"There is opportunity for all of us."
by Rich Neher
It’s been a while since I ventured out of my sheltered office in the Los Angeles area to visit a tennis facility. Then I heard of the grassroots tennis efforts of Veronica Badon in Alta Dena, a mere 20 miles. And I went and met a wonderful person with a great program, a vision, and a super personality.
Veronica Badon is the owner of the Badon Tennis Academy based in Altadena, California and serving the greater Pasadena area. Her main facility os Loma Alta Park, a 4-hard court public facility located at 3330 North Lincoln Ave. Her Academy serves kids, juniors, and adults with extensive programming that includes USTA Junior Team Tennis league teams.
Veronica happens to be a USPTA-certified instructor who has taught professionally for over 30 years. She's, in my humble opinion, the quintessential grassroots tennis ambassador who I sometimes refer to as salt-of-the-earth professional. She's doing what she loves without big fanfare and promoting her programs mainly through word-of-mouth. She has been a rock for her community despite Covid-19 and all the misery that accompanied that pandemic.
I asked Veronica about her upbringing in regards to tennis. She replied, "Born in Harbor City, California, my family moved to the Pasadena area when I was 9. My sister started me off playing tennis a year later but I also played baseball. I played tennis in high school and at Pasadena City College." She began working in a tennis shop, played tournaments ("I wanted to learn how to win"), and won a tennis scholarship at Cal State LA. She became #1 in the west and #7 in the nation.
Tennis courts at Loma Alta Park
At age 25 Veronica tried her hands at teaching tennis. She also had various regular jobs but wasn't happy and when she realized that tennis is what she loved to do, she decided to do more and start her own full-time tennis business in 1999.
I asked Veronica what was it like growing up as a Black female in the LA area, living through two riots (guessing she was a baby during Watts).
She replied, "As a female, I felt disgusted, disappointed, and scared. Playing tennis kept me grounded and focused. I was playing tennis at Cal State L.A. 1992, we were on our way to NCAA championships in Amarillo Texas. We worried that they would cancel our flight out of LAX. We were the last flight out when they closed the airport.
I hope that the majority of cities across America can initiate police reform. It is time for an equal system."
In 2002, Veronica discovered Loma Alta Park, a public park located "in the poor part of town, all African American residents, gangs." The park has 4 hard courts but no one was using them. She began teaching tennis to her three sons and created a program to attract people to the park and to tennis. The program grew slowly over the years, teams for Team Tennis were created, her group classes became popular. In 2007 her kids won Junior Team Tennis sectionals.
When the market crashed in 2008, Badon Tennis experienced a couple of rough years. But in 2010, business was picking up again
My next question: What was it like learning to play tennis and playing at a high level in a "white man's sport?"
"I started playing at 10 years old. I played with grown men most of the time. I did not know any kids that would play for hours. I trained at the Crosby tennis clinic when I was 17. I was the only Black student there. I didn't feel welcomed. I made the travel team and they immediately changed my grip and gave me challenge matches on the same day. Unfortunately, I lost the challenge matches and was taken off the team. It was difficult to feel part of the group."
Veronica's oldest son played on a scholarship for Alabama State. Her youngest son Jean Baptiste is #1 in Southern Cal 18U at age 16 and happens to be the first African American boy to make the SoCal sectional final since 2004.
Covid-19 has, of course, affected Veronica's group classes since early 2020. Now that the State of California is slowly opening up again, things seem to change for the better. Through the Scholarship Program, Badon Tennis Academy also offers homework assistance and tutoring for kids for eight weeks during the summer, four times a week for 90 minutes. She also strings racquets for her students. Veronica herself plays with a Völkl V-Sense racquet.
Asked what she would do if money were no object, she replied, "I would still do my projects trying to make a positive impact on children and on the community."
THERE IS OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL OF US!
Last question for Veronica Badon: What do Black History Month and Black Lives Matter mean to you?
"Black history month is our designated month to talk about our contributions to the United States of America. However the history of everyone in America affects everyone, it should not be compartmentalized. The history of all American people is intertwined together. To leave anyone's history out is to ignore them and tell an incomplete truth.
What Black Lives Matter means to me is: Can we vote without being suppressed? Do we have the same rights as everyone else? Why are we still asking for equal citizenship? Black Lives Matter is asking for systemic racism to be dismantled in the areas of housing, education, mass incarceration, employment, equal pay, entrepreneurism, health care, and more.
We have an opportunity as a nation to repair and improve our relationships. We need to send the message that there is room for all of us. There is opportunity for all of us. I believe we can do this."
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