Over the years there has been a lot written about the history of Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. The stories vary on the dates of inception but the basic history of how we got started is consistent. It’s true that during the summer of 1987 while riding down N.E. 7th Ave. I saw a boy hitting tennis balls against a wall at Irving Park. Since I had been playing tennis for about nine years I decided to stop and hit some balls with him. Little did I realize at the time that the next two hours would change my life for the next twenty-five years.

While playing with the boy, Gary Burks I noticed that his racquet was old and outdated; his tennis balls were completely flat and his shoes were not suitable for tennis. I briefly reflected back on my days playing baseball when Mr. Phil Walden provided equipment for kids in our neighborhood. I thought about doing the same for Gary. After we finished hitting Gary stayed to continue to talk about tennis. He told me about two other young female players in the neighborhood who loved tennis. I told Gary that I would be willing to meet and hit with all of them and asked for him to arrange the date and time.

Sharmarra Jackson, and Yolanda Cherry were two young girls that you could easily mistaken for sisters. They had similar physical features; rail thin physiques with reddish-blonde summer tinted hair and were both very athletic. Their agility, balance, and coordination were phenomenal for kids so young. As I began talking with them I was amazed at their passion for tennis, raw talent, and their ability to play without any formal coaching. After practice I asked them if there was a summer tennis program at the park. I knew that Portland Parks sponsored summer activities at Irving Park through its long-time camp director, Mr. Rufus. The answer was no! I told them that I would do some research and have some answers by our next hitting session.

Within a few days I arranged a meeting with Jim Flynn, Tennis Director for Portland Parks. We met at the Portland Tennis Center, about two miles from Irving Park. I asked Jim about summer tennis camps in the Portland Metropolitan Area. He mentioned quite a few parks and indicated that Grant Park and Portland Tennis Center were the Northeast Portland sites for summer tennis programs. I inquired about Irving Park and was told that there was not program due to lack of interest, and gang-related concerns by former instructors who in year’s past had attempted to conduct summer programs at Irving Park. However, he stated that since I was interested in resurrecting tennis at Irving that he would support our efforts. He felt that if we could sponsor two successful years of summer programming then Portland Parks would provide assistance through a partnership.

Before my next meeting with the kids I ran into a man who would become the co-founder of Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. My meeting with Andre St. James was identical to my first encounter with Gary Burks, tennis at Irving Park. He was hitting against that same wall as Gary and I asked him to play a set of tennis. Afterwards, I told him about my meeting with the kids, Jim Flynn, and an idea to establish a summer tennis camp at Irving Park. He immediately agreed to help me with this project. The first thing that we did was meet with the “local gang members” and shared our plans about the summer tennis camp.  They agreed to help by not occupying the park during tennis camp hours.  They also assisted us with cleaning up garbage, broken glass on the courts and removing existing Graffiti.  During those first two years they upheld their end of our agreement. They also mentioned that heretofore no one had ever approached them to discuss their presence at the park.  I thought how easy things could be accomplished by just asking questions.  These were young men of the neighborhood who were happy to support programming aimed at keeping kids from becoming what they were, a stereotyped African-American.

Our organization didn’t have a name at the time but we both knew that we wanted to work with kids and establish a tennis program in Northeast Portland. During this time one of the largest African-American populations in Portland and Oregon were part of the Irving Park, and the Eliot/Boise & Jefferson High School neighborhoods. This was long before the creation of Tubman Middle School, and Self-Enhancement, Inc. that replaced Eliot Elementary, and Unthank Park through Urban Development and Portland Public School expansion.

Our first camp was very successful and at its conclusion Sharmarra, Gary, and Yolanda asked about fall, and winter tennis. Andre nor I had given this much thought and did not have an answer at the time. Within a couple of weeks we decided to purchase court time at the Portland Tennis Center. This was the beginning of a unique tennis adventure and the birth of Tennis Unlimited and its youth tennis program. Once we became a non-profit organization Tennis Unlimited became Kids N’ Tennis, Inc.

KNT – Humble Beginnings to New Directions

Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. (KN’T) was originally founded on the simple premise that if kids of colors were provided quality instruction, coaching and tutelage then they could successfully compete with kids from private clubs. This non-profit Community Tennis Association was originally designed as a grassroots tennis organization that essentially served inner city, less advantaged or low-income, at-risk children of color. During its first five years of operation Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. became one of Oregon’s premier culturally and ethically diverse junior tennis programs. Due to this success KN’T evolved into a program that’s open to any child that is interested in learning how to play tennis but due to its prohibitive costs, are unable to pursue this goal.

Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. was founded in 1987 by two tennis enthusiast, Don Johnson and Andre St. James. Both men noticed that although there were quite of number of African American and ethnic adult players in Portland very few children of color were playing tennis, though many were watching. They both agreed that there was a need a for a summer tennis camp in Northeast Portland. They selected Irving Park for their first camp because of its location to Portland’s predominately African American community. At the conclusion of the summer camp quite a few children were interested in continuing their lessons. Rather than direct these children to existing facilities for lessons that their families couldn’t afford, Johnson and St. James began purchasing court time at one of Portland’s Public Tennis Centers. After a couple of years and learning more about the United States Tennis Association, its mission and programs, Don and Andre with the help of the USTA/PNW and other community leaders decided to form a Community Tennis Association in 1989.

Kids N’ Tennis’ mission as a Community Tennis Association is to introduce tennis to children through tennis assemblies at local elementary and middle schools; work with the USTA/PNW Section to train and establish a cadre of coaches to serve as volunteers and teaching assistants at summer tennis camps and various Junior Tennis Programs throughout the Portland Metropolitan Area; and to provide reduced and free tennis lessons at the St. Johns Racquet Center and our summer tennis camp sites.

Established in 1987, the initial goal of Kids N’ Tennis, Inc. was to recruit and introduce more African – American youth to tennis. In spite of our new direction and expansion, this remains one of our major goals. With this assistance and guidance of our staff, we hope to help all “Kids” improve their tennis game, by making it fundamentally sound; help improve their conditioning and fitness; expand their awareness of tactics and on-court strategies; help them become more mentally tough during match and tournament play; and finally to teach, model, and encourage tennis etiquette and good sportsmanship. Our objective was to create a model inner city youth tennis program that others may use to meet the needs of the “Kids” they intend to serve.

Our original Mission Statement, Goal, and Objectives were:

Mission Statement:

Kids N’ Tennis is a non-profit organization, its mission is to increase the number of inner-city junior tennis players by establishing a comprehensive Junior Tennis Program that is culturally and ethnically diversified and affordable for every participant.


Our goal is to provide reduced and free lessons to children that have been historically underrepresented in tennis and to train coaches who are interested in working in our Junior Development and Tennis Academy Programs.


Kids N’ Tennis’ objective is to use tennis as a vehicle to teach and reinforce educational, social, and life skills through a sport which offers boys and girls similar opportunities for success. Our outreach targets children who minority, at-risk and/or from lower income households.