Tuesday, July 31, 2012

At 95th Annual ATA National Championships

2012 ATA Nationals Tourney Desk
I wonder how many of you would know what, in tennis terms, ATA stands for, had I the opportunity to ask you? If you happened to be a diehard tennis fan, and of African Descent (commonly referred to as “Black”) you just might know. Otherwise, regardless of your heritage, there’s a good chance you would have no clue.
Big things were happening in 1916. Pancho Villa (freedom fighter or rebel, depending on your perspective) was on the run with President Woodrow Wilson’s troops in pursuit; China’s last Emperor stepped down; Daylight Savings Time was born in Britain; the Boy Scouts were born in the U. S.; the first woman was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives; and, relevant to this piece, the American Tennis Association (ATA) was born.
Unlike other organizations that contain terms like “Black,” or “African American” in their names, the ATA gives no hint that it is an organization which arose from the bowels of racism. It may be uncomfortable for many in today’s world to discuss, hear or read about racism in the United States of America; however, unlike today, where it may be argued (futilely in my opinion) that racism is dead, in 1916 there was no doubt that the scourge of human society was alive and well.
In response to denied opportunities, a group of African American businessmen, professors and physicians, created the ATA. In 1916, people of African descent had no access to competition sanctioned by the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA), the entity that governed tennis in the U. S. in the early portion of the 20th century. Since that time, according to the ATA website, the ATA “has become a Mecca for blacks - from all walks of life –who yearn to enjoy the camaraderie and competition offered by a sport for youngsters from 8 to 80.”
Althea Gibson
Included on the rolls of the ATA’s most notable historical members are Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson, Zina Garrison, and Lori McNeil, all of whom were ranked in the top ten on their respective professional tours. A number of others attained top hundred rankings on the ATP and WTA tours, including Chip Hooper (17), MaliVai Washington (11), Rodney Harmon (56) on the former, and Leslie Allen (21), Camille Benjamin (21), and Katrina Adams (67), a Tennis Channel staple, on the latter.
T. A. at ATA
I won’t ever be mistaken for being an ATA notable, but I certainly remember the days when my former coach and current friend, Phil Gordon of Hartford CT, would take a group of juniors to the ATA/NETA event at Yale in New Haven, CT. What an event that was!
As a junior player learning the game, it was an inspiration for me to see vast numbers of men, women and children encompassing a wide variety of ethnic groups and ages gathered to share, not just competition, but the communal camaraderie as intended by the founders. Here was a venue where being colorful was the norm, where displays of superb athleticism were commonplace…And how I wanted to win one of those events.
As a junior I never did, but years later, after returning to the game and again under Phil Gordon’s tutelage, I won the Open Division, and was in the Final of the Doubles and Mixed Doubles as well. It was well into the night when the sun set on my day of tennis, and I had one winner’s trophy and a hospital stay to show for it. It was totally worth it!
T A at ATA Nationals
Today, I played my first ATA tennis match in 25 years, at the 95th Annual ATA National Championships, at The Tennis Club of Fort Lauderdale. Although it wasn’t the caliber of competition I have grown accustomed to in USTA sanctioned events, the experience was still a good one. I expect I’ll have all I can handle before it’s all over, so I’ll just gratefully accept today’s W.
Lonnie White of Moultrie, GA
No.1 Seed Men's 50
There were only 10 players in my event, the Men’s 50s, but there were nine States represented. Of course I ended up playing the only other player from Florida, William House of Coral Springs, but we had a good time out there, despite the skill disparity. See, although we all want to win, it isn’t ALL about the winning. 
William House
The jocular banter and witty verbal exchanges are as much a part of some of the matches as forehands and backhands. Uh, there are also some exchanges that the participants wouldn’t want recorded, but it can’t be all good, can it?
Jim Garner
In any event, reconnecting with individuals I hadn’t seen in years, such as Jim Garner, who captained a team for which I played in Miami; and Harrell Thomas, one of the first Area League Coordinators for Junior Team Tennis, when USTA Florida was still the Florida Tennis Association (FTA); and to have Tim McClary come across the alley to watch was priceless regardless of the eventual outcome for me on court.
That said, the number of participants was disappointing. I remember full draws and throngs of people at the events I went to as a youth. I’m also not thrilled with having to wait until Thursday (10am) to play my next match, but I will make the most of the experience. Until next, game, set, match…T. A.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece TA! I wish I could've been there to see you making history. I look forward to reading your post on the final report.