disappointment.

Ordinarily, the courts are free and open to the public during park hours, typically from 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., including mixed doubles play Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays from 8-11 a.m. Also, the annual Sharon Open tournament is a Shenango Valley staple.

However, not at present.

“I remain hopeful that the governor will allow us to open the tennis courts in Buhl Park in early June for recreational play,” McLaughlin wrote, though cautioning, “Not sure if the free junior and adult beginner clinics and free junior drill sessions will fly this summer, but I am formulating contingency plans to practice social distancing if given the go-ahead on the clinics. I will take my directives from the park administration.”

McLaughlin did note that she is scheduling private lessons. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, both adult and junior beginner lessons normally would be offered, as well as more competitive junior round-robin singles and doubles play.

“At this point, there are so many unknowns,” McLaughlin wrote, adding, “I will reach out (to tennis enthusiasts, via The Herald) once I know more.”

Summertime in the Shenango Valley usually would include the ubiquitous McLaughlin riding her bike to and from the park to perform a myriad of tasks tied to the tennis community. And in spite of the current coronavirus crisis, she maintained an optimistic and sunny disposition that are her calling cards: 

“On a personal level,” she wrote, “I can’t wait to get back out on the courts. Don’t even want to think about a summer without tennis. That’s akin to a day without sunshine.

“The rainbow appears after the storm. Hang in there and be safe,” McLaughlin concluded.

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