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History of Tennis 1875-1995

 

A HISTORICAL BLACK PERSPECTIVE OF TENNIS


by Brenda Johnson-Neurell and Artis T. Ore

 

 

Black tennis in Philadelphia was started and

nurtured by the individual and tennis club that started the American Tennis Association.

The American Tennis Association (ATA) was organized on November 30, 1916 at a meeting held in the Y.M.C.A. in Washington, D.C. Prior to organization of the ATA, it had been the custom for players from Baltimore, Washington, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and the New England States to participate in Invitational and Interstate Tournaments. The first of these tournaments was held in 1898 in Philadelphia under the auspices of the Chautauqua Tennis Club. In 1916 the matches were played in New York City, with the Ideal Tennis Club and the Turf Tennis Club acting as host, on courts located on West l3th Street. It was at a banquet given that year for the visiting players, at the old "Libya" dining room, that the idea of a National Association was conceived.

A temporary organization was formed by the Association Tennis Club of Washington, D.C. and the Monumental Tennis Club of Baltimore, MD., with Mr. D.O.W. Holmes as Chairman, and Mr. Ralph v. Cook, Secretary. On November 1, 1916 a letter was sent to all of the Negro Tennis Clubs known to be functioning throughout the United States, inviting them to send representatives to a meeting to be held in, Washington, D.C. on November 30, 1916 at 10 o'clock A.M. It was at this meeting that the plan for permanent organization was approved. Officers and an Executive Committee were elected and a Committee appointed to draft a Constitution. Thus, the American Tennis Association came into being.

Prior to 1940, American Negroes were denied the opportunity to participate in tournaments sanctioned by the United States Lawn Tennis Association and it was seldom that they were even afforded the opportunity to engage in friendly competition. On July 29, 1940, however, inter-racial matches were played on the courts of the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club, an affiliate of the ATA, in New York City. Ed Hughes, reporting this event in the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle", said:


"The color line was erased, at least temporally, for the first time in the history of major American Tennis yester- day. Don Budge, greatest tennis player in the world, encountered Jimmy McDaniel, Negro National Singles Champion, defeating him, 5-1 and 6-2."


It is extremely difficult to record the name of every individual who played apart in the formation of the ATA. We do know, however, that among the most prominent were: Dr. Harry S. McCard, Dr. William H. Wright, Dr. B. M. Rhette, and Mr. Ralph v. Cook of Baltimore, MD.; Dr. Henry Freeman Rainford, Mr. H. W. Heron and Mr. Gerald F. Norman, of New York; Mr. James T. Howard of Philadelphia; Mr. Howard M. Smith of Kansas City. One of the first American Tennis Association National Championship Tennis Tournament events was held at the Germantown YWCA (for coloreds) in Philadelphia August 19-26, 1922.

 

CLUB HISTORIES
Philadelphia Tennis Club. Inc.


Early in the 1950's, there existed locally a Negro Tennis League composed of such teams as Loverdale, Germantown, Chautauqua, Washington and Philadelphia. Toward the end of the decade, league play declined and several tennis enthusiasts- gathered at the Christian Street YMCA, in December of 1958, to lay the groundwork for what became the Philadelphia Tennis Club in January of 1959. The original group consisted of 18 persons. Meetings were conducted at member's homes until the clubhouse and tennis courts site at 422 E. Locust Avenue were acquired. Work was begun on the clay court surface in 1964. Layout and planning was conduct- ed by James E. Busch, James Strothers, Charles Massey, Al Bishop, Alexander Roberts, et al.

The Philadelphia Tennis Club (TPTC) was incorporated May 19, 1959 as a non-profit organization. The club was organized not only to promote the game of tennis among adults, but more importantly to encourage boys and girls both beginners and advanced players to participate.

During the early years of leasing playing facilities, it was difficult to maintain schedules. Therefore, it became necessary for the club to purchase property at 430 Locust Avenue in Germantown, September 7, 1962. With the heavy equipment of Harold Lawrence and many volunteer members, the area was cleared for the construction of five clay courts. It also became appropriate as well as compelling to purchase the dwelling adjacent to the courts at 422 Locust Avenue May I, 1967 for a club house. After the club house project, the club then purchased the property at 454 Locust Avenue, October 5, 1976, and constructed three all weather courts, thus pro- viding eight courts.

