Match Point Foundation Molds Inner City Youth

By James Posey
Updated: January 17, 2006
Match Point founder, Ron Salter, poses with program participants at Cummings Recreation Center.

Story and Photo By John Posey

DALLAS,TEXAS_ Tennis is considered an elitist sport and, therefore, not economically feasible for most minority parents. Traditionally, African-American children are encouraged to pursue less costly sports, such as track, basketball and football. Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Venus Williams, Mal Washington, Serena Washington and Zina Garrison are among the mere handful of African-American tennis players who have flourished on the pro tour.

If history is to serve as a backdrop, there is merit to the notion that tennis is an unfamiliar landscape for the African American athlete for two primary reasons: * Until the late 1940s, Blacks were unable to participate in any tournaments sanctioned by the U.S. Lawn Tennis Association. Gibson was unable to play in major tournaments in the early 1950s. Despite racial barriers falling, post Arthur Ashe, there have been few organized efforts to introduce the sport in urban America. * Competing on the junior tennis circuit remained an extraordinarily expensive proposition. Junior tennis players often have more the $30,000 in annual expenses for lessons, tournaments, travel and instruction.

Ron Salter, president and founder of the Match Point Tennis Foundation, has a New Millenium philosophy about growing tennis in the minority community. “Nobody’s put the time into tennis in the Black community,” explained Salter during a game of “Scoopers” at the Cummings Recreation Center, one of 10 Dallas locations where Match Point puts on tennis clinics for children, ages 6-16. “At Match Point, we don’t point the finger at anyone. We just get it done.”

Salter, who played tennis at Alabama State, has put the time…and his own money… into the sport since founding Match Point in 1997. The program originated in Dallas, but has grown rapidly. There are now programs in three other states. In 2000, Match Point will reach more than 1,000 children.

“We’re in Orangeburg, South Carolina; Columbus and Albany, GA; Selma, North Point, and Union Town, Alabama; and Fort Worth, Texas,” said Salter, who has been the tennis coach at North Lake College for 14 years and looks at the Fort Worth program as a model.

“Fort Worth has been great. The city had no tennis program,” explained Salter. “David Parise worked with us throughout the fall. They have given me a 14-court facility and they bus in 240 kids for the program.”

Although the program began in Dallas, Salter has received little support from state or city government agencies. Match point is funded by the USTA, Cerf Foods and a McDonald’s franchisee in Dallas. Match Point received a small grant in 1999, but is running the 2000 Dallas program with funds from other sources.

Although the program is receiving national acclaim, Salter doesn’t understand the lack of support in Dallas. “The first two years, I ran the Dallas program with money from my own pocket,” said the charismatic Salter, shaking his head. “Last year, I received $5,000, but nothing this year. No one gave us a reason. I met with the City of Dallas and the staff wanted me to expand to 44 centers, but they didn’t want to make a financial commitment. In fact, my other programs support Dallas. You don’t penalize the kids, you just find a way to run the program.”

Salter believes the development of burgeoning tennis stars like Skyline freshman, Rufus Hill, and Roosevelt junior, Tam Misha Milliner, make up for the lack of support he receives in Dallas. Milliner is a camp instructor and will play in tournaments in Hawaii, Kansas, Memphis and Arkansas this summer. She finished second in district singles and qualified to play in the 4A Region II tournament.

“I want to play tennis in college,” said Milliner who wants to play at a Black college. “My father introduced me to the sport when I was six and I love playing.”

Salter’s ears perked up at Milliner’s words. One of the organization’s goals is to use tennis as a tool for getting inner city youth into college. Through the Interact program, Match Point participants visit corporations, businesses and government agencies to meet professionals in their workplace.

“We want to develop well-rounded children,” said Salter. “We also think that Match Point can serve as a developmental program for Black College tennis programs.”

Although he was the founder of Match Point, Salter is quick to give credit to other people for the program’s growth over the last two years.

“Ernestine Cole has made a difference in Match Point,” said Salter who serves on three USTA committees and attends coaching conferences to learn the latest training techniques. “She got us focused. Before I met her, I was just running a program.”

Match Point has evolved into more than a program. It is a community institution that equips young people with the skills and values necessary to become productive, college educated citizens.