In their own words: Julius Mashonganyika on Black History Month
As we celebrate Black History Month throughout February, we look towards leaders in tennis who are working to spread this sport far and wide, reaching deep into communities to impact youth on many levels. This month, you'll meet leaders who are telling their first-person stories and who recognize the influences family, friends, teachers and coaches have had on the direction their lives and careers have taken—and how that direction is positively impacting the newest generations. Today, meet Julius Mashonganyika.
I began playing tennis in 1984, at the age of 10, at Mufakose Tennis Coaching Agency in Harare, Zimbabwe. I played through high school (and was our team captain), I played national junior tournaments, I’ve been active in leagues, and I was even an assistant coach at the Mufakose Tennis Club, teaching tennis to youngsters.
Our coach at Mufakose, Albert Nhamoyebonde, produced several top ITF junior players, U.S. college players, and Davis Cup/ATP players. In 1991, our Mufakose Tennis Club team was the first-ever black team to play in the premier tennis league in Harare. Zimbabwe also had one of the strongest Davis Cup teams in the world; four players from our club represented our country in Davis Cup. In April 1998, Zimbabwe shocked Australia 3-2 in Australia, with brothers Byron and Wayne Black leading our victory in the country's first appearance in the Davis Cup World Group.
In February 2000, the U.S. Davis Cup team came to Harare, defeating Zimbabwe. I was honored and excited to see Andre Agassi, Chris Woodruff, Alex O’Brien, Rich Leach and captain John McEnroe practicing and playing in my country.
My journey in tennis would not have happened without the support of many people, and especially my first mentor, Mr. Nhamoyebonde. I learned so much from him, especially how tennis teaches discipline, can help improve the ability to cope with stress, and can improve your mental strength. My friend Mr. Nhamoyebonde is now the honorary president of Tennis Zimbabwe.
Another great influence on my life and career has been USPTA Master Professional Dexter Fong, the tennis director at California Family Fitness in Elk Grove, Calif. From 2018 through 2019, in the USPTA Career and Leadership Development Program, Dexter guided me through the importance of tennis education and how keeping up with the latest in tennis, as well as teaching and coaching, is so important.
I hold tennis teaching credentials with the USTA, ITF, USPTA, PTR and other organizations, including as a USPTA Elite Professional and a USTA High Performance Coach, and I’ve coached the game in the U.S., South Africa and Zimbabwe. Since 2010, I’ve been a volunteer with the USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, working in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia. As a national volunteer, I was a member of the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the 2021-22 term, and currently am a member of the Public Parks Committee.
I’m passionate about inspiring the next generation of players and coaches. I think the USTA is doing a fantastic job of growing the game and bringing a new generation of diverse players and coaches into tennis. While the struggles and injustices continue to challenge all of us, tennis demonstrates love, and it’s a sport for everybody. Black History Month is important—it gives us a chance to celebrate this sport and learn about the past, so that we all can better understand where we came from, how we got here, and where we’re going.