The Northern California team from Oakland at the 2011 USTA League 4.5 Adult National Championships in Tucson, Ariz.
© Andrew Ong
By Adam Kempa, Special to USTA.com
Tucson, Ariz. --- Growing up in East Oakland, it can be difficult to rise above the drug use and gang violence that plague the inner city. But individuals like Chabot College tennis coach Rick Morris can make a huge difference in the lives of young men. Seven of the team members on the Men’s NorCal team at the USTA Adult 4.5 League National Championships played for Coach Morris at Chabot College, and many of them hail from inner city Oakland.
Cesar Hernandez was one of those individuals that played for Coach Morris and benefitted immensely from the game of tennis. One day, at the age of 16, he was biking past the tennis courts when the tennis coach yelled at him that they were having tryouts and needed players. Cesar only played soccer, but had always thought that tennis looked fun so he figured he’d give it a shot. It turned out to be a great decision that kept him out of trouble throughout the rest of high school, and provided him with a college education.
Cesar’s high school coach is a very well-known figure in the community, and he makes it his mission to work with his kids to keep them out of trouble. "The tennis courts were our safe haven from the violence around us. We would hear gun shots and see other things going on, but they knew not to come on to the court. It was almost as if it were sacred ground." Through his connections with Coach Morris, he also helps create opportunities for them to make it out of the neighborhood. Getting a chance to not only play tennis after high school but to pursue a higher education can be life changing for these young men and women.
Cesar’s best friend growing up, Salvador Navarro also plays on the NorCal team competing here in Tucson. Salvador is a few years younger than Cesar and decided to join the tennis team because he saw Cesar playing. "I was the only Mexican on the team, so he saw me playing and it inspired him to join too," Cesar said, "It was very rare to see Hispanics playing tennis, but now you see a lot more minorities playing tennis in recent years and it’s great to see."
Most of Coach Morris’s players, old and young, know each other, and he oversees USTA teams at multiple levels. Tennis has brought Cesar and his teammates a long way, from the streets of East Oakland to competing for a USTA National Championship in Tucson. With more Hispanics playing the sport, and with the influence of guys like Cesar Hernandez and Rick Morris, tennis will hopefully continue to have a positive impact on the lives of the youth in East Oakland.
for more stories from the 2011 USTA League National Championships.