Banks Finds Calling with Tennis
As a sophomore at Riverview Gardens High School in north St. Louis, Darian Banks had never touched a tennis racquet in his life when his single mom discovered Just-Us Tennis Foundation. The nonprofit organization offered free lessons for underserved populations in the St. Louis area.
Banks participated in lessons and proceeded to join the boys’ tennis team at Riverview Gardens. A year later as a junior, Banks advanced all the way to play No. 2 singles for the Rams. And now more than a decade later, Banks is leading the charge for an almost identical nonprofit program to Just-Us in the form of the East St. Louis Community Tennis Association (CTA).
“With me starting the same way I’m now working in, it actually shows kids you can start one way, venture off and be successful in tennis in many different ways,” Banks said. “It’s really rewarding because I get to see kids who have never even heard of tennis. I show them how good I am, how much potential they can have in the sport and how far they can go in the sport. It just means a lot to me because this is a sport I love so much.”
Banks has served as head director and tennis professional for the East St. Louis Community Tennis Association for a year. Scott Stinson, president of East St. Louis CTA, sought out Banks for the role and sponsored him to receive his United States Professional Tennis Association certification.
“Once they brought this to my attention, I realized this was something I always wanted to do,” Banks said. “When I started, I realized how expensive the sport was. I always wanted to bring more kids who didn’t have the chance to play tennis. That was my mission. Once this was brought to me, I completely was all-in and said yes. I didn’t even think about it twice. I felt like it was my purpose.”
Each week, Banks introduces tennis to at least 25 kids in underserved areas. He runs programming for children throughout the week as well as on Saturdays. Banks also facilitates open play for adults on Sundays, with attendees having the option to receive instruction from Banks or just drop in and play. He hopes to grow that audience and ultimately offer World TeamTennis or league opportunities.
The East St. Louis CTA partners with local organizations — including the Lessie Bates Davis Neighborhood House, Griffin Center and Christian Activity Center — to provide free group lessons or even private training. Banks pops up a portable net and teaches kids at the facilities basic tennis skills and stroke mechanics. The East. St. Louis CTA also utilizes three courts at Lincoln Park that were constructed in 2017 with assistance from a USTA grant.
“It definitely helps having the same experience they are now having,” Banks said. “I of course couldn’t afford the equipment or private lessons. The fact I was able to get free lessons from quality coaches, and those coaches were black as well.
“Being able to learn from people of the same background and same race is important because representation matters. People are actually able to connect with you from experiences. Then they know you’re sincere about your work and what you’re doing.”
In addition to free tennis programming, the East St. Louis CTA provides racquets, balls, bags and other equipment free of charge to participants. Banks said the USTA has stepped up big-time to assist in funding that equipment via grants, on top of aiding with exposure to get the word out about the organization’s work. The East St. Louis CTA was named the CTA of the Year by both the USTA Missouri Valley and USTA St. Louis in 2020.
Those interested in learning more about the East St. Louis Community Tennis Association or getting involved can visit their website by clicking here. Banks said individuals can also contact him directly at Darian@EastSTLCTA.org.
Along with his on-court efforts, Banks works behind the scenes emailing and communicating with parents, developing programs and writing grants for the East St. Louis CTA. Additionally, Banks is employed full-time as a tennis instructor at Vetta Sports Concord in South County.
He’s found time to sprinkle in some World TeamTennis and USTA leagues, including the Adult 18-45 Social League at Clayton’s Shaw Park on Friday nights. Banks played tennis collegiately at Webster University.
“Every single time I’m on a tennis court — whether it’s playing or coaching — it never feels like work,” Banks said. “I always enjoy it. No matter how many days a week I’m working or how long the hours can be sometimes. I love building up players from the beginning, helping them to grow their games and inspiring them to get better.”
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