In the late 40’s Tillotson and Samuel Huston College, now Huston-Tillotson University, had tennis teams. A current member of Eastside Tennis club, Mr. Alex Porter, played on the varsity team at Tillotson and Samuel College in the early 1950’s and was coached by A.L. Royster. He recalls in those days, segregation being well in place in Austin, TX and the facilities to play for people of color were quite substandard in comparison to the facilities available on the west side of Austin. “At that time the school had only one slick tennis court with no surrounding barriers, which is still on campus today. We learned quickly to react to fast balls. We even dealt with topspin, slices, inside out shots, bullet type serves and wide shots.”
“I remember players such as Achille “Chile” Petit’ from Panama, Marvin Douglas, a retired fireman, “Preacher “Miller from San Antonio and Willie Roy Conley, Don Coleman, Eddie Sneed and Estella Wright from Austin were very competitive tennis players in in that era.”
In the early 70’s the ATL (Austin Tennis League) was formed and Top Spin Racquet Club formed a team that participated in newly administered league under the COA Parks and Recreation Department (PARD). By doing so it brought to the forefront that tennis was being played in East Austin. This established relationships with other Austin area tennis organizations, such as CATA, (Central Texas Tennis Association) which still exists today.
In the mid 70’s individuals came together because of their love for the game of tennis and started playing the game on the east side of Austin. By doing so they help reintroduce the game to east Austin and to a generation of people who were not aware of the game at the time. At the time tennis wasn’t being played in East Austin and a group of enthusiasts under the vision of Don Harris organized the Top Spin Racquet Club.
They started playing at the only facility available at the time, Rosewood Park. The members played on Saturday and Sunday, after church, to start but soon, because of the popularity of the game and more people began playing. It grew to several times during the week. As a result, the Top Spin Racquet Club was organized under the vision of Don Harris with assistance of his wife Cynthia Kidd and others.
The primary reason the club was formed was to promote the game of tennis in East Austin. Later the club lobbied the Austin City Council to make improvements to the tennis facility at Rosewood Park. The campaign was successful for the COA Parks & Recreation Department. made upgrades to the tennis courts at Rosewood Park but more importantly it established a working relationship with the department.
The club also established a relationship with the Huston Tillotson tennis team, which at the time was comprised primarily of players from Panama who attended the school on tennis scholarships. When the players found that there were people of color playing tennis in East Austin, they, along with their mentor, Chile Petit, began participating with the club and this began a tennis explosion on the East side of Austin that fed off the tennis boom that taking place in the US at that time. The club drew the attention of service men and women from Bergstrom Airforce Base who looked for an outlet to play the game. Top Spin generated interest in the community for the game by organizing teaching clinics for both adults and youths along with sponsoring tournaments at Rosewood Park.
In the late 70’s members of the Top Spin Racquet Club traveled to Oakland, CA. to play in the annual American Tennis Association (ATA) National Tournament. This help established the fact that tennis was alive in the capital city of Texas.
Other teams were formed as the result of Top Spin to play in the ATL. Like Sudden Death, organized by Gilbert Jones, and Boat Owners, formed by Cynthia Kidd and her husband Don Harris. In 1975 Bill Grant formed an ATL team named The Breakers and in 1978 he changed the name to Eastside Tennis.
In the 1980’s Barbra Williams and others began the effort to bring Eastside Tennis into the National Black Tennis Association. This effort combined both Top Spin and Eastside Tennis teams to become a chapter of the American Tennis Association (ATA). As a result, in 1988 Austin sponsored the ATA National Tournament. The event brought approximately 300 tennis players from across the US and some Caribbean Islands.
This great event brought major changes for minority tennis in Austin.
- A consensus among the minority teams in Austin to make an effort to promote tennis in the minority community in Austin.
- To sponsor minority organized tennis tournaments in Central Texas
This event motivated Al Edwards, from Houston, to organize the Juneteenth tournament. This tournament laid the groundwork for the creation of the Central Texas Tennis Association (CTTA). This organization is still going strong today under the leadership of Sarah Pernell with the primary goal of promoting junior tennis in Central Texas. (See link Central Texas Tennis Assoc.)
Over the years people moved in and out of Austin and tennis activity dropped off as the result. However today Eastside Tennis is still swinging at it and hitting the ball! Membership is approximately 75 plus strong but the love for the game of tennis is still big in the hearts of its members as is the State of Texas! Eastside Tennis has teams competing in the ATL and members playing on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at Austin locations such as Austin Tennis Center (ATC), Dottie Jordan Park, LBJ High School and Old Settlers Park in Round Rock, TX for the past ten years.