Tennis isn’t much of a big deal at South L.A.’s struggling Jefferson High. The two dozen kids who play on the boys’ and girls’ teams practice on a pair of beaten courts at a gang-riddled, graffiti-tagged park. It wasn’t long ago that both squads — stacked with teens still learning basic tennis rules — shared six beaten rackets and sometimes played in jeans.
“Shoes?” said David Herrera, who coaches the girls’ team. “A lot of my players didn’t even know there was such a thing as shoes made just for tennis. They played in skateboard sneakers. One girl showed up in boots. They just didn’t know.” They do now, thanks to the venerable, 84-year-old Beverly Hills Tennis Club.
This past weekend marked the beginning of an uncommon bond between Jefferson and the club — storied in Southern California tennis circles, with a wealthy membership that once included Groucho Marx and Charlie Chaplin. On Saturday, Jefferson’s tennis players boarded a bus in their neighborhood and went on a 12-mile journey to a corner of the city far different from their own.
They ended up at the leafy club — as honored guests. “Most of us, we’ve never really been to Beverly Hills before, even though it’s not that far from home,” said Alma Roque, a 17-year-old senior who stood back for a moment, tentative as she surveyed her teammates.