Several athletes from East Falls’ Legacy Youth Tennis and Education advanced to their age group finals at the American Tennis Association’s national tournament in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The competition, held from July 29 through August 2, matched 18 of Legacy’s athletes against opponents from across the country and the Virgin Islands. The event honors — but is not exclusive to — the African-American tennis community.
The American Tennis Association (ATA) began in 1916, after the United States Tennis Association (then the US Lawn Tennis Association) barred black athletes from participation. Nearly a century later, the ATA’s website defines its mission as working “to promote black tennis in America.” Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Zina Garrison and Mali Vai Washington are among the professional atheletes who benefitted from ATA sponsorship.
In Fort Lauderdale, Legacy dominated the boys 18s singles field. Legacy secured each of the semifinal spots, and Carlyn Small won the final round. Small and partner DreShaun Jarmon then won the 18s doubles title, defeating teammates RJ Cherry and Brett Caban in the finals. Tori Alexander placed second in the girls 12s singles, and Tyrell Cherry reached the finals of the boys 16s singles field.
Zora Charles and Toni-Ann Slaney have traveled with Legacy to Fort Lauderdale for the past four years.
“Each year does get more competitive,” said Slaney, a sophomore at Bishop Carroll.
This summer, both players lost to high seeds in early rounds but advanced in the back draw tournament. For Charles, an eighth grader at Masterman, the highlight of the week was a mental toughness seminar. The workshop was one of several events throughout the competition week that aimed at fostering connections within the African American tennis community.
“It was mostly about staying positive,” said Charles. “Telling yourself ‘I can’ stimulates part of your brain.”
To fund the trip, Legacy youth had to raise $12,000 to cover airfare, hotel, food, and entry fee expenses. Athletes planned, organized, and sold tickets to a party, held a car wash, recruited corporate sponsorship and asked friends and family for donations.
Lance Lee, Vice President of Tennis and National Partnerships at Legacy, led the tournament trip. After playing at Legacy as an adolescent, he returned 10 years ago as a pro. Over the past decade, Lee has worked to further the center from “an inexpensive place to hit” into a school “focused on improving the caliber of the game.”
Many of Legacy’s teenage players started their tennis careers under Lee’s tutelage when they were toddlers. Slaney refers to him as a “father figure.”
Lee values the importance of the ATA’s national tournament to his players’ tennis education. Lee says that at home, his black athletes “get used to being the overwhelming minority in their sport.” In Fort Lauderdale, the ATA brings them together with “like-minded young black kids” who “share their common experiences.”
As Legacy’s fall season begins in two weeks, Charles and Slaney have set goals for the upcoming year of play: both want to improve their USTA rankings and qualify for competitions next summer.
To help fund tennis education in Philadelphia’s under-resourced communities, email email@example.com.