Tennis Programs at Historically Black Colleges Receive a Boost

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Rochelle Houston had an advantage. Her father, Joe Goldthreate, is a legendary tennis coach in Nashville, who taught her not only how to play the game, but how to coach it, too.

Houston is now the head of tennis at Florida A&M, which until recently meant she coached both teams. But the men’s team was cut in 2020 due to a lack of funding, and the women’s team makes do. It certainly does not enjoy the lavish facilities and recruiting budgets of many large Division I programs.

That is typical of many, if not all, of the 38 historically Black colleges and universities that have tennis programs. To help address that, the United States Tennis Association has initiated a grant program to contribute funding to those college programs, with the ultimate goal of enhancing opportunities for players of color, especially women, to become coaches and grow the game.

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“There is a desperate need,” Houston said Wednesday from her office in Tallahassee, Fla. “We don’t have a lot of funding. We barely get by. This program will help significantly.”

The grant is named after David Dinkins, the former mayor of New York who was a board member of the U.S.T.A. and longtime tennis player, fan and active supporter. Had it not been for Dinkins’ advocacy and intervention, the U.S. Open might not even be in New York anymore, and might not have its showpiece venue, Arthur Ashe Stadium, the largest in tennis.

The U.S.T.A. David N. Dinkins H.B.C.U. Coaching Grant will initially offer grants of up to $2,500 for each school, but that figure could increase if funding does. The money can be used for a wide range of areas where many H.B.C.U. tennis programs are underfunded, including for recruiting and basic equipment.

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“Our recruiting budget is very limited,” Houston said, “But maybe this can help us get new rackets for the girls, or strings and uniforms, things like that. Sometimes we can’t afford it.”

The U.S.T.A. will announce the grant on Thursday as part of a day to celebrate Dinkins, who died in November 2020 at age 93. Dinkins met his wife, Joyce, who passed away in October 2020 at age 89, when both attended Howard University, one of the premier H.B.C.U.s. The U.S. Open will feature “H.B.C.U. Live” events throughout the day on Thursday, including a performance by the Howard band inside Ashe Stadium before the night matches.

“This is really heartwarming for our whole family,” said David Dinkins, Jr., a senior vice president for sports programming at the Showtime network. “This has been a really tough year since mom and dad died, but the love and support that we have received, including things like this, are incredibly thoughtful and have made it a little easier to bear.”

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Dinkins added that his father’s support for tennis extended beyond the U.S. Open to grass-roots tennis, and that the grant program would have been especially meaningful to him.

“He would have really loved this,” Dinkins, Jr. said.

The concept was the idea of Marisa Grimes, the U.S.T.A.’s chief of diversity and inclusion. Although she did not attend an H.B.C.U. (she went to the University of Maryland), she came into the new job in January looking for a way to help support H.B.C.U. tennis programs and increase the ranks of coaches of color, particularly women.

“This is a way for us to bring more people of color and women into the coaching profession,” Grimes said. “It’s an opportunity to tap into players who have a level of experience, but maybe have not seen a pathway to coaching. A lot of H.B.C.U. programs are underfunded.”

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Grimes said college players can get financial help through the coaching certification process that will help them not only after they graduate, but could also provide them with income while coaching at camps and clinics in the summers. Once an H.B.C.U. program reaches a certain threshold of players going through those coaching certification workshops, the school will be eligible for a Dinkins grant.

The hope is that with more coaches of color and more women coaches spread throughout the tennis community, it will encourage more participation. Only four of the top 100 players on the women’s tour had a female coach in 2019, according to the Women’s Tennis Coaching Association.

“For young people to see coaches that look like them and reflect their background is a big deal,” Grimes said. “We want to make sure there are role models for those young players, who can say, ‘Oh, maybe this sport is for me, too.’”

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Houston, the Florida A&M coach, said she is an example of that, primarily because her coach was her father Goldthreate, who was inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame last year. Houston played at F.A.M.U. and was the team’s No. 1 women’s singles and doubles player, and in 2002 was named to the all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (which includes Howard) team in 2002.

She went back to coach in Nashville but returned to Tallahassee to coach at F.A.M.U. in 2015. She said her experience, having learned from her father, made it easier for her, but others don’t have the same role models.

“Anything that will help other young players recognize that they can become coaches, will help,” she said, “especially for women. Things have gotten a little better in that regard, but we have a ways to go.”

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