By Editorial Team
John Wilson IV, a recent 2018 graduate of North Carolina A&T, gave Black Tennis Magazine an exclusive interview covering his journey as a black collegiate tennis player, the current status of HBCU tennis and the racial comment that shook social media – “At least I know my dad.” John has not made himself available to the public since January out of respect for his school and his team, but now John shared his story in an exclusive interview with BTM, describing details and the fallout arising from the racial incident.
John was a successful college tennis player with tons of promise. However, he stated that high turnover at the head coaching position led to false promises and abandonment early into his career.
Armed with only an envelope filled with office keys, the talented young NC A&T men’s tennis team was left to fend for themselves as they tried to compete against top ranked programs in their conference. John’s love for the game of tennis began in Dallas, Texas where he developed locally, made a name for himself and earned a full scholarship to play tennis at NC A&T. John has always been accustomed to the traditions and local politics of the sport with racism thought of as natural occurances while commingling within the country club networks.
Whites were not used to the idea of blacks playing tennis in the South and John began to experience that first hand at an early age while playing junior tennis. The transition to college tennis was not pleasant as his first coach Bruce Myers quit the team without notice in his first year and only left the office keys in a blank envelope. In addition, his second coach, Richard Akande, subsequently quit the team due to his inability to handle certain administrative tasks that come along with running a collegiate program.
Tennis is often left behind within college athletic programs as revenue generating sports like football and basketball get most, if not all, of the attention and support. As a result, hiring processes and ensuring competence at the head coach position have often been removed from the equation entirely. As pressures of winning build within college tennis, coaches of HBCUs like NC A&T have recently been looking abroad to Europe and Latin America for talented top-ranked players seeking opportunity within the US. The racial composition of HBCU tennis has shifted over the last 5 years as most teams, other than Hampton and Howard, are far less than 50% black or African American.
As the mix of racial ethnicities infiltrated HBCUs, the rush of diversity also impacted all-white teams who competed against HBCUs throughout the season. When Spencer Brown of Appalachian State played against John of NC A&T in January racial tensions boiled over into a toxic mix of competitive play and trash talking which led to multiple racial comments spat by white players.
Most of John’s teammates (of European and Latin decent) supported each other and meshed reasonably well. So when the racist comment, “At least I know my dad,” was hurled by Spencer, John’s teammates rushed to his defense and eventually separated John from a physical confrontation with Spencer.
In addition, John commented that other players on his team were harrased during the Appalachian State dual match with racial comments mocking their accents and ethnic backgrounds.
With racial tensions at extreme levels and little response from his coach at the time, John took his story to social media for attention and support from BlackTwitter. Not being quick to react in anger, this incident is now being handled by John in the best way the he feels necessary. John stated, “There can be a lot of trash talking in tennis, but I felt like the comment was over the line and it reflected poorly on the Appalachian State tennis team and university.”
No comment was made in relation to any pending settlement or offers. However, neither Spencer nor his Appalachian State tennis coach offered an apology to John or NC A&T. The Appalachian State head coach later dismissed the comments as heated conversation during competition. John expressed that he has found himself in the middle of many racial incidents during his college career that were much worse than the fallout in January; John declined to go into the specific details.
After speaking with John it is apparent that racism is a major part of college tennis. Racism and culture shock is so prevalent that most black tennis players avoid the perceived hassel of playing on a white team or against white players. In addition, safehaven can not be assumed by attending an HBCU as international recruiting has diluted the historical all-black culture that once was reserved for African Americans.
When asked about possible solutions and advice to black tennis players entering college, John was very open about a resolution. John’s advice to black college tennis players is, “Keep the end goal in mind and allow your love for tennis to outweigh any racial adversity that you may face along the way.”
Communication and professionalism were also important to John as solutions to some of the issues and racial tensions within college tennis. Coaches are actually the first line of defense in situations like this and open communication makes players feel comfortable discussing these sensitive issues.
For now, all that can the expected is a higher sense of awareness that tennis has become a more diverse sport and everyone must embrace and respect these differences in order to successfully grow the sport.
The future is definitely bright for John. Upon recently graduating with honors from NC A&T this May, he received a job offer from a fortune 500 tech firm in Dallas, Texas and plans on attending law school in Fall 2019 with the goal to become a US Senator.
Listen to the entire interview here on our BTM Podcast Show…
Broomfield, Andrews win NCAA Doubles Championship
Orlando, Fla. – May 25, 2019. Broomfield and Andrews registered the program’s first NCAA doubles title since 2008, outlasting Kate Fahey-Brienne Minor of Michigan 5-7, 7-6(6), 1-0(9) in the final round. The three-set win marked the pair’s third of the week, posting a pair of 10-7 decisions before Saturday’s 11-9 thriller.
The duo posted tiebreaking wins in three other sets, as well. In order to reach the final, the Bruins dealt No. 1-seeded Angela Kulikov-Rianna Valdes of crosstown rival USC a 6-4, 6-4 loss in Friday’s semifinal round. The third-seeded tandem handed losses to the first-, 10th-, 12th-, 25th- and 37th-ranked teams in the nation en route to the program’s seventh doubles championship.
Jubb delivers first tennis national championship
ORLANDO, Fla. – South Carolina junior Paul Jubb capped off his brilliant run through the NCAA Singles Championship with a 6-3, 7-6 (2) win over the top player in the country to deliver the Gamecocks’ first national championship in men’s tennis. The Hull, England, native dropped just one set in his six victories en route to the title.
Facing a familiar foe on Mississippi State’s Nuno Borges, the No. 1 ranked player in the nation, Jubb knew he would have a battle on his hands in the championship match. He also knew he had pushed Borges to the limit twice before this season.
