In the ghettos’ of the United States tennis has long been regarded as a game strictly for the moneyed set. If you were black and played tennis it was seen as a defection from your race and a sign of a “wannabe”. That has changed in the last decade as the achievements of the Williams sister has shone so brightly that little black girls dare to dream that they to could one day achieve a similar success. The story of Venus and Serena Williams is one of courage and challenge. It is a story of one father’s dream for his children to succeed in a sport he loved.
Tennis was originally played indoors and the game dates as far back as the eleventh century. The monks that played it in their monasteries called it JEU DU PAUME. It was not until the fifteenth century that a form of strung racket much as we know them today was introduced in the game, by an Italian Priest, Antonio da Scalo. It is interesting to note that much like golf and polo tennis was a favorite of the aristocracy. As it made its way to England where croquet was all the rage the All- England Croquet Club in Wimbledon agreed to allow some of its grounds to be used for the game. In June of 1877 the committee at the club agreed to organize a championship in lawn tennis as it was called then. This was the start of the most famous tennis event in the world-the Wimbledon championship. The first women’s singles at Wimbledon was not until 1884 it was even longer for the championship to be played here in America. Women were glad to finally have a game they could excel in and tennis gave a lot of women the hopes of becoming gold medal champions as it was originally included in the Olympic games.
Yet, throughout most of tennis’ illustrious history people of color have shied away from the sport. Since most of the tennis played in this country was at country clubs with exorbitant fees and the no blacks allowed creed learning the game and getting good at it was almost impossibility. In the 1960″s Arthur Ashe was a standout in black America as he went to the net and came back a champion. It would be decades before another African American, would even come close to the fame and recognition garnered by Mr. Ashe.
In most African American communities excelling at some sport was seen as a way to escape the abject poverty and violence of the tenement house and projects they called home. This was mostly in the form of baseball, basketball, track and field and football. These sports were male oriented and the females had little hope of gaining prominence and riding the sports train out of the ghetto. Now with the advent of the sisters Williams a light has appeared and little African American girls now dream of not just maybe being the next. Jackie Joyner but they can see themselves playing a sport reserved in the past for royalty.
Today tennis is an inexpensive sport. You can buy a racket fairly cheap, but there are those that cost a small fortune. The cost of hiring a court is minimal especially if there are four players. It is even free at the local parks and some recreation centers. The most important change is that tennis is now taught in most schools and the game can be played year round because of the indoor courts. Joining a club is still advisable and most clubs accept members at early ages and for the most part the earlier your child starts the better their game. Tennis teaches discipline and sportsmanship two areas that will cross over into other areas of a Child’s’ life. Let them start as young as you feel comfortable with. The benefits are tremendous.