I’m often asked, “How did you get hooked on tennis?” I started playing tennis when I was about fifteen years old. At the time, tennis was not offered at my high school. My girlfriend and I happened to pick up a racquet one day and went to our local park. We lived in the San Fernando Valley in California. We had our tennis balls, racquets and just started hitting. That’s how I started playing tennis. I suppose I got hooked on the game because I was a fairly good athlete and tennis is somewhat like a chess game (90% mental), but played on a court and I love it.
When I learned that tennis legend, Althea Gibson was the first African-American to win all the major tennis tournaments starting in the 1950′s, I set out on a self imposed quest to tell people about her. For example, when I heard a radio announcer in 1996 during the Wimbledon finals say that MaliVai Washington was the 2nd African-American to play in a final at Wimbledon, I immediately called the station and corrected him. Althea Gibson was the 1st African-American to play in a final at Wimbledon making MaliVai Washington the 3rd African American after Arthur Ashe to play a final at Wimbledon. To that radio broadcaster’s credit he went back on the air and shared the correct information with his listeners.
I have always been deeply impressed by Althea Gibson’s life story as well as the life stories of other tennis greats. I co-wrote Charging The Net: A History of Blacks in Tennis from Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe to the Williams Sisters with writer Cecil Harris and dedicated the book to Ms Gibson. Charging The Net was written to educate, enlighten and encourage our youth and to get them involved in the sport. My long term is getting a major event, trophy or court named and/or dedicated to Ms. Gibson.
I learned so much while writing this book. After conducting over sixty-five interviews with everyone from tennis players, coaches, and administrators, I realized the difficult challenges that black professional tennis players faced during the era of segregation. I discovered that there were nearly one hundred African-American professional tennis players. Believe it or not it took over a year’s worth of research to identify them. I learned the pivotal role of the American Tennis Association and its collaboration with the first historically black colleges and universities like Wilberforce and Tuskegee University in the development of black professional tennis. The ATA was the only black tennis organization that allowed blacks to play tennis during the time of segregation. The ATA started in 1916 and produced almost all of the early African-American tennis champions. The international Tennis Hall of Fame and Museum in conjunction with the ATA presented a special exhibit at the 2007 US Open entitled “Breaking the Barriers: The ATA and Black Tennis Pioneers.” (Get your Free copy of African-Americans in Tennis timeline by joining the Charging The Net mailing list)
I am an entrepreneur and author who gives seminars, workshops and talks on the history of blacks in tennis. I also play league tennis year round and am a captain of a senior women and senior mixed tennis team that have won five city championships within the last nine years. I live in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
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