The Saint Paul Urban Tennis Program was created in 1991 as a pilot project through the Northwest Tennis Patrons (now known as InnerCity Tennis). The Northwest Tennis Patrons had been supporting programs in Minneapolis for several decades and they did not fund any sites in Saint Paul. While the donor base included gifts from Saint Paul and Minneapolis, it was obvious that Saint Paul had been left out of any programming.
Lachlan Reed, the founder of the Inner City Tennis Program donated
$10,000 as the first seed money for the St Paul Urban Tennis Program
A long-time supporter of inner-city programs and a Board Member of Northwest Tennis Patrons, Sandy Martin, agreed to spearhead the project with a first-time grant from the Patrons of $10,000. Martin sought out the help of two key individuals who had worked in the Minneapolis Urban Tennis programs for more than 25 years, John King and Fred King.
With fundraising support from Bernie Gunderson, they set about to open 3 sites in the City of Saint Paul in the summer of 1991. Those sites were chosen in order to provide opportunities for youth in an area of low-income housing where few opportunities existed for young people. The Bucky Olson Courts at Saint Paul Central, El Rio Vista and Dayton's Bluff were chosen in order to focus on African-American, Hispanic and Asian populations. During that first summer, 125 young people participated in the program. In 2010 that number had reached over 3,000.
A partnership was also formed with the Winter Carnival Tennis Classic, run at the White Bear Racquet Club, and through the support of Paul Steinhauser, all proceeds were dedicated to Saint Paul Urban Tennis. Those donors became the mainstay of funding for future solicitations in Saint Paul.
Meanwhile, the late and great, Ernie Greene had been working with young people through the Martin Luther King Tennis Buffs. He would typically work with 20-25 young people, twice a week during the summer months.
In 1992 and 1993, Saint Paul Urban Tennis invited Greene to merge his efforts and the Saint Paul Urban Tennis program really took off. Ernie Greene's reputation and the respect he held in the City of Saint Paul helped us to increase participation, donors, and build on the life skills that Ernie had been instilling as an important part of his curriculum and relationship with the students.
Ernie always included basic moral values, like taking care of your body, avoiding drugs and alcohol, excelling in school, pursuing a college education, and above all, being a good citizen who contributed back to the world. Greene recognized that his program could also expand and grow through this partnership and the young people could receive additional hours and winter play through an advanced program. Ernie continued to be involved in the program until his death in 2002. He served as an Instructor, Area Coordinator, Community Liaison, and Board Member.
In 1993, a formal Life Skills curriculum was added to the daily lessons as an attempt to formalize the work Ernie Greene had considered such an important part of the tennis program. The death of Arthur Ashe in 1992 also was a catalyst for the program to emphasize the elements exemplified by Ashe as a tennis champion and world leader. Both Greene and Ashe felt that tennis could be the vehicle through which you reach kids and then use that skill to build self-esteem and confidence. For more details about the life-skills program click here: www.sput.com/life-skills-training.php
From the beginning, SPUT has enjoyed the support of the City of St. Paul They have provided park sited, advertised our program, provided demographic information so we could focus on the neighborhoods where opportunities for kids are non-existent. This support has grown over the year as SPUT embarked on after-school activities and increased participation throughout the City.
In 1995, SPUT established itself with its own 501(c)3 non-profit status and decided to operate independently of InnerCity Tennis in Minneapolis. While InnerCity Tennis had been an important partner, SPUT felt that Saint Paul donors would be more committed to their program if they knew that all funding was going directly toward the program in Saint Paul.
By 1996, Ramsey County had also committed to generous funding through the Human Services Department. There was an interest in this program because of the benefits received by juveniles in the area of prevention of crime, truancy and adolescent pregnancy.
Other important partners were:
Special events like the Ladies Doubles FunRaiser, the Alison McKee Memorial Tournament, and the Golf Classic have been consistent funding mechanisms and also serve to educate and communicate with people about the importance of the program.
In 1997 the Ernie Greene Scholarship was established and the first $500 award was presented to Bolu Abe, a participant who had grown into the role of instructor in the program. Since that time, more than $15,000 has been provided in scholarships to young people from the programs who have demonstrated academic proficiency, good citizenship and a strong work ethic.
Within five years after the inception of SPUT, many of the former participants were seeking employment as instructors in the program. These young people proved to be some of the best instructors because they had experienced first-hand the powerful influence and mentoring of their former instructors. They wanted to have the same kind of relationship with young people that had meant so much to them. A large majority of Assistant Instructors have been past participants in the program.