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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Tennis and tunes go together for top URI student-athlete

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 28, 2005 -- In Nick Barbera’s sophomore year at the University of Rhode Island, some people told him it would be nearly impossible to play varsity tennis and successfully complete a music major in the saxophone.

Now in his senior year, the Worcester, Mass. resident has become an accomplished tennis player and saxophonist and has been listed consistently on the dean’s list for outstanding academic performance.

As the Rams prepare for their spring season, Barbera is currently ranked in the starting lineup and has played as high as number 2 singles and number 1 doubles in previous seasons.

He says achieving on the tennis court, in the music hall and in the classroom required a tremendous amount of commitment.

“I practice each day on the courts, then I hit the sax and then I hit the books,” Barbera said. “You might want to take it easy, but you can’t if you want to succeed.”

What’s interesting is he did not become a music major until his sophomore year. “So I really had to squeeze what would have been four years of a major into about three-and-half years. But sometimes I pushed too hard.”

That led to back problems and treatments with a chiropractor, but still the tennis co-captain kept pursuing his dreams.

“I give a lot of credit to my Dad (Charles) because he helped me see what a great opportunity this was to play tennis and advance in music,” Barbera said.

He also credits professional saxophonist Dr. Brian Sparks, with helping him excel on the instrument as well as encourage his love for music. “I didn’t have any real individual instrument training until I got here. I played in my elementary and other school bands, but it was Brian, my private teacher at URI, who helped me get to a higher level.”

So what’s his goal for the immediate future? “I plan to be a (tennis) teaching pro after I graduate. This will allow me to be on the court every day, giving me the feel one needs to play top-level tennis. In a couple of years when I can get my body strong enough to avoid injuries, I’ll make a run for the pros.”

But he’d also like to stick with his music, both as a private saxophone instructor and a performing musician.

He says that without URI he wouldn’t have so many choices. “It’s been a great choice for me because my music and tennis have developed so well. I don’t see any limits in the future.”

One of the keynote speakers at a winter reception for student-athletes on the dean’s list, Barbera praised his current coach, Val Villucci, and former coach John Spears.

“There are so many links with the saxophone and athletics, the pressure and the commitment. But be well organized and have fun. It’s a privilege to be out there on the court.”