Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Tennis is surging in Memphis

Young children are learning to play tennis. (Courtesy photo)
     If the number of children participating in the Bellevue Tennis Center’s Family and Friends Tennis & Health Fest on May 21 were an indication of its success, then Arnold Thompson wouldn’t have a problem admitting the objective was accomplished.
Of the more than 200 people participating in the first-ever tennis clinic for adults and children at Jesse Turner Park at the corner of South Parkway and Bellevue in South Memphis, a sizable number of the participants were children.
“We’re reaching a lot of kids each year. We want to reach more,” said Thompson, a certified tennis professional and director of programs for Tennis Memphis, Inc., the event sponsor. “It’s a way of reaching out to the community.”
Tennis Memphis is a 501c3 non-profit organization governed by a board of directors working in partnership with the City of Memphis to manage and operate the city's seven municipal tennis centers: Bellevue, Eldon Roark/Whitehaven, Frayser, Leftwich, Raleigh, Wolbrecht and Wooddale.
Carrington Brown wins a tennis
match at Eldon Roark Tennis Center
last year. (Courtesy photo)
The mission is to build a better community through tennis, education, mentoring and a number of programs.
Tennis Memphis is a USTA Community Tennis Association organization and a member of the National Junior Tennis and Learning (NJTL) network of nearly 600 nonprofit organizations. Tennis Memphis ranks among the top 20 USTA affiliates, Thompson said.
NJTL was founded in 1969 by tennis legend Arthur Ash and two others who set out to make tennis available to traditionally underserved youth, regardless of gender, race, or socioeconomic status. Ashe died in 1993.
Although African Americans are less likely to pursue tennis compared to, say, basketball, baseball or football, Thompson is hoping to introduce more children to the sport and encourage them to become professional tennis players some day.
“We want to make tennis an equal opportunity sport as basketball and football. We want to put tennis on that kind of status, locally,” said Thompson, noting that Tennis Memphis has been able to reach 3,000 to 3,500 children annually.
He figures at least 70 percent of the overall number of children playing tennis each year in Memphis and the Mid-South is African American. He said adults opting to learn the sport number around 2,000 each year.
“We’re starting lots of black kids playing tennis every year. Seventy percent of the kids are going to be playing tennis for the very first time,” he said. “What we want to do is increase how many of them will continue to play after learning to play in their first summer camp.”
NJTL summer camps have begun. Campers are encouraged to participate by registering online at, or by mailing a completed form and payment to Leftwich Tennis Center, c/o NJTL Camp, 4145 Southern Avenue, Memphis, TN 38117; or in person at the following locations: Bellevue, Eldon Roark/Whitehaven, Leftwich and Wolbrecht.
Summer camps will run for six weeks Monday – Friday, 8 a.m. to noon, and end July 22. A summer pass is $195. Scholarships are available too. Children 5 – 18 are encouraged to participate. Tennis rackets will be provided as well. Check the website for more details.
There is nothing like tennis,” Thompson said.

For more information about the summer camps, contact Kent Smith, camp coordinator, at (901) 237-5677 or by email at To learn more about Tennis Memphis, Inc., contact Arnold Thompson at (901) 679-7394 or log onto www. Tennis Memphis is located at 4145 Southern Ave.

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