SBJ/September 7 - 13, 1998/No Topic Name

Tennis tries to change image with minorities

Two powerful forces in tennis are planning separate efforts to promote the sport in minority communities.

The U.S. Tennis Association formally pledged last week to target minorities as part of its ongoing $50 million, five-year program to boost recreational tennis play.

And an adviser to sisters Venus and Serena Williams, the two top African-American women players, said the family was close to announcing a project of its own to change the image of tennis in minority neighborhoods.

Taken together, the two projects, if successful, would once and for all break down tennis' stubborn color barrier, which has only occasionally been broken.

"We have a lot of work to do here," said Rick Ferman, USTA executive director, on the need to increase tennis play among minority groups. The USTA, which holds the U.S. Open, has been working with eight other organizations since August 1997 to promote U.S. tennis.

Those groups will spend more than $6 million this year as part of the Plan for Growth, as the program is dubbed.

While the USTA said that many minorities participated in the plan this year, the first of the five years, there was no program specifically targeted at these communities.

Ferman, however, told a press conference at the Open last week that "specific monies will be earmarked for minority outreach" in 1999.

Many communities never enjoy the USTA's largess, said Leland Hardy, a financial adviser to the Williams family. While he praised the USTA for making a more concerted effort, he has more in mind.

While offering few specifics, he said the Williamses would disclose at some point during this Open, which ends Sunday, plans to encourage tennis play in minority neighborhoods.

Getting kids to want to play tennis the way they want to play basketball is critical, Hardy said. The whole image of tennis must change, he concluded.

The USTA also said it planned to spend nearly $6 million in 1999 on the Plan for Growth, a 16 percent increase from earlier projections. The USTA expects to spend $31.4 million over the five years, with the eight other associations spending $18.6 million. The USTA spent $5 million this year.

The Tennis Industry Association will take complete control of promoting the second annual Tennis Month next May.

The promotional effort will also try to get new recreational players into team tennis, instead of tournaments. To that end, Billie Jean King, who has been pushing for team tennis play for 30 years, now endorses the USTA plan.

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