Black History Month

Celebratory Message from USTA Florida's President

January 31, 2020
Group of young, diverse players smiling

By Clark Higgs, USTA Florida volunteer president


USTA Florida will be celebrating Black History Month this February along with the rest of the country. USTA Florida is proud to have significant connections to African American players both past and present.


Teenage phenom Coco Gauff is a great example of a current connection to Florida tennis. The Gauff family moved to Delray Beach so she could focus exclusively on her tennis training. Both of Coco's parents, Candi and Corey, were from Delray and excelled in high school and college sports. Coco's game has been developed by training in both Delray and at the Patrick Mouratoglou Academy in France.


She had great success playing in the Junior Orange Bowl and Eddie Herr tournaments before beginning to play in professional events. And, of course, she has had great success in the professional ranks this year. ADVERTISEMENT She has established herself as one of the rising stars in the WTA and we look forward to seeing her many accomplishments in the future.


The most obvious connection is the greatest sister duo in the game, Serena (the GOAT) and Venus Williams. The Williams sisters moved to the West Palm Beach area as young ladies and trained under their father, Richard Williams, and under coach Rick Macci. They did not play many junior tournaments in Florida, choosing to concentrate on their educations, without encountering a variety of other distractions while training for the professional ranks. They continued to live in Palm Beach Gardens throughout their careers while becoming not only excellent players but great ambassadors of the game, for which we will all be eternally grateful.


USTA Florida (and the rest of the tennis world) appreciates everything they have done to promote the game and to increase diversity among both the players and fans alike. They have inspired a couple of generations of both.


USTA Florida legend Bobby Curtis was instrumental in helping to develop tennis in the African American community in Miami at Moore Park. In addition to teaching tennis and organizing junior tournaments, he invited and encouraged African American participation at a time when they were prohibited from playing in USTA tournaments all over the country and generally discouraged from playing the game at all.


Bobby made a connection with Arthur Ashe when Ashe was the director of tennis at the Doral Resort in Miami during the early '70s. Ashe was one of the founders of the National Junior Tennis & Learning program in 1969. The NJTL program celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2019. Ashe was a big help to Bobby in his efforts to open the game to the African American community in Miami.


Perhaps the least-known connection is the partnership between part-time Florida resident Angela Buxton and Althea Gibson. Althea Gibson attended Florida A&M University and became the first person of color to win a major with her victory at the French Championships, now the French Open, in 1956. She won a total of 11 majors during her remarkable career, five in singles, five in doubles and one in mixed doubles.


She was enshrined into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1971. At the 2019 US Open, Althea Gibson's legacy was celebrated at a ceremony unveiling a sculpture in her honor. Many tennis luminaries attended including Katrina Adams, Billie Jean King and Angela Buxton. The lifelong friendship between Ms. Buxton and Ms. Gibson began on the tennis courts and they won the women's doubles title in both the French Championships and at Wimbledon in 1956, before Ms. Buxton was forced to retire due to a hand injury.


They had a special bond because each of them had encountered discrimination throughout their careers; Ms. Buxton was Jewish and grew up in London during and after WWII. She was frequently denied access to tennis facilities due to her ethnicity. Ms. Gibson had similar experiences in the United States, but both were able to excel due to help from their respective communities. Ms. Buxton was inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame in 2015 because of her partnership and friendship with Ms. Gibson and for her efforts to raise money to help her ailing friend late in life.


The American Tennis Association was created in 1916 and is the longest continually-running sports organization in the African American community. The ATA has always been an inclusive organization, open to all races and ethnicities while providing and promoting opportunities for minority players all over the country. The ATA has held many of its recent national championship tournaments in Florida and has developed a special relationship with USTA Florida in recent years.


USTA Florida plans to continue playing a significant role in increasing diversity and inclusion in the game of tennis for many years to come. I would like to thank Bob Davis, president of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, and USTA Florida volunteer Adam Ross, noted tennis historian and memorabilia collector, for their assistance in writing this article. I have only scratched the surface of the African American contributions to Florida tennis thus far, but my space is limited. Perhaps we can expand on those contributions in the future.


In the meantime, I will look forward to seeing you "on the courts."


Clark Higgs


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