Lessons from ‘the wall’

Posted 6/1/22

Doug James was always intrigued by the thought of becoming a cop, but then he had a thing for tennis. It wasn’t a game neighborhood kids played. He grew up in a second story flat in Providence. …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Lessons from ‘the wall’


Doug James was always intrigued by the thought of becoming a cop, but then he had a thing for tennis. It wasn’t a game neighborhood kids played. He grew up in a second story flat in Providence. Yet at 10 years old, he started hitting balls against the Greene School wall. In the summer he’d hit balls until his mother told him it was time for lunch. After lunch he’d go back out and hit more balls. As Doug put it, the wall always got the ball back so he devised a way of winning points. He drew a one foot by one foot square on the wall. When he hit the square, it was a point for him. When he missed, it was a point for the wall. Doug taught himself tennis.

His mother recognized his commitment to the game and paid for lessons. His teacher was amazed by this student who was already better than others who he’d been instructing for years.

Doug was good, very good. 

As a student at Our Lady of Providence High School, Doug ranked third in the state behind brothers Gordie and Bobby Ernst. As a freshman at Rhode Island College, he was the team’s number one player, only it didn’t last.  He dropped out of RIC when he couldn’t attend practices as required of team members. The irony is he couldn’t make the practices because he was teaching tennis in order to make the money to pay for his own tennis lessons. 

Now at 56 years old, married and with two daughters having earned college degrees, Doug has made tennis a successful career. He has taught thousands how to play the game ranging in age from 4 to 95.

Today, however, he embanks on a new career, as a law enforcement officer. Having completed eight weeks of grueling physiological and physical tests where at more than one point he felt he couldn’t go a step further, Doug will graduate today from the Rhode Island State Police Academy. Doug didn’t only make it, he finished first in his class and will address his colleagues. He is believed to be the oldest new recruit (there may be former older police officers) to graduate.

If the wall was a lesson in personal commitment and persistence, then the academy was a fortress of many walls. 

As a casual tennis player and a sub for what started out as the Toll Gate High School tennis league shortly after the school opened in the 1970s at Tennis Rhode Island on Centerville Road, I’ve known Doug for years. The Beacon has featured photo essays on him teaching some of his youngest students and he’s usually at the club as the league finishes up Saturday morning play. 

It was one of those Saturdays in March during locker room chatter that the “new Doug” revealed he would be attending the academy. The “new Doug” I then realized was quite a bit trimer than the Doug tossing balls over the net to a pair of young sisters. Not only had Doug shed 50 pounds but he was upbeat and animated as he described what he was about to do. 

Just being accepted to the academy is an accomplishment.

Doug gave it a shot about a year ago, but failed the agility test when he completed 18 of the 24 sit ups required for consideration. That test also involves running 1.5 miles in 15:03 minutes, completing a 300-yard dash in 38.3 seconds and 13 pushups.

This time Doug trained for the agility test, not only losing those 50 pounds but pulling a hamstring a week before the test. He desperately sought a cure to pull him through – to beat the wall. He came up with a salve used on horses that reeked of garlic and explicitly stated on the directions, “not for human use.” It got him through.

Technically according to the medical prognosis after he was born, Doug should have never gone on to play tennis or for that matter even be considered as a candidate to become a law enforcement officer. During birth his right arm was injured. Doctors predicted he wouldn’t have use of it and it would never fully develop. Doug’s mother stubbornly refused to accept that fate and regularly exercised the arm starting when he was an infant. It paid off even though to this day his mobility is limited and while serving he cannot lift his arm for a full toss. He plays with his left arm.

At the Saturday morning tennis league, Doug highlighted what he been through at the academy. The first report was of a candidate who withdrew leaving the class at five. When the academy was advertised, Doug said more than 250 applied. That number dropped to about 50 who took the written and agility tests and from that number six were picked for the academy.

Doug’s weekly told of punishing exercises such as racing up and down stairs in the state administration building with pushups required at each landing, being sprayed by pepper gas and getting zinged with a tazer.  Then there were the mind games designed to see if you could keep your cool and the story straight under intense and sometime confusing questioning. And there were the tests in on constitutional law, civil law, domestic violence, officer safety, first aid, and use of force to name a few.  

On Saturday Doug glowed as he reported he would be graduating first in his class by a thin margin. He wasn’t as ebullient relating one of the final physical test, consisting of five minutes of exercises followed by 15 minutes of non-stop fighting. He was to hold off and neutralize his attacker. The first of his adversaries had a neck the size of a tree trunk making it impossible to get him in a neck hold. But Doug didn’t give up; he never let his adversary de-arm him of his mock weapon. By the end of the session, Doug never felt so exhausted or beat up. 

In his remarks tonight Doug will speak about the support of his classmates and his wife Lisa who put in extra time as the flower manager at five Walmarts to help balance the family budget and recall how he limped home after the first night of physical training. 

I was “asking myself if I had made a mistake. Deep down I knew I hadn’t. This is something I had wanted to do since I was a young kid.”

Doug will be sworn in June 6.  Being first in his class, he and the second place graduate are guaranteed jobs. He will be a member of the Capitol Police, a force of 48 that provides security at state buildings including among others the DMV, the State House and Administration offices. 

And why did he want to be a law enforcement officer especially at this time?

“It’s an honorable profession. It’s something bigger than me.”

Hopefully, I’ll still see him at Tennis Rhode Island. I’d love to learn to put more top spin on my returns as I don’t have the patience to face the wall.

This Side Up, editorial


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here