It’s a warm Thursday morning at Greenview Community Park — one of those thick, humid Columbia spring mornings that serve as a reminder of just how fast summer is approaching — and beads of sweat are popping off Domino Boulware’s temples.
The stout, 69-year-old tennis coach, decked out in navy sweatpants and a matching City of Columbia recreation department shirt, has a basket of tennis balls at his side, and is busy barking out instructions to a quartet of women across the court from him.
“Get those knees up!” Boulware yells, good-naturedly. “Let’s see some action.” Boulware pounds out one smooth stroke after another, and his players on this morning dutifully give chase, cracking forehands, spinning backhands and firing shot after shot across the net toward the coach.
This isn’t an uncommon sight at Greenview Park. After all, Boulware — a 2017 inductee into the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame — has been working at the park and teaching tennis there for more than 30 years. But the spirited session between the coach and players on that recent morning also speaks to another unique aspect of Greenview Park: Everyone participating in the drills is African-American.
Greenview, which has nine courts, is typically one of the busiest tennis facilities in the City of Columbia’s parks and recreation system. In the evenings when the weather is nice, the courts are buzzing, almost always with a healthy representation of black players.
This type of representation is still uncommon in a sport that has struggled to attain mass appeal with African-Americans. At the highest levels of the game, in the most recent Association of Professional Tennis rankings of the top 100 men’s players in the world, only one African-American made the list: 21-year-old Frances Tiafoe, who is ranked 30th. Things are a bit better on the women’s side, where four African-Americans — Sloane Stephens, Madison Keys, and famed sisters Venus and Serena Williams — are among the top 50 players in the Women’s Tennis Association rankings.
A global conversation erupted last year about tennis’ enduring racial divides after the French Open banned an outfit worn by Serena Williams, and an Australian cartoonist drew a caricature of the player widely panned as racist after Williams responded angrily to officiating during a match. The incidents — and the responses — speak to the sport’s roots in traditionally white spaces.
“It’s always been a country club sport, basically,” retired pro tennis player Zina Garrison, an African-American, told WBUR last year in a conversation about tennis and race.
That history means that tennis — and other “country club sports” like golf and swimming — has social, cultural and financial barriers to entry, which has meant fewer black faces in the game.
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