International tennis player Arthur Ashe and his coach Richard Hudlin, who both broke racial barriers in the sport, are getting their own park right next to the place that started it all.
The city of Richmond Heights and the Richmond Heights Historical Society dedicated the Ashe-Hudlin Park on Sunday. The small park is located at the intersection of Bennett Avenue and Laclede Station Road, next to Hudlin’s former home at 1221 Laclede Station Road where Ashe also lived and practiced.
In 1960, a teenage Ashe relocated from Richmond, Virginia to St. Louis, where he would eventually graduate from Sumner High School, where Hudlin also taught and coached. At the time, African-Americans interested in tennis in Richmond were not allowed to use the indoor tennis facilities during the colder months.
According to Joellen McDonald, president and archivist for the Richmond Heights Historical Society, when Ashe started practicing in St. Louis, the only known indoor facility he was able to use was the Armory in Midtown, St. Louis.
“It was there that Richard Hudlin could find people who were talented tennis players who would play against Arthur Ashe, to try to bring his skills up,” McDonald said.
Because the Armory had hardwood floors, Ashe was able to move and play faster. McDonald says it changed the way he played tennis.
Like Ashe, Hudlin was an accomplished tennis player and was known for breaking racial barriers in the sport that had been historically segregated. In 1928, he notably became the first African-American captain of the University of Chicago tennis team. He went on to teach social studies and coach tennis for 36 years at Sumner High School.
McDonald said one way he was able to bridge the gap in tennis was by mentoring local youth.
“He ran clinics all the time,” McDonald said. “Some formally and some informally in St. Louis for children particularly in neighborhoods where they wouldn’t have been exposed to learning how to play tennis.”
Hudlin was also responsible for establishing the Tandy Park Muny Tennis Association. In 1945, Hudlin filed a lawsuit against the city of St. Louis so that African-Americans would be able to use tennis courts in the city. He won the case.
“Tandy Park was actually the one that he was concentrating on at that time, just to win the opportunity to be able to bring these kids in, and begin the process of teaching them the rules and giving them the practice,” McDonald said.
Both Hudlin and McDonald wanted to find ways to mentor youth throughout their careers.
Ashe went on to win the U.S. Open in 1968 and became the first African-American man to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon in 1975, before retiring from the sport in 1979 due to a heart condition.
The new park will include an informational plaque and two benches. The dedication ceremony also recognized the Bennett Avenue Historic District.
Follow Marissanne Lewis-Thompson on Twitter @Marissanne2011.