HISPANIC HERITAGE DAY AT BARNES TENNIS CENTER A CELEBRATIONCOMMUNITY NEWS | USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
BRINGING AWARENESS, NEW PLAYERS TO THE GAME
BRINGING AWARENESS, NEW PLAYERS TO THE GAME
SEPTEMBER 26, 2023 | STEVE PRATT
HISPANIC HERITAGE DAY AT BARNES TENNIS CENTER A CELEBRATION BRINGING AWARENESS, NEW PLAYERS TO THE GAMECOMMUNITY NEWS
USTA SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
SEPTEMBER 26, 2023
Top: Kids participate in the Hispanic Heritage Day Kids Play Zone at Barnes Tennis Center; Middle: Charlie Pasarell with Southern California junior players; Bottom: Hector Cota with coach Angel Lopez.
(Photos – Rachel Scalera/USTA SoCal)
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Tennis has done amazing things for the many Mexican Americans living in Southern California, and countless of other Latin Americans who call the Southland home.
Take for example Hector Cota, who teaches math at Calexico High School, a small Title 1 school near the much larger border city of Mexicali, the capital of the Mexican state of Baja, California, that sits approximately 125 miles east of San Diego.
A former Calexico High School student who went on to get his degree at San Diego State and now teaches math and coaches the girls’ and boys’ tennis teams, Cota attended the recent Hispanic Heritage Day celebration hosted by the Barnes Tennis Center in San Diego with the hope of exposing his student-athletes to a world much larger than he ever got to experience as a youngster growing up in the Imperial County town.
“The tennis is really non-existent in Calexico, except for the rackets they sell at Wal-Mart,” Cota said. “There are no stringers, and no tennis courts here – not just tennis centers but we don’t even have public courts.
“The tennis is pretty dead out here.”
But like nearly every other community in Southern California, local high schools have tennis courts, and that’s exactly where Cota and his peers first picked up the game of tennis.
“It’s the high school courts and that’s about it,” Cota said. “If someone wants to play, they have to have a key, or hope someone leaves the gate open for them.
“I was 16-years-old when I picked up my first racket,” Cota said. “The coach then Javier Rodriguez started us out and Angel Lopez helps us and mentors us to this day.”
Not surprisingly, the legendary Hall of Fame coach Lopez has a similar story as Cota’s being from a poor San Diego neighborhood with little to no access to tennis courts.
“I didn’t pick up tennis until I was a senior in high school,” Lopez said before the day’s activities kicked off. “Tennis has given me so much. I have been able to see the world through tennis.”
On Saturday, Lopez took part in a panel Q&A later in the day that included International Tennis Hall of Famer Charlie Pasarell, Angelica Gavaldon, Dr. Lorena Martin and Jaime Barajas. There was live ball, a Kids Play Zone, a Wheelchair and Adaptive court and an exhibition from junior standouts Daniela Borruel and Madison Shepperson. Tasty Tijuana tacos were served for lunch.
They all came to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month and to further the USTA Southern California’s mission to “Celebrate Hispanic Heritage and its rich tradition of tennis in Southern California bringing new people to tennis through education and awareness, strengthening and connecting the community through tennis.”
Following his introduction, Pasarell told the audience that growing up in Puerto Rico he had his eyes set on being a tennis player. “I wanted to be the best player in the world,” Pasarell said. “My hero at the time was none other than Pancho Gonzalez. I really just wanted to be Pancho Gonzalez. I remember watching him play an exhibition in Puerto Rico.”
Pasarell first came to the U.S. at the age of 12 and that’s where he would meet his lifelong best friend, the late Arthur Ashe, when the two faced each other at the Orange Bowl in Miami.
“For many, many years Arthur was my best friend,” Pasarell said. “We went to UCLA together and we roomed together. We played for the United States Davis Cup team together. What I want to say about tennis is that it offered me some wonderful opportunities.”
Besides gaining a lifelong friend, Pasarell highlighted three things tennis gave to him.
“One, I got a scholarship to get a free education at UCLA. Two, I got to meet some amazing people like Arthur Ashe and Billie Jean King and Rod Laver and all of these great legends I was able to be amongst. Three, I got to travel all over the world, and it was the best education I could’ve ever had just meeting all these different people from every culture in the world.
“With tennis, it doesn’t matter how good you are. It’s a great recreational sport and if you are good enough maybe you can get a scholarship to play in college. So that’s what we are here for. We are here to see how we can create opportunities for our Hispanic community to have what I got and what a lot of other great Latin American players have gotten.”
Through invitations from Lopez, the Calexico coach Cota has brought players to Lopez’s San Diego Racquet Club clinics.
“Coach Lopez has done so much for us,” Cota said. “He’s donated equipment and he’s brought a lot of my coaches over and exposed us to more events like this. It’s hard in our area to find players who play at a high level, or even recreationally. So, I do try and bring the players out just like Javier and Angel did for me 10 years ago. And now I’m trying to do the same and expose the kids just like I was.”