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Monday, March 17, 2014

Jimmy Connors, East St. Louis, Social Media and Relationships


This is not our normal post but instead an incredible story about our blog entry Stalking Jimmy Connors and its amazing effect on the St. Louis tennis community and the community of East St. Louis.   When we went to East St. Louis in the fall of 2012  we were chasing the ghosts of tennis history.

We wanted to see where Jimmy Connors played, lived etc and of course we ended up playing our usual match in Belleville finding no suitable courts in East St. Louis.   We posted our blog as usual and here is the story of what happened.    The blog post in short order became our most popular entry and still today is viewed almost four times more than any other with only the Hudlin Courts blog within spitting distance.

Scott and Stan's tennis team captain Bob Faust read the blog and discussed it with Scott one day and said, "I wonder if we can get USTA to do something in East St. Louis to bring tennis back."   Bob then had conversations with USTA who was receptive. Scott and Stan have both done quite a bit of real estate work for Bank of America. It so happened that one of Scott's assignments many years ago was in East St. Louis where he had befriended Joe Lewis, Jr. who is now the City of East St. Louis Treasurer.

A meeting was convened between USTA and City in early 2013.   The City and USTA were very receptive.  

The conversation included tennis programs and rebuilding tennis courts.    In the fall of 2013 an opportunity presented itself.  A comprehensive program called The 40 Days of Nonviolence would kickoff in January 2014 and would be willing to allow USTA to work with kids for six Saturdays in a row.

The response to the opportunity was amazing USTA St. Louis District and USTA Missouri Valley contributed funding to buy new racquets for the participants and funded the installation of an Exhibit on African American Tennis History at East St. Louis City Hall called Breaking the Barriers.

The International Tennis Hall of Fame provided the Exhibit at a tremendous discount to help make it happen.   Then volunteers started coming out of the woodwork to help work with the kids.   Over 60 volunteers participated and volunteered their Saturday mornings to teach basic tennis to approximately 50 kids per week ranging in age from 5 to 18.

The program took place at the Mary Brown Center a fantastic building designed by Buckminster Fuller and run by the Lessie Bates Neighborhood House who has been a community anchor in East St. Louis for 100 years.  Mary Brown Center is located in Lincoln Park which has 4 tennis courts that are unplayable.

A USTA Grant has been applied for which may cover up to 25,000 of the estimated 200,000 cost to completely rebuild the courts.   The
tennis community appears to be ready to raise the remaining 175,000 from private donors and corporations.  

Midway through the program a reception was held to highlight the Exhibit and Martin Rogers a tennis coach from St. Louis came and talked about his personal experiences with Richard HudlinJuan FarrowArthur Ashe.

The exhibit was amazing and fostered education, conversation and connections amongst all who took the time to see it.  For example, Scott and Bob Faust found out they both took their first tennis lessons from the same woman local pro Bunny Wall whose son Steve teaches at Creve Coeur Racquet Club.

We certainly did not envision the effect of Stalking Jimmy Connors but are truly grateful to the volunteers, City of East St. Louis, USTA St. Louis District, Lessie Bates Neighborhood House, USTA Missouri Valley, Heritage ExpositionRK Builders, 40 Days of Nonviolence and The International Tennis Hall of Fame. Because of you an amazing experience was had by the kids and the volunteers.   Tennis is alive and well in East St. Louis.  Now on to finding the rest of the money to build those courts!

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