In the fall of 2012, Scott Stinson and Stan Angelov went to East St. Louis to play a match for their blog Stlforgottencourts. The inspiration was Jimmy Connors and his close connection to East St. Louis. Finding no courts playable they played their match at a neighboring community and then wrote up the story.
Reviving Tennis in East St. Louis
As a result of the blog post Stalking Jimmy Connors, the tennis community expressed interest in helping bring tennis back to East St. Louis. We soon found out the Community of East St. Louis also wanted to revive tennis and add to its rich tennis history.
40 Days of Non-Violence
In 2013, City Treasurer Joe Lewis invited the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to teach 90 minutes a week for six Saturdays in a program he sponsored, called the 40 Days of Non-Violence. Beginning in January of 2014, USTA volunteers taught tennis to 40-100 kids each week. This continued in 2015 and 2016 in various locations including Lincoln Middle School, Jackie Joyner Kersee Center and the Mary Brown Center. Each child completing the 40 Days program was given a brand new tennis racquet.
In addition, we also obtained the “Breaking The Barriers” Exhibit from the International Tennis Hall of Fame and displayed it at East St. Louis City Hall in 2014 and 2015. While the Exhibit was at City Hall, it attracted Martin Rogers, a tennis pro with first-hand knowledge of St. Louis Tennis history. Martin trained with Richard Hudlin, Arthur Ashe’s coach in St. Louis. Martin and the USTA St. Louis District pushed hard to secure Richard Hudlin’s induction into the Missouri Valley Hall of Fame and that happened in 2015.
We also began working with the school district to reestablish the girl’s high school team and provide support to them. Volunteers assisted the young ladies with coaching and equipment and attended many of their matches. This included winter training at the nearby Kings Point and St. Clair Tennis clubs.
New Tennis Courts at Lincoln Park
In 2014, we applied for a USTA Grant to completely rebuild the courts at Lincoln Park (adjacent to Mary Brown Center) and received approval. We also submitted an application to the state of Illinois for funding through a Department of Natural Resources grant. We received a grant for the remaining funding from Illinois in late 2014, and in early 2015, the grant was frozen while Illinois worked through budget difficulties. In the spring of 2017, the grant money was released.
Working with the Park District, RK Builders, and McConnell and Associates, the almost $300,000 project was completed in the fall of 2017. Three courts with state of the art construction — post-tension concrete with benches, bleachers, backboards, etc. — were in place. The ribbon cutting was September 23, 2017, a celebration which the community embraced. As a result, the fall of 2018 saw the East St. Louis Lady Flyerettes play their first home match on the Lincoln Park Courts.
Courts in Action
With new courts to use, efforts began to create support for outdoor programming. In the spring of 2018, the East St. Louis Community Tennis Association 501 C3 incorporated. During the summer of 2018, it provided lessons to over 60 children per week and sponsored three Saturday tennis events. We continue to support programs to grow tennis at East St. Louis High School and within the wider community.