I recently joined the American Tennis Association and already feel it was one of the best investments I have ever made.
Peace of mind. That’s right, for a mere $25 I have exorcised the guilt that had been haunting me ever since I first learned of the existence of this august organization celebrating its 100th anniversary.
In case you don’t know, the American Tennis Association is the black counterpart to the U.S. Tennis Association (originally the United States Lawn & Tennis Association) and is the oldest black sports organization in America.
It was formed in November 1916 by representatives from more than a dozen black tennis clubs that gathered in Washington, D.C., to discuss a strategy for growing the sport among black professionals at a time when blacks were barred from playing in USTA events.
(To learn more, go to http://www.americantennisassociation.org)
For the past seven years, I have been a USTA member, participating in league competition, post-season tournaments and even making it as far as the national championships one year in mixed doubles.
About two years before I joined, Bobby Johnson, one of my early tennis mentors, and a grandson of legendary tennis coach Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson, mentioned he was about to play a weekend tournament sponsored by the American Tennis Association.
While I was intrigued, I did nothing to learn more about the organization at the time. But, as I renewed my USTA membership each year, something began to gnaw at my conscience
I realized what it was as I delved into the history of the ATA as part of my research for writing this blog. I had to become a member.
I mean, how could I continue to renew my USTA membership and not join the group that made it possible for me and other blacks to play USTA tennis?
How could I not support the group that spawned such black tennis legends as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe and current pioneers such as Katrina Adams, eight-time ATA champion and the first black to lead the USTA; and Zina Garrison, a nine-time ATA champion and former U.S. Fed-Cup team captain, who now runs a tennis academy in Houston?
How could I write a blog seeking to promote tennis in inner-city neighborhoods and not belong to the organization that has being advocating the same goal for decades?
Well, I now have a clear conscience. I also have a stronger commitment to push for the development and growth of tennis in communities of color.
I’ll start with a plug for the ATA’s annual national championships for juniors and adults at all levels. This year’s tournament is scheduled for July 30-Aug 1 in Fort Lauderdale.
Plans call for the 100th national championships next year to be played where the event began: Druid Hill Park in Baltimore.
At this year’s tournament, ATA officials hope to break ground for a permanent headquarters and new tennis academy to train promising young players. The facility also would house the Black Tennis Hall of Fame and Black Tennis History Museum.
I imagine there are scores of blacks now playing in USTA tennis leagues. I wonder how many of them even know about the ATA, let alone how many are members.
When I ask my black tennis playing buddies if they have heard of the ATA, I get furrowed brows and/or a shake of the head.
Albert Tucker, vice president for multicultural business development at the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau, laments the lack of support for the ATA among blacks.
“Like in most areas of our history, we lose sight of the value,” Tucker, who is deeply involved in the effort to build a permanent home and training center, told me via email. “I do not feel that the African-American community has been sufficiently supportive of the ATA goals.”
Perhaps, the ATA bears some blame for that. It is not the most well-publicized black organization out there. You won’t find many membership drives or see any advertisements promoting it.
That’s a sad commentary when you look at the USTA’s effort to increase diversity in American tennis at both the amateur and professional levels. Along with Katrina Adams at the top, the USTA has its first black to lead player development in Martin Blackman.
I’m not trying to put anyone on the spot here. But if you’re black and you love the sport of tennis, you might consider joining the ATA. Just saying.
As for me, now that I am a member, I have a new item to put on my tennis bucket list: to one year play at the ATA national championships.
How awesome would that be?!