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Doors are being opened in tennis for minorities

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By Robyn Disney

What Carl Hodge saw on the John Drew Smith Tennis Center courts May 21 made him stop, sit and watch.

He saw two black girls square off in the USTA National Open 14s girls title and two more battling for third place.

It was a far cry from the days when Hodge, now the Macon Tennis Connect director, started playing the sport in the 1970s.

“Arthur Ashe was the one any black player looked up to,” Hodge said. “I also watched the people in my era, such as Juan Farrow, the first man to win three NCAA Division II national titles. He was one of the most dominant African-American players in juniors and then in college. But there wasn’t a lot of us.”

That is starting to change, and the movement is being felt everywhere. Professional players, like Venus and Serena Williams and James Blake, have become icons for a new generation.

“I think this is wonderful,” said Nadine Duval, the mother of National Open 14s girls winner Victoria Duval. “The Williams sisters opened a huge door. It is good to see talented black girls on television winning big tournaments. This is giving girls, like my daughter, an opportunity to better themselves.”

Some of the top junior players in the nation, including Central’s Jadon Phillips, are black. Phillips is ranked first in the state and in the South in the boys 18s. Others include Nathan Parsha, a 15-year-old from Austell; Asia Muhammad, a 17-year-old from Henderson, Nev.; and Madison Keys, a 13-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla.

“I don’t know whether it’s coaches or neighborhood programs that is getting all these kids involved, and it really doesn’t matter,” USTA executive Patrick McEnroe said in an article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel this month. “Let’s just get them out there as much as we can. This is a game that all kids can succeed at. Why not African-Americans?”

But the numbers are still staggering. According to a 2005 USTA survey, 87 percent of players nationwide were white and only 10 percent were black. That same year, the USTA started its multicultural grants program, giving money to programs, community tennis associations and even individual players.

And other individuals have started to chip in. Legendary coach Nick Bollettieri gave Victoria Duval a scholarship to attend his academy. On a local level, the Macon Tennis Association has held numerous camps and events, like the block party for Quick Start Tennis earlier this month, to attract more than just country-club kids to the sport.

The National Junior Tennis League, which is part of the USTA, is also reaching out to draw more into the sport. According to Yasmine Osborn, the USTA Southern NJTL Subcommittee staff coordinator, 54 percent of the NJTL players in Georgia are black. Thirty percent are white, nine percent are Hispanic/Latino, four percent are Asian and two percent are Native American. The Macon Tennis Association does not have a NJTL chapter but has been one in the past. The city has also received grants from the USTA.

“A lot of people don’t put their kid in tennis because they think it is too expensive or they have to join some club,” Hodge said. “That is simply not the case. There are a lot of affordable programs. I don’t think any of our tennis pros have turned anyone away because they couldn’t afford it.”

But tennis is more expensive than basketball, a sport Hodge first played when he was young. An injury prevented him from pursuing a career in basketball, but his junior year of high school, he started to play tennis. He not only found out that the knee didn’t hurt but that he enjoyed the sport, too.

Tennis earned him a scholarship to Morehouse. Upon graduation, he started to work at the Tattnall Square Tennis Courts in an inner-city program. Six years ago, he was named the director of Macon Tennis Connect. He also coached at Mercer from 1993-97 and is the co-head coach at Wesleyan.

He has seen plenty of talented black players in his time, including Farrow, who became a tennis pro at JDS earlier this month.

But with the French Open in the spotlight this week, a lot of eyes will be on Blake and the Williams sisters.

“She is always focused and never gives up,” Victoria Duval said of Serena Williams, her favorite player. “And that is how I am.”


2 Responses

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  1. Send me info on inner city tennis grants! We serve kids from the Roseland Homes Housing


    James Disco
    Program Director
    Troubled Waters

    James Disco

    July 10, 2008 at 12:02 pm

  2. I have two children who play tennis and love the game. Private lessons, tennis tournaments, and sports gear we need financial help in order to continue their quest, How can I get grants to off-set some of these costs.

    Sharon Kwedi

    January 25, 2009 at 9:24 pm

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