Shelia Curry is the Executive Director of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame (BTHOF), a nonprofit organization founded for the preservation and celebration of people who have been historically ignored because of their race. Shelia is the organization’s administrative authority representing all areas, including the Annual Induction Ceremony that inducts the nominated class of each year. She also publishes a monthly BTHOF newsletter covering a wide variety of related information.
In 2007 Shelia became and remains owner and publisher of the website Black Tennis Pros (www.blacktennispros.com) to provide a positive and constant resource dedicated to the careers of Black tennis players. Black Tennis Pros was established to cover tennis tournaments, interview players, and maintain related information on the sport.
Shelia is a native of Los Angeles, California where she worked with the City of Los Angeles before relocating to Midlothian, Virginia. Since living in Virginia, she has worked with the City of Richmond, attended HBCU Virginia Union University with a Business Administration Major, and served 29 years as First Lady of two Baptist churches pastored by her husband.
Questions for Shelia Curry
TCB: Hi Shelia, thank you for answering our questions. Let's start with your tennis history. Can you tell us a little about it?
SC: My initial introduction to the sport of tennis was in high school, I selected tennis for my physical education choice. I played throughout those three years and developed a true love of the sport. That love only manifested a good serve, not much of a game beyond. Nonetheless, after high school my friends and I spent a lot of time playing the sport socially. I also gained a greater love for the professional sport and became glued to the television whenever tournaments were televised, especially the grand slam tournaments.
TCB: In 2007 you became the owner and publisher of blacktennispros.com. How did this come about? What made you invest in that space?
SC: As is well known, watching televised professional sports involves listening to a lot of personally opinioned sportscasting. Unfortunately, and much to my dismay, negative commentary with regard to Venus and Serena Williams was done quite often, showing the young Black sisters disrespect. The two young women were literally taking over the win column since they had begun their professional careers, yet most television commentary, newspaper, and magazine articles found the need to spout something negative in how they deemed the sisters.
Whether the disrespect was about the sisters, their parents, their strength in the game, etc., it was simply unacceptable. On several occasions, I wrote to the television stations that televised the events, but I never received a response, nor did the commentary improve.
One evening after more of the same, I came to the realization that I needed to personally share my thoughts, which would be ‘a good word’ about the Williams sisters, and other Black players that were randomly spoken about. The following day after I created the name ‘Black Tennis Pros,’ I went through the online ownership process and started something, that ‘started something’ I had no idea would come about - an audience that not only felt the same way that I did, but also wanted greater information on other Black professionals, and Black parents that wondered why there was no coverage of their children -- WOAH!!
TCB: What is the mission of blacktennispros.com and is it a growing organization? Can tennis pros join a membership?
SC: The mission of Black Tennis Pros is to Provide consistent positive representation of Black tennis players currently on professional tour.
Subscription to Black Tennis Pros has always been offered, and it has a good base of subscribers. No membership access has ever been created.
TCB: What are your challenges running that site?
SC: TIME!! Upon starting Black Tennis Pros, I had no journalistic pursuits, per se. I only had the desire for professional Black tennis players to be represented consistently and positively. However, as subscribers grew, utilizing both Facebook and Twitter, and responding appropriately to inquiries, I found myself with what I began to look at as nearly a part time job. I had to regulate my home life and decrease my need for sleep to build and respond. And now, as Executive Director of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame (BTHOF), the time constraints are even greater. I’m considering making some changes that will maintain the mission and bring the coverage back to its full state.
TCB: And indeed, in 2019 you added another responsibility to your workload when you became Executive Director of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. How did that come about?
SC: Early in my posting to Black Tennis Pros, I received a message from American Tennis Association (ATA) Champion Wilbert “Bill” Davis. He shared with me that he liked the site, that his brother was involved in similar activities, and that I should give him a call. The brother is Robert “Bob” Davis, who was Executive Director of BTHOF at the time, and owner and publisher of the site “Black Tennis History.” In attending one of the induction ceremonies, I had the opportunity to meet Bob personally, and BTHOF’s Founder, Dr. Dale G. Caldwell.
