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Missouri Valley

Hudlin Impact Felt in Tennis History

February 23, 2021

Everyone of course knows about Arthur Ashe. And you may also know about Ashe’s connections to St. Louis. Ashe arrived in the area from Richmond, Va. as aspiring African-American tennis players in Richmond were not allowed to use the indoor tennis facilities during the colder months. 

 

Enter Richard Hudlin.

 

Hudlin was a great player in his own right, playing tennis for the University of Chicago from 1926-1928 and serving as captain of the 1928 team. He became the first African-American to serve as captain of a tennis team at a Big Ten Conference university. 

 

He re-established himself in St. Louis, teaching at Sumner High School for 36 years and teaching tennis. He was a trailblazer on the tennis scene -  in 1945 filing a lawsuit against the Muny Tennis Association of St. Louis to open public tennis facilities to all players, including players of color.  He won the legal battle, thus enabling African-American players to take part in tournaments at St. Louis facilities.

 

He eventually became president of the Muny Tennis Association and was the first black member of the St. Louis District Tennis Association. But he is best known for his impact as a teacher and coach. He took players like Ashe and Althea Gibson under his wing, as well as Bruce Foxworth and Juan Farrow.  

 

Ashe graduated from Sumner and played tennis in St. Louis under Hudlin’s tutelage at the St. Louis Armory, the only indoor facility in the city Ashe was able to use. Because the Armory had hardwood floors, it is believed Ashe became quicker on the court.

 

 

Hudlin Park was dedicated in 2018 and is located on Bennett Avenue and Laclede Station Road in Richmond Heights, Mo., next to Hudlin’s former home where Ashe also lived and practiced. The park includes an informational plaque about Hudlin.

 

 

A long list of accolades includes the St. Louis Tennis Hall of Fame (1992), the USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Fame (2015) and the Black Tennis Hall of Fame (2014).

 

Ashe played tournaments around USTA Missouri Valley while under Hudlin’s instruction. Be sure to read a wonderful blog post from Sally Sisson-Best detailing USTA Missouri Valley Hall of Famer Bill Brown and family’s experience with Ashe and his 18th birthday at the Missouri Valley Championships at Dewey Park in Omaha. 

 

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