by Maryam Abdul-Quaiyy
“I’d like to go pro, but my main focus is on school so I can have something to fall back on,” said Joshua Gray, a 16 year old African-American junior at Montour High School.
Gray is not only one of the top ranked tennis players in the state, but he is also aware that pursuing a higher education is crucial to his future success. “I’d like to go to college for tennis management or marine and environmental science.”
|TOP SINGLES PLAYER—Josh Gray of Montour eyes up the ball as he gets set to hit a backhand shot in a match against Baldwin, Gray, a junior is the #1 singles player for Montour. (Courier Photo/William McBride)
In the African-American community, it is common knowledge that tennis is not a prevalent sport among young males; especially in comparison to mega sports such as basketball and football. However, Gray’s interest in tennis was piqued at a very young age.
“I was about 6 or 7 years old and walked passed a tennis court and thought, ‘I could do that,’” Gray commented. He not only won his first match as early as eight years old, but also was featured on the cover of US Weekend magazine with Paula Abdul. “I was happy playing tennis.”
Even though Gray is positive about his tennis beginnings, Debra Gray, his mother, commented on some of the struggles involved, “In the Black community tennis isn’t a popular sport.” She further explained that even though Gray was sometimes insulted while growing up, he ignored the harassment and persevered in the sport. Not only was Gray jeered by African-American peers but also faced obstacles being the only African-American player on the team. Gray was dealing with being an outsider, to an extent, not only within his community but also on tennis teams.
“But my son doesn’t see the racial side,” Debra said. “My son is a good judge of character; he is friendly and a citizen of the world.”
As Gray faced challenges both on and off the tennis court, he was not deterred and continued to persist in achieving his goal of becoming a better tennis player. Gray looks back and said. “I want to do better than I did last year.” His tennis record last year was 10-4. This year Gray is 9-3 in High School competition. In Allegheny Mountain, out of 150 students, he ranked at 13th place this year. In Middle state (Delaware, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) for boys he ranked 120 out of 800.
He hopes to surpass phenomenal tennis players such as, Arthur Ashe and Andy Roddick; players whom he admires deeply. “I plan to win Wimbledon twice,” Gray said as he explained that he would like to beat Arthur Ashe’s record one day.
With any game passions run high and with a mix of adrenaline and competitiveness, things can spiral out of control and players can verbally or physically attack their opponents; however, Gray never breaks his calm exterior. “I told him he should never give anyone a reason to put him off the court,” Debra said.
Even though tennis is not as prevalent in the African-American community, and pioneers like Ashe or Althea Gibson are not as recognized when compared to basketball, football, baseball or even track stars, the sport is gaining popularity. In recent years with Venus and Serena Williams on the forefront of tennis, the African-American community has welcomed their success and the sport; however, some are still anticipating a possible rise of interest and domination by African-American males—with players such as Gray and many others on their way, the wait may not be too long.
As a student athlete, Gray not only balances tennis practice with school work, but also volunteers. Self-motivated and confident, when asked what inspires him, Gray said, “My mother and my friends. When I see other people doing well, I want to do it. Seeing others that do well inspires me.”
Gray may continue to face challenges due to the unpopularity of tennis in the African-American community; however, he does not allow that to deter him. He recounted that his mother and grandmother gave him the best advice, “They tell me that ‘you have always had the tools to do something that you want to do, but you have to use them.’”