“Tennis, it’s a lifelong sport,” said Eddie Luby from Gaines Park Tennis Assocation. Eddie was first introduced to tennis as a child in physical education class. But, the driving factor that brought him back was the competitiveness of the game.
“My brother and I messed around with tennis, but it wasn’t until I heard these two guys on the yard talking trash [to each other] like ‘they play tennis’ and ‘I can beat you and you can beat me’ and all this other kind of stuff,” he said. “They actually went, got their stuff, and they went to the tennis courts. So, I followed those guys around and I was impressed with the match that they played. I decided I wanted to learn how to be better.”
He attended Shaw University, a HBCU and played tennis there, but it was after his competitive playing days where he found his true passion, teaching the youth. “I wanted to be a football coach, but I figured out I’m not big, strong, or fast enough to be a football coach,” he said. “Once I came back [home], I realized I really enjoy teaching kids.”
In 2014, with the help from one of his friends, they started youth leagues and clinics for kids to come out and play tennis. Eddie got certified and helped out when he could. He eventually moved back to his mom’s home in Riviera Beach, where he ended up at Gaines Park.
Eddie loves to see the smile on faces when someone has been working hard to accomplish a goal and finally reaches that milestone. “You can teach and teach and teach, and they have their struggling, and then all of a sudden, they’ll have this eureka moment!”
He is the Chair of Gaines Park Tennis Association (GPTA) and a coach. To top it off, it’s all volunteer work, Eddie doesn’t get paid to spend his time teaching people of all ages. However, he credits a lot of what he does to a man named Jimmie “Doc” Horne Sr., a tennis legend in West Palm Beach.
“He basically brought tennis to West Palm Beach parks and recreation area,” he recalled. “Doc was not a paid employee, he just loved doing it and he taught a lot of people how to play tennis. Unfortunately, he passed in 2008, and no one stepped into his shoes to keep his legacy going.”
Years later, Eddie heard of a guy, Michael Williams, in the area that was offering free tennis clinics. “Through the grapevine, we heard about each other, and I started helping him around 2018,” he said. This led to the pair forming what is now known as Gaines Tennis Park Association, in 2019.
At their tennis facility they have introduced Junior Team Tennis to players as well as hosting multiple clinics for people of all ages. “We have [players] with ages ranging from 6 all the way to 79.” Three days a week GPTA offers classes in the afternoon stretching from red ball to beginner adult lessons.
“It’s hard to get people who have the passion that we have and not get paid,” he said, “We’ve been trying to figure out how can we get some resources to get some more coaches and other things we want to do to teach the kids, like help with their schooling. We have a program we’re trying to get off the ground, called ‘Baseline and Books’ where we can do some tennis and then help them with their homework.”
Up until very recently, everything that GPTA offered was free of charge, but even now it’s only $25 for an eight-week session, where players can come out three times a week.
Why is it important to celebrate Black History Month
While Eddie was growing up, he said there were many moments when he felt uncomfortable and experienced belittlement. But what helped him get through it was remembering what reality is versus what people want you to think it is.
He talked about his childhood and mentioned he would only see a “black person on TV if they were a maid, butler, dancer or singer.” He knew that couldn’t be reality, so he went to a library, started reading and learning more about black history.
“The word ‘history’ is ‘his-story’,” Eddie said. “Who’s telling that story? It’s up to each person to look into themselves and basically ask the question, ‘is this reality or this the reality somebody wants me to think is reality?’”
No one should ever feel uncomfortable in their own skin and no one’s accomplishments should be undervalued. “Everybody wants the same thing, everybody wants to live a decent life, they don’t want to do a lot of struggling,” Eddie said.
Eddie has a powerful message to helping underserved areas, “we want to uplift our community. We’re trying to give back because we know what it looks like, and we know how important it is for our youngsters to see people like us that are successful and trying to help out.”
Seeing is believing and Eddie knows that he can continue to make a massive impact on lives by being out there on the tennis court and offering his support in any way possible.