Shelia Curry with Althea Gibson admirer Glenn Gilliam
We maintained a relationship over the years, and as the organization decided to move forward in a new direction, Bob became President, and I became Executive Director.
TCB: The BTHoF's mission is to preserve "the history of African American tennis and honor those who made a global impact on the ideals of sportsmanship and human rights, with special consideration extended to those who overcame racial barriers." What is the process of selecting inductees each year?
SC: Coincidentally, we are in that process right now. Each year the invitation is publicized by way of our newsletter, websites, and social media, thereby inviting nominations (based upon the requirements on the website or nomination form), for inductees to be selected for the next class of the upcoming year. Upon the deadline, an anonymous committee reviews the submissions, ensures that all requirements have been met, and makes selections therein. Rather tedious, but definitely gratifying especially when the new class is announced.
Black Tennis Hall of Fame Board and Administration L-R Board Member D.A. Abrams, Founder Dr. Dale G. Caldwell, President Bob Davis, Hall of Famer Benny Sims, Jr., Board Member Ann Koger, Historian Arthur Carrington, Executive Director Shelia Curry, Board Member Gary Cogar. (PHOTO CREDIT: Gary Battle)
TCB: How would you describe your relationship with USTA, TIA, PTR, USPTA, and ATA?
SC: There is some level of relationship with most of them, the depth thereof is dependent upon the member of our organization that is involved. From board memberships to directors, to task force members, either in those roles, or we are working on joint efforts.
TCB: The Tennis Industry Association states that there are 17.68 MM tennis players overall in this country and 1.64 MM Black tennis players. Whether or not that number is realistic, why do you think the number for African American players is disproportionally low?
SC: While I can’t address the numbers specifically, the disproportionate number of African-Americans in tennis definitely exists for a variety reasons. From the days in the USA when African Americans were segregated from tennis until today, the invitation and retention of Black players has been jeopardized due to community availability, not being in schools, necessary finances, interest level, politics, etc. For a variety of reasons, resolutions to this age-old issue have not been reached.
TCB: What are you doing to attract African Americans to the sport of tennis?
SC: Serving with organizations and on task forces where the primary principle is improving and expanding African Americans in tennis.
TCB: If money were no object, what would you do to massively increase the number of Black tennis players in our country?
SC: I would flood Black communities with all things necessary to normalize tennis at the same rate as football, baseball, basketball, and now even soccer.
Shelia Curry and world renowned Jazz great James "Plunky" Branch.
I would place tennis facilities, equipment and coaches in every elementary, middle and high school, and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) where it does not exist, enhance existing Black tennis clubs with all that they need, and place more pro level tournaments in locations with greater access. Growing up with the normalcy of any sport in any community makes it a part of your life and choices.
TCB: What is your opinion of pickleball and are you involved with the USAPA?
SC: To this day I have only seen pickleball on YouTube. I just ‘heard’ about pickleball last year! Had it not been for one of BTHOFs Board Members, tennis legend, and pickleball player, Ann Koger, I probably wouldn’t know today!
TCB: : Have you met Serena and Venus Williams? When will they be eligible to become inducted?
SC: As strange as it may sound, while providing a place where giving the Williams sisters greater respect consistently was the primary reason for starting Black Tennis Pros, I never reached out to them, and have not had the opportunity to meet them.
Inductions typically occur once athletes have retired from the sport. At any point thereafter, and the fact that they meet all requirements, eligibility will occur. While these inductions are an honor to athletes, the induction of these two women will be an honor.
TCB: What is your tennis racquet of choice?
SC: No racquet choice. I owned Wilson racquets only because my parents knew how much I loved the sport and gifted me with them.
TCB: Thank you, Shelia Curry.