A century ago, when the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association formalized a policy barring African-American players, the American Tennis Association – the ATA – was born.
It had to be born.
As it celebrates its 100th anniversary, the oldest African-American sporting organization in the U.S. has ambitious goals.
And Serena and Venus Williams may play a major role in helping the organization cement its legacy.
The ATA wants to set down permanent roots to help ensure African-American kids get every opportunity to thrive in the sport.
To that end, it plans to build a new facility in south Florida. The location, subject to municipal procedures, is set for the city of Miramar’s regional park. The complex, to be called the ATA Tennis and Education Complex, will house the association’s relocated offices as well as a museum.
And it also will include a national training centre for promising young African-American players.
The first major news is the imminent announcement that the first inductee into the ATA’s new Hall of Fame will be … Richard Williams.
There will be a stadium court in the middle of the proposed new complex. And in appreciation of the court being named after their father, Tennis.Life has learned that daughters Venus and Serena intend to endow the project with a hefty sum – $1 million.
Now 75, Williams did the seemingly impossible when he brought daughters Serena and Venus from the pitted courts of Compton, California to sporting immortality.
“Everyone thought he was a buffoon, that his process was ridiculous, that his girls would never make it. And he proved them wrong,” former ATA executive director Albert Tucker told Tennis.Life.
Offices, a training centre and museum
The first two phases will cost about $7 million. First will be tennis courts and the ATA offices. Phase 2 will add more courts, and the museum.
“Not only will it be a permanent home, but it also will help the development of the city,” Tucker said. In addition to being an ATA member, Tucker also is vice-president of multicultural business development for the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau.
The organization has been trying for decades to make this a reality. There were plans even as far back as 20 years ago in south Florida.
But the ATA’s visibility will increase with the Hall of Fame induction, the 100th anniversary and the significant gesture by the Williams sisters. So there may never be a better time to bring the project to fruition.
The Fort Lauderdale area was a natural for the project.
The ATA held a national tournament in the area the last five years. And more than 3,000 amateur and junior tennis players and their families took part. The contribution to the local economy did not go unnoticed.
There are more African-American kids playing tennis at the professional level than there have been in a long time.
No doubt that growth can largely be attributed to the success of the Williams family.
But who knows how many more players slip through the cracks?
“We need additional resources out there for these young people and their parents, additional conversations about what the process is. And a focus on reaching out to more individuals of colour,” Tucker said.
“The biggest thing, from a cultural perspective, is that it’s almost imperative that individuals understand the history so they can understand how certain things have transpired. But the (current) players don’t understand how we got to where we are.”
The museum will highlight the accomplishments of distinguished ATA alumni. But there are many more beyond Gibson and the late Arthur Ashe. The ATA was an integral part of the development of Zina Garrison, Chanda Rubin, MaliVai Washington and current USTA president Katrina Adams.
“Katrina’s first access to tennis wasn’t the USTA, it was the ATA,” Tucker said. “Lori (McNeil) and Zina were her mentors. And her name is in ATA history from the time she was a junior.”
The museum also will be a repository of information on tennis at historically black colleges, as well as Caribbean tennis.
Festivities in Baltimore
Williams will be officially inducted Aug. 2 in Baltimore during the combined ATA centennial celebrations and national championships.
The joint ATP/WTA tournament in nearby Washington, D.C., is held the same week. The Citi Open benefits the Washington Tennis & Education Foundation as part of its philanthropic mission.
Tucker remembers Richard Williams bringing young Venus and Serena to the program’s courts to train, when their sister attended nearby Howard University.
“I learned a lot from him. But also I learned a lot about the sport. I learned about the discrepancy that exists in the narrative, depending on who was speaking,” Tucker said. “If we had more athletes into the game, more resources into the game, more direction for families and individuals and more of a comfort level in who they can talk to, it would help tremendously in getting more kids into the sport.”
The task of fundraising, with brick sales a part of the project, will officially begin there.
The sisters, to say the least, have given the effort a hefty head start.
“We have resources in the greater Fort Lauderdale community that are committed to the process,” Tucker said.