by Elmer Smith
The 200 ATA members who trickled into the convention center were dwarfed by its soaring spaces. A wine and cheese reception awaited them on a mezzanine that overlooked a massive multi-storied atrium.
But then the mahogany doors of the ballroom opened, revealing a vision that matched the magnitude of the cavernous space. Six architectural drawings depicting the future home of the American Tennis Association (ATA) were displayed on easels at the front of the ballroom.
An aerial view of the proposed ATA National Tennis Center projected above the bandstand revealed a complex of 13 courts, including one stadium court with seating for 1,000 spectators.
The new center is planned for a mid-2015 opening on a 17-acre tract at the intersection of I-95 and Broward Blvd. and culminates the vision that led 10 black businessmen in Washington, D.C. to form the ATA 96 years ago. Once it opens, the ATA National Tennis Center will enable the organization that helped launch the careers of tennis legends Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe as well as Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil a new generation of tennis pros.
ATA President and Board Chairman Dr. Franklyn Scott and Albert Tucker an ATA member who is Vice President for Multicultural Tourism at the Ft. Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau deserve credit for laying the groundwork for this historic undertaking. Tucker, “the rainmaker”, has brought together a diverse development team including tennis star Venus Williams’ V-Star Interiors, to complete the project.
Venus Williams urged the ATA members to “talk it up” in a welcoming video that she taped for the gathering.
“Shout it out,” a smiling Venus Williams exhorted, “Let everyone know that we’re about to embark on something big.”
Big enough to support the aspirations of African American tennis players who often find their development thwarted by a lack of funds and facilities.
“We needed a player development center and some place to call our own,” Dr. Scott told the gathering. “At some point, it becomes an economic struggle for some of our best young players.”
In a conversation at the B Ocean Hotel’s poolside lounge, Albert Tucker recalled how the ATA provided a showcase for young African American tennis players who were being ignored by other organizations.
“We used to be the only game in town,” Tucker said. “Our annual championships gave them a chance to play for a national title. We were instrumental in getting the careers of Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe established.”
Lori McNeil, who has been ranked as high as number 8 in the Association of Tennis Professionals’ women’s singles rankings and number three in mixed doubles, is a case in point.
“Winning the ATA nationals got me into the U.S. Open draw,” McNeil told the gathering.
Though it was not always the case, today the most-talented African American players are welcome to compete in the United States Tennis Association (USTA) as well as internationally sanctioned competitions. An indication of how far things have come, was the appearance of USTA official D. A. Abrams at the ATA dinner. Abrams announced that the USTA has provided a facilities grant to help build the new ATA center.
“Our job is to make American Tennis look more like America,” said Abrams, who is the USTA’s chief diversity officer.
Tucker said it would take about $6 million to get the center off the drawing boards and on the ground. The support of ATA members in every region is key and judging from the approving “oohs” and “ahhs” of the diners who gathered in front of the easels at the end of the program that will not be a problem.