Lacoste, tennis icon Venus Williams and City Parks Foundation partner to renovate St. Mary Park’s courts

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Venus Williams runs through drills with young tennis players from CityParks Tennis on the newly renovated courts at St. Mary’s Park on Aug. 9, 2023.
Photo Demetria Osei-Tutu

Tennis, Lacoste and the Bronx are not words one usually hears together. But the City Parks Foundation and Lacoste are trying to change that with the newly renovated tennis courts at St. Mary’s Park on East 146th Street and St. Ann’s Avenue.

On Aug. 9, the City Parks Foundation (CPF) and Lacoste held a grand reveal of the two tennis courts there with Venus Williams — who has served as Lacoste’s global ambassador since 2022. The newly renovated courts are decorated with pink silhouettes of her as well as the signature Lacoste alligator.

The unveiling began with a dance performance from an all-girls dance troupe called The Haus NYC. Williams, 43, made her grand entrance through the group’s dance number to Jennifer Lopez’s “Lets Get Loud.”

Decked out in pink and white Lacoste, pink ombré hair to match, Williams delivered remarks thanking everyone, especially Lacoste for the honor.

An aerial view of the newly renovated tennis courts at St Mary’s Park in the South Bronx that bear the image of Venus Williams. Photo courtesy Lacoste

“These courts (at St. Mary’s) are the same kind of courts I grew up on, playing tennis and having big dreams,” said Williams. “I am so happy for everyone of all ages to be exposed to this sport.”

Growing up in Compton, California, Venus Williams and her sister Serena — trained by their controversial father —  took the tennis world by storm. They were distinguishable by their prowess, athleticism and being unapologetically Black in a sport long-dominated by her white counterparts.

Williams started her professional career in 1994. Her accomplishments boast seven majors — five at Wimbledon and two at the U.S Open.

Now Williams is giving back. Before the clinic, young players from CityParks Tennis’ Lacoste Tennis Academy and their Beginner’s Tennis Program, Lacoste’s Deputy CEO Catherine Spindler, CPF’s Chair of the Board of Directors Roland Merchant Jr. and NYC Park’s Bronx Borough Commissioner Jessenia Aponte addressed the crowd.

“Bronx residents will enjoy these courts for years to come,” said Aponte.

Mike Silverman, CPF’s director of sports, told the Bronx Times that most of their tennis programs are usually in the summer since the students are off from school but thanks to Lacoste’s support and funding, programs are now running through the fall and spring.

On Sept. 23, City Park is reestablishing a free fall tennis beginner program for youth at St. Mary’s Park.

Since 2010, Lacoste and City Parks Foundation have partnered to provide free programming – including tennis lessons — for children in NYC public parks. Silverman is grateful for the partnership with the 90-year-old tennis-based fashion brand and the aligned mission to supply kids access to sports.

He hopes for more court renovations in the future and for more tennis players to come out of the Bronx.

Venus Williams at the grand reveal of the newly renovated tennis courts at St. Mary’s Park in the South Bronx. Photo Demetria Osei-Tutu

“Our job is to maximize the resources of the park for public benefit,” Silverman said. “You have to provide opportunities.”

Bronx resident Emily Johnson, 15, was one of the many young tennis players who had the opportunity to work on drills with Williams.

“The Bronx is finally getting the recognition and the care that it deserves. It feels like we have something that’s nice, and it’s just for us,” said Johnson, who sees the new courts as a way to create more opportunities for kids who can’t afford tennis lessons.

Johnson got into tennis during middle school and fell in love with it. She thought it was cool and was enamored with players like Venus Williams.

“I look up to her because I feel like she sets a good example for young people, especially young girls or African Americans who are looking to get into the world of tennis,” she said.

This article was updated on Sept. 15 at 2:20 p.m.

Reach Demetria Osei-Tutu at [email protected]. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes