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Thanks to a grant, tennis is making a comeback in East St. Louis

EAST ST. LOUIS - It’s a city with a rich tennis history but nowhere to actually play.

That’s changing.

With the state budget woes and so few things getting done in Illinois, there is this little nugget:  grants from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, East St. Louis Park District and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) along with the support of the “40 Days of Nonviolence” organization is putting tennis back where it belongs:  East St. Louis, IL.

The city that spawned American tennis legend, Jimmy Connors; where his mother, Gloria, taught tennis lessons is a rusted, tennis wasteland now.

The close to 20 courts remaining, from the high school to the city parks are unplayable.

Scott Stinson/USTA: “I came over to play with my friend, Stan, and could not find a playable court in East St. Louis,” said Scott Stinson of the Missouri Valley Chapter of the USTA.

That was more than 4 years ago.  His blog about St. Louis’s forgotten courts shined a light on East St. Louis.

The tide has turned.

The crumbling, buckled, courts at East St. Louis’s Lincoln Park will be replaced by three new, state of the art, public courts.

Supporters broke ground on the close to $300,000 renovation, Wednesday.

The USTA will provide weekly instruction at the new courts and has already distributed hundreds of free racquets and balls.

High schoolers have responded even with no place to play or practice in town.

“Two years ago, we had 2 tennis players on the tennis team.  This year we had 21,” said Joe Lewis, Jr., of “40 Days of Nonviolence”.

“We started teaching tennis with volunteers from all over the St. Louis metro area and then applied for the tennis court grant with the parks district which was awarded and finally came through this year,” Stinson said. “We’re going to have new courts in two and a half months.”

“It all starts with 1 serve and 1 ball,” Lewis, Jr., said.  “It’s not just tennis, but the rules of the game, the etiquette of the game, the sportsmanship, all of the positive things that are generated around that.  So, we don’t look at it as just a tennis court or 3 tennis courts.”

The new courts should be ready for play in late September, Lewis, Jr., said.