“I was so relentless with my feet,” Jubb said. “That was the main thing we were saying with my coach, just going into every single ball. I’m one of the toughest players from the back and my tempo is so high, so I was just trying to keep that up the whole match.”
Both players shook off early nerves as each dropped his first service game. Jubb turned the momentum after a tough hold at 3-3. After clipping the net twice to see a 40-Love lead erased, Jubb worked a long rally until Borges sailed his final shot long to decide the game.
Jubb immediately pounced in Borges’ service game, bursting to a 40-15 lead. The Bulldogs’ senior again forced the game to deuce with a big serve, but again saw Jubb take the deciding point when his great return led to a Borges error and a 4-3 Jubb lead.
The two SEC heavy-weights went toe-to-toe as the next game also went to deuce. Again Jubb delivered, this time with a clean forehand winner up the line to surge ahead 5-3. He went on to take a 40-15 lead in the next game and closed out the set with a great return for a 6-3 victory.
Jubb kept the pressure on in the second set, winning the first two games before Borges got back on serve with a break in the third. After both players held at Love in the eighth and ninth games of the set, both were pressed but held in their next service games, including Borges holding off Jubb’s first championship point with a huge second serve to even the set at 5-5.
Two games later, Jubb served first to open the tiebreak, winning that point and two more on Borges’ serve as the Gamecock senior’s forehand continued to paint lines. The two split the next four points for a 4-2 Jubb advantage.
After switching sides, Jubb’s great return immediately put Borges behind the point. As he tried to work his way back in, Jubb came to net and knocked off a high backhand volley into the open court to go up 5-2. A Borges mishit set up another championship point.
Jubb hit a strong serve up the T that had Borges reaching, and the Gamecock junior buried a forehand up the line for the clean winner and the national title.
“Unbelievable,” Jubb said after the match. “I had to overcome so much mental toughness after losing to him twice this season. Overcoming that fear and regaining believe that I could win was so big for me today, and I did it.”
Stanford three-peats as Pac-12 Women’s Tennis Champions with win over UCLA
By Holly Roberts of Pac-12 Conference
OJAI, Calif. – Top-seeded and No. 5 nationally ranked Stanford (22-1) captured its third consecutive Pac-12 Women’s Tennis Championship tournament title and its fourth straight NCAA Tournament automatic bid with a 4-2 comeback victory over No. 2 seed and No. 9 ranked UCLA (18-7) at Libbey Park on Saturday.
The title match beared striking resemblance to last year’s tourney finale in which the Bruins took the doubles point and evened the match 2-2, but the Cardinal surged late with key victories once again highlighted by the clincher from junior Emily Arbuthnott at No. 4 singles.
“It’s obviously amazing to clinch a final like this,” said Arbuthnott, who not only clinched the 2018 Pac-12 team title for the Cardinal but has also secured the winning point in five consecutive meetings against the Bruins.
“We have this joke on our team that I end up clinching all the time. I think it might be the way I play – I don’t play too fast or too slowly, but it means a lot,” added Arbuthnnott. “Obviously I would have preferred to have won the match point that I had in the second set and get done faster, but I think getting through those three-set matches, especially in situations where you know if you win you’ve won the match, that it’s great character building. I’ve been in that situation so many times now that I feel quite comfortable.”
“She’s really solid and her matches go a little longer which is one of the reasons that she clinches a lot,” said Stanford head coach Lele Forood. “We have people like [Caroline] Lampl who bangs the ball through the court and gets off the court sooner – it takes a little bit of both.”
The Bruins have secured the doubles point in their last seven meetings against the Cardinal, but Stanford has rebounded to win the last five of those contests.
“We’ve got great singles players,” said Forood of her team’s resiliency. “That doesn’t faze us exactly. We’d like to win it and they [UCLA] were very good in the doubles, so we just know that we’ve gotta win a bunch of singles matches.”
Now with a Pac-12 tourney three-peat in the record book, Stanford will turn its attention to defending its 2018 NCAA National Championship, which it claimed as the No. 15 seed and four top-10 upsets.
“Probably better doubles from us,” joked Farood on what it will take to repeat as NCAA champions. “Just a lot of belief like we came through in singles today.”
“We’re really excited, especially with the new setup this year with teams hosting third rounds as well,” said Arbuthnott of the Cardinal’s upcoming NCAA Tournament play. “We’re really looking forward to getting back and trying to defend that title. It was really close last year, but we have the same team and we know we’re capable of it.”
The NCAA Women’s Tennis Championship Selection Show will stream live on NCAA.com on Monday, April 29 at 3:30 p.m. PT.
2019 PAC-12 WOMEN’S TENNIS CHAMPIONSHIP
No. 1 Stanford 4, No. 2 UCLA 2
1. Gabby Andrews/Ayan Broomfield, UCLA def. Caroline Lampl/Kimi Yee, STAN – 6-4
2. Elysia Bolton/Jada Hart, UCLA v. Emily Arbuthnott/Michaela Gordon, STAN – 6-5 unf.
3. Abi Altick/Taylor Johnson, UCLA def. Melissa Lord/Niluka Madurawe, STAN – 6-3
Order of finish: 3, 1
1. Michaela Gordon, STAN def. Jada Hart, UCLA – 6-4, 6-4
2. Melissa Lord, STAN def. Elysia Bolton, UCLA – 7-5, 6-3
3. Caroline Lampl, STAN def. Ayan Broomfield, UCLA – 6-2, 6-1
4. Emily Arbuthnott, STAN def. Alaina Miller, UCLA – 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-0
5. Janice Shin, STAN v. Abi Altick, UCLA – 2-6, 6-4, 2-1 unf.
6. Gabby Andrews, UCLA def. Emma Higuchi, STAN – 6-3, 6-2
Order of finish: 3, 6, 2, 1, 4
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