West Louisville Tennis Club celebrates 100 years serving the Black community

Ron Cioffi | July 05, 2023

The year was 1923. There were many clubs in and around Louisville, Ky. where you could play tennis … if you were white.


If you were Black, then there was only one place that was welcoming. It was Chickasaw Park.


For 100 years, the 12-court facility has been the home of the West Louisville Tennis Club (WLTC), which just celebrated its centennial with a big party in June that drew media attention. One focus of the bash was upkeeping a Wall of Fame with placards that focus on the decades of volunteers who have made the club thrive.

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West Louisville Tennis Club President Aretha Fuqua, flanked by Secretary Benita Perry on the left and Treasurer Mary Bryant on the right.

Chickasaw Park is definitely in the western part of Kentucky’s largest city. The park touches the western border of Louisville and overlooks the Ohio River. Indiana sits less than 1,000 feet on the other riverbank.


The magic of this tennis community isn’t measured in numbers and fancy facilities. There is no sprawling clubhouse and membership usually hovers around 50, according to club President Aretha Fuqua. What makes the club so special is its mission and the people it serves.


“Chickasaw Park was the only park that Black people could go to in 1920s. It was the only place we could be. Using the term, make lemonade from lemons, we made lemonade and formed a club."


Louisville's most famous citizen, Muhammad Ali, trained at the park.


The WLTC was founded when the city agreed to let community residents take care of the park’s courts. The first name was the Louisville Tennis Club. Unfortunately, the early founders didn’t incorporate the name, Fuqua said. When another organization decided to use the name, the community settled on the its present name.


Fuqua said the exact date of the name change really didn’t matter. Hard facts are not what this club is about, she added.


“The people living in this community … we have a disproportionately higher risk of developing diabetes and high blood pressure. So, we can help out our aging adults by getting them involved.”


Even though the club has a great partnership with USTA Kentucky that has an office in the city, the club is not running USTA League or similar organized programs.


“You can go down to Chickasaw Park any time of the day. And you'll see a group of people that are playing on our courts. That is what makes our court so special, that informal play,” she explained. “Adults come by most every morning and have pickup games.”


On the other hand, the club is more structured when it comes to mentoring youngsters.


“Our theory is that we have a free summer clinic every year. And the reason why it's free is because, once again, we're dealing with an underserved community. We want to provide an opportunity to get our hands on these kids. So, we gather these kids in a common location, every Tuesday and Thursday, from 6:00 to 7:00, after school time. And we love them. We encourage them. We support them emotionally. We support them If they need financial help. We do everything to take away the crutch.”


Part of the club’s mission is to upkeep the six clay courts for the city. Members groom them daily.


USTA Kentucky Executive Director Jason Miller remarked, "West Louisville Tennis Club and its leadership truly define community tennis. They are organized, caring, and offer our sport to so many. Chickasaw Park is special place that happens to have six clay tennis courts free to public use. The combination of WLTC and the park creates a unique and positive tennis experience."


WLTC has a solid relationship with the Louisville Metro Parks, which installed 15 new LED light and poles, which illuminate not only all 12 courts but the surrounding areas of the park.


“This a testament to the wonderful relationships we have established with Louisville Metro Parks, Olmsted Parks Conservancy and our community leaders,” she said.


Still, the club’s number one dream is to build a clubhouse. “That would be the ultimate goal,” she said.


Only 100 years and counting in the making.



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