Tennis offers more than competition and championships for Detroit youth
DPS cuts tennis
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
Unlike some elite individual sports such as golf and rowing, it doesn’t cost much money to play tennis. All it takes is net, a ball, a racket and a clear court. Basketball and soccer, with similar structures, are accessible to people of every income level across the globe.
Competing and winning at tennis, however, is a different matter. Success in the sport requires years of individualized instruction, tournament entry fees, travel expenses and more.
For the young athletes who can afford it, tennis offers more than competition and championships, in the form of college scholarships and great networking opportunities, Detroit players say.
Charlie Beckham, the executive director for the city’s neighborhoods department, wants to ensure Detroit’s young tennis players have the opportunity to compete at the elite level, regardless of their family’s income.
On Aug. 22 and 23, Beckham hosted the Metro Detroit Tennis Excellence Camp at the Barcus Tennis Facility, a public court, on the city’s northeast side. “(Venus and Serena Williams) started out playing at a public court like this in Compton, California,” Beckham said.
A lifelong tennis player himself, Beckham made sure the court was well maintained, despite fence and net thefts, during his tenure as Detroit recreation director.
Unfortunately, Beckham says, the sport has not grown more diverse over the past two decades. “When you see it at the pro level, it’s pretty much a white sport. I wanted to put together an excellence camp… for African American (youth) who really excel, and that’s who these kids represent. They are locally and nationally ranked tennis players.” Beckham hopes these elite players, who range in age from 12-20 and mostly live in the city, can attract sponsors to help them travel and compete on the national level, taking “some of the load off the parents.”
The head coach for the camp is Dennis Royal, head pro at the Gross Pointe Hunt Club. Royal has trained a number of international tennis champs and played professionally himself.
Detroit Public Schools recently announced they were suspending DPS’ tennis and golf programs, “because
of budget considerations,” says Chuck Johnson, media information director, DPS athletics. Johnson says tennis and golf were chosen because they have the smallest number of participants. He says he hopes the programs will be reinstated when funding improves. Individual schools are permitted to continue those programs if they can use their own discretionary funds rather than relying on district funding, he says.
Michelle Bradford says suspending the program is bad for the students. “A lot of things are introduced in school. So if you don’t have that introduction in school sometimes it’s very difficult for them to get that beginning.”
Bradford, who grew up playing with Royal at the Detroit YWCA-Northwest branch in Redford, home to many of the state’s elite Black players, was introduced to the sport at Cass Technical High School and is now a tennis professional at Southfield’s Franklin Athletic Club.
Two of her children attended college on tennis scholarships and her 13 -year-old granddaughter, Jala Muhammad, is attending the excellence camp. Muhammad, Bradford says, has the talent and the passion for the sport. “She hits with the college kids and the men,” Bradford told The Michigan Citizen. “She holds her own.”
“Tennis is a lifetime sport” that allows grandmother and granddaughter to compete against each other equally, keeping people of all generations fit and healthy Bradford says, noting if it weren’t for a recent hip replacement she thinks she would still have a shot at beating the 13-year-old on the court.
Leon Drew was also in attendance at the camp. He coaches players and prepared them for a level at the camp where they can compete and train for bigger tournaments. His program, Greater Needs, focuses on the emotional development of the youth.
“The sport part to me is totally unimportant,” Drew says. “A lot of the children have problems growing up in an environment without rules, without goals… so I use tennis to literally rescue them.”
Drew, a retired draftsman for the city water department, often uses his own pension funds to sponsor his players. However, proposed pension cuts and increased medical expenses have challenged Drew.
As DPS eliminates tennis programs and storied public programs like the YWCA-Northwest Branch, which closed a few years ago, end, tennis camp parents program’s like Beckham’s are crucial to keeping their children fit and competitive — on and off the court.
To learn more about the tennis camp or to help sponsor the team, call 313.320.7797 or email hyde firstname.lastname@example.org.