As I watched the Battle of the Sexes film recently, I was taken back to the 1970s when tennis — like so many aspects of life — was dominated by men, mostly white men of privilege. While there have always been great women players and some notable players of color — Althea Gibson, Pancho Segura, Pancho Gonzalez, Arthur Ashe, Rosie Casals — most of the world’s top players were Australian, American or British men. And white was not just the accepted color of your tennis clothes.

How things have changed. Thanks, in no small part, to Billie Jean King and other pioneers and to a new generation of tennis players from countries around the world, we now follow women’s tennis as avidly as we do the men’s matches. We no longer think of tennis as a sport reserved for private clubs and a select social class. And the players are as diverse as the colors they wear on the court.

Venus and Serena Williams come to mind as two of the greatest athletes — of any sport. Three of the four women in the U.S. Open final round this year are African-American. Around the world — from Spain to Serbia to Switzerland — top tennis players have competed and won the major tournaments, encouraging a diverse and international interest in the sport.

Tennis is not just for the young and super-athletic. It’s a sport that can be played over a lifetime. My husband (77 years old) and my son (39) play tennis together every Saturday morning. They both competed in public high school (my son was on the Berkeley High varsity team) and played on public courts growing up. How many former high school football players are still playing at 39? At 77?? Wheelchair tennis has become a popular sport. Berkeley’s Center for Independent Living has a program at College of Alameda and would like to develop one here in Berkeley.

Tennis doesn’t require an investment in expensive equipment. A racket, a can of balls, and athletic shoes (we all have them) are all that is needed. And, oh yes, access to public courts is essential.

Berkeley has a few public courts but they are overwhelmed by players and groups who want to use them. Not all of the courts are in good condition. Berkeley High School had tennis courts for 50 years and offered tennis in its PE program, but the courts have been gone for the past 16 years, replaced by staff parking. The school district’s promise to restore the courts has, as yet, been unfulfilled.

The Friends of BHS Tennis was formed to help the school district find a way to restore the tennis courts. The historic site on Milvia is the most likely location, if adequate funding can be identified and staff parking accommodated on site or nearby. We are committed to working with the School Board’s Facilities Subcommittee, the City of Berkeley, and the high school staff and students to solve this problem.

When the courts are returned, they will not only serve the students of Berkeley High School but also provide a recreational resource for downtown residents and the wider community. In short, they will be for everyone.

Irene Hegarty is a member of Friends of BHS Tennis and a former BUSD School Board member.
Irene Hegarty is a member of Friends of BHS Tennis and a former BUSD School Board member.