The Philadelphia Tennis Club, Inc. is the only Black, Privately Owned, Tennis Club with tennis courts in the nation, that is completely self sustaining and independent of any local, state or federal assistance.

Charles E. Massey was the First President. He was President from March 28, 1959 to 1987. Past and present Presidents: Benjamin F. Scott, Elaine Bush and Walter P. Moore.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over the years, TPTC have had several Jr. Development Programs that were successful in helping youngsters obtain scholarships. We also provide programs for adult members of the club, as well as two USTA sanctioned tournaments, for Juniors and Adults.

The club proudly lists among its achievements several former ATA National Junior Champions: Junior Gray, Emily Wilson Cumbo, Donald Ringgold, Ericka Lewis, Sabrina Willis, Pam Willis, Kelly N. Wilson, Edith Gill Rannells; and Adult Champions: Dorothy Kornegay, Orlando Cummings, John F. D. Manns, Elaine Bush and Charles E. Massey. Present player affiliations are such players as Traci Green who is ranked nationally and has traveled all over the world playing as part of USTA Player Development Programs and the US National Team. Her brother Frankie Green is also an aspiring young player with tremendous potential.

A prominent player in the adult category is Donald Ringgold. Donald, as a junior player, was ranked among the top five players in the Middle States in the 14, 16 and 18 age groups, and was City Champ at age 14. As a player in the American Tennis Association, he was a National Junior Champion on several occasions, and in 1967, he played at Forest Hills. He remains the only Black man from Pennsylvania to have played that tournament. Donald is now playing in the Men's 45 division and is doing very well in his "rookie" year.

 

Woodford


The Woodford Tennis Club was founded in 1957 by the late Royal Simms. It developed from a group of tennis players that played in Fairmount Park. These courts were known as Woodford Courts and were located at 33rd and Diamond Sts. In 1960, the club purchased a club house at 424 E. Wister Street. It was a three story building with 15 rooms and a large back yard, where a swimming pool was installed. The group adopted the name, "The Woodford Tennis Club". They were fortunate to be next to a part of Fairmount Park which had been abandoned by the Park Commission. Tennis courts had been there many years ago. A long term lease with the Park Commission was negotiated, the area was cleared and the courts were rebuilt. Those courts have been maintained for the past 34 years.

A Junior Development program was started with about 10 to 15 children. In 1977, the club negotiated a contract with the city of Philadelphia: It enabled the club to enlarge its Junior Development Program to 100 children, ages 8 to 16. It eventually became a summer camp, teaching youngsters the fundamental skills of tennis and allowing them to use the pool.

Several students have earned scholarships to colleges because of their tennis skills. Presently, 2 youngsters from Woodford are in colleges; one at Penn State and one at Rochester Technical Institute. Both are doing well. The Woodford club firmly believes in promoting and supporting our black youth. Woodford's current chairman is Harry Richardson.

Other tennis classes and organization are: Parkside Tennis Club; Chamounix Tennis Club; Philadelphia Tennis Center Racquet Club (Awbury); Top Seed Tennis Academy; J.S. Tennis Classic, Inc. -(Johnny Sample); Bill Johnson Tennis Program; Black Tennis Foundation of Philadelphia; am Simon's Tennis Association.

Billy Johnson coaching youngsters in Faimount Park's Memorial HaIL Februmy 25, 1976.

 

A Beacon for Black Youngsters


No perspective would be complete without acknowledging the tremendous contribution made to the Black youth am the tennis family in Philadelphia by Willie "Billy" Johnson. Bill' had a natural instinct as a teacher, and it was here that he excelled and made his mark in life. He was one of the few truly dedicated individuals that had an impact on so man: children, both Black and White. He taught not only skills, but the importance of striving for excellence in everything the: did. It was through him that over 100 youngsters were award ed scholarships in tennis. His program also boasted numerous nationally ranked and professional players. Names like Young Ming Kwan, Dave Abrams and Gregory Williams OWE their start and part of their success to Billy. Philadelphia, an< especially Black Philadelphia, is proud to have had Billy as ( friend of tennis and a mentor to young Black tennis players.


Information obtained from: ATA Magazine 1972; AT) Magazine 1975; ATA-Volume 18- No.2; ATA Office Bulletin Fourteenth National Championships 1930 - Carrol Bishop Philadelphia Tennis Club Public Release Information -Albert B. Bishop Contributors -John F.D. Manns, Alfred Brown Walter Moore, Bernard Chavis and Harry Richardson.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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