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Tennis: A Social and Cultural Bridge Builder

Bernard A. ChavisContributor INovember 17, 2010

LONDON - JUNE 07:  Jamie Delgado (R) of Great Britan shakes hands after winning his first round match against Gael Monfils (L) of France at the Stella Artois Tennis Championships at the Queen's Club June 7, 2005 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

The Borough of Yeadon, Delaware County, Pa., is a small, ever-evolving diverse community suburb of Philadelphia. It wasn’t always that way.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the community was partially segregated. Black people who applied for membership to the All White Yeadon Swim Club were denied membership.

The constant denials led to a group of local business people and residents to come together and form the Nile Swim club.

The venture became the first owned and operated Black swim club in the United States at the time, gaining much notoriety and news headlines around the country. It was a thriving entity for many years.

It survives barely in today’s struggling economy. On the other hand, the former All White Yeadon Swim Club is now defunct, having fallen on hard times and a depressed economy.

This five-acre property was purchased by the Borough a few years ago for back taxes. In its day, it had an Olympic-sized swimming pool, clubhouse picnic grounds and two tennis courts.

Enter Jeffrey Harmon, a Yeadon resident from Liberia, Africa, and a tennis instructor who is also the founder for the Community Integration Program in Yeadon.

The Borough has a sizable African and African-American population. Over the years, friction due to cultural differences built up.

Mr. Harmon thought that tennis might be a way to ease tensions and begin a dialog of understanding.  He hoped to use the Community Integration Program as a vehicle to bring the two groups together.

He contacted Mr. Roy Hunter, the Recreation Manager for the Borough, and requested to use the two decaying and unused tennis courts at the Yeadon Swim Club property to bring the sport of tennis to the youth in the community.  

Mr. Hunter indicated that the sport of tennis had not been visible in this suburban community for a number of years. Hunter remembered a discussion he had with me after my book signing of “The Games of Tennis,” An African American Journey at the Yeadon Library in March 2010, where I indicated that I had some tennis resources to help with the project through the Black Tennis Foundation of Philadelphia, Inc.

I contacted Kitty Perrin a Tennis Services Representative for the USTA/Middle States Tennis Association. Together we planned a USTA Tennis “Block Party” for May 22, 2010. The Black Tennis Foundation furnished free tennis racquets, t-shirts and tennis caps.

USTA offered “Quick Start” tennis short courts and wrist bands. The Yeadon Recreation Department contributed bottled water, the facility at the Yeadon Swim Club property and the circulation of fliers at key locations in the community of the upcoming event.

(See photos) http://www.photoshow.com/watch/BJ2ce3iA

The event was a smashing success. Those attending included a mixture of African and African-American parents and youth. The two groups mingled freely, communicated and started an informal dialog that is the start of bridging and understanding of the different cultures and backgrounds.

The Mayor of Yeadon Borough, Dolores Jones Butler, a forward thinking individual, learned of Arthur Ashe Kids Day at the US Open Tennis Championships in New York and initiated a bus trip for the youth that participated in the Tennis “Block Party.”

The youth and the Mayor along with some of the parents and tennis instructor Jeffery Harmon made the trip and had the wonderful experience of seeing this event. Louis Bolling, a Yeadon resident who resided in South Africa for a number of years, held tennis clinics for youth on the Nile Swim Clubs two tennis courts during the summer in conjunction with the programs that were held at the old Yeadon Swim Club property.

Mayor Butler, with the unanimous approval of the Borough Council, is now planning to use part of the old Yeadon Swim Club tract to reconstruct the tennis courts and refurbish the club house with the help of the USTA, who has a program to assist communities who are promoting the sport of tennis. The benefits of playing tennis often reach beyond physical aspects.

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