Atlanta Coach Sketches a Path to Teaching Black History
Rocky Warner has nothing against Jackie Robinson, the Black baseball player who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball. But Warner says there are more people to honor and praise during Black History Month, and beyond.
And a number of them play tennis.
“Kids get fed the same personalities every year,” said Warner, a teaching pro at Atlanta’s Sugar Creek Golf and Tennis Center. "Jackie Robinson, Martin Luther King, Thurgood Marshall and a few others. Same old, same old.”
That’s one reason the 43-year-old tennis teaching coach has combined his love of tennis with his love of art to produce a tennis-centered children’s activity book. He also wants to facilitate a sense of pride within young tennis players, especially within the Black community.
The first volume of Warner’s “Amazing & Awesome Black Tennis Heroes” includes Black tennis greats Southern Tennis Hall of Famer Chanda Rubin, Lori McNeil, Bryan Shelton, Martin Blackman, Zina Garrison and MaliVai Washington.
The complete activity book is $30. Four-page booklets on individual players are available for $5 apiece. Each is available online at https://www.atasouth.org/youthactivitybook.
The book includes puzzles, name searches, pictures to color, name scrambles, bio pages on the players and fill-in mazes. There are also “Did You Know?” trivia pages.
“I want to talk about folks you never ever probably heard of,” Warner said. “I want to expand it to not just be African-Americans, although that's probably going to be 80 percent of who I talk about.”
Warner’s initial activity book also includes French greats Gael Monfils and Yannick Noah, the latter a French Open champion.
Shelton, who coached the Georgia Tech women to an NCAA national tennis championship, was taken aback that he was included with tennis notables like Garrison, Noah and Monfils.
“That's some pretty esteemed company to be a part of,” said Shelton, now the NCAA champion University of Florida men’s tennis team. “Those three have certainly accomplished way more as players than I ever did. But to be mentioned alongside them for what little impact that I've had in the game is certainly inspiring.
“Being able to be in the role that I serve now as a coach and mentor, I certainly appreciate the platform that I have that the sport has given me,” Shelton continued. “Being an African American, I certainly want to create opportunities, inspire others and to educate along the way. If I can be a part of that in some small way in this book with what he's doing there, obviously that makes me feel really good. It's really important that we create opportunities for those that are to come and make sure that we help inspire those young people to dare to dream, to not be not be scared of failure and to continue to be resilient and really be able to express in some positive way through sport.”
Warner, a native of Oakland, Calif., said he always wanted to do an activity book.
"I was going to try and find a way to monetize it so I could buy balls for my for my program, get racquets if I need to, pay for court fees and even pay for kids that could not necessarily afford it.”
The teaching pro said he sponsors some number of his young tennis students. “It will be an opportunity for me to really help them through my talents,” he said. “Any money that I make from this is going directly into my program.”
Warner came to Atlanta when he was in high school, attending Benjamin Elijah Mays High School. He didn’t initially appreciate the history of the man for whom the school was named but learned.
“One of the things Benjamin Elijah Mays taught me through his works and from going to his school – and it's something that I preach to this day – is the idea of valuing your goals,” the teaching pro said. “(Mays) said, 'The tragedy doesn't lie in not reaching your goals. It's having no goals to reach in the first place.' That is a position that I stand on whenever I'm talking to a youngster.” Mays was the sixth president of Morehouse College from 1940 to 1967.
Warner’s interest in teaching tennis was born as a high school sophomore. He couldn’t afford to pay for tennis lessons, so his coach taught him the sport at 5 a.m. in exchange for Warner holding class in the afternoon.
“ ’I'll teach you the ins and outs of the sport,’ ” he recounted his coach saying. “ ’In return in the afternoons, you’re going to have to go work with those little kids, the ones that run around, the 6-, 7- and 9-year-olds that nobody wants to work with.’
“I did it very easily,” Warner said.
Warner is president of the American Tennis Association’s Southern Region, aka ATA South. The Largo, Md. based American Tennis Association is the oldest African-American sports organization in the United States. The core of the ATA's modern mission continues to be promoting tennis as a sport for Black people and developing junior tennis players, although the ATA welcomes people of all backgrounds.
“I'm working on another activity book now that has the likes of wonderful, wonderful individuals that in the ATA world, you know, it's like, you know, like Tally Holmes, for instance, who kids would never know existed,” said Warner.
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