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By Herman Sillas
Growing up in Southeast Los Angeles, I played basketball in high school. Our basketball coach was also the school’s tennis team coach. He suggested I try out for the tennis team. For one whole year, I did nothing but bang a tennis ball at a handball backboard. Although I was a member of the tennis team, I never played on the courts that year.
The next year, I made it to the tennis courts. L.A.’s westside high schools had great tennis players. East-side schools could barely find 10 guys who would play tennis. In my second year, I knew why I was recruited. By that time, my coach also knew that I would not be a second Pancho Gonzales, a well-known tennis pro.
Westside schools had so many good players that they played three to four schools at the same time and beat us all. For example, I was the third singles player on my team. Against a westside school, I might play its 15th singles player while its third singles player would play some first singles player of another school. My many losses made me appreciate the sport and the dedication needed to be great.
So you shouldn’t be surprised that last Saturday morning, July 9, I watched the women’s Wimbledon singles and doubles finals on TV. Two of my favorite players, Serena and Venus Williams, were playing. Serena was playing in the women’s singles final, after defeating her sister, Venus in the semifinals. They paired up to play for the women double finals.
The young black Williams sisters grew up in the city of Compton, California, a city notorious for producing gangs but not tennis players. The Williams sisters’ father taught them tennis and what it takes to be champions. His commitment and theirs eventually brought them success and victories over the best players in the world.
Both sisters have been ranked as No. 1 in world rankings and have won numerous tournaments. On Saturday, Serena won the singles title for her seventh time and earned $2.5 million for her effort. Later the same day, Serena and Venus won their sixth women’s double’s title at Wimbledon. But these two sisters have done more than just win tennis tournaments. Initially, female players were viewed as a novelty. Billie Jean King, a top women’s tennis player, argued that women should receive the same pay as the men’s players. Tournaments did not respond favorably. Venus Williams picked up the torch and met with The French Open and Wimbledon boards and argued for equal pay for female players. The response was the same. Venus wrote a piece published in the Los Angeles Times explaining the unfairness to women under the present circumstances. She gained support and the rules were changed.
I love watching these two play. I admire them for their athleticism but also for their commitment to the sport and equality. They both have demonstrated they did not forget their dreams as young girls nor do they forget the dreams of the young in today’s world.
Serena said, “I have been given such a great opportunity. I have been given so much talent. I’ve been in the position where I can inspire ladies and men as well. Anyone, any kid out there that wants to be something, has dreams. I’ve had great dreams. I didn’t come from any money or anything, but I did have a dream, and I did have hope. That’s really all you need.”
What simple words, but what a lesson in life. Today, girls and boys also have dreams that might sound impossible to achieve. Knowing what the Williams sisters achieved in their lifetime, I am compelled to encourage youth to pursue their dreams with hope and perseverance. That’s the view from the pier.
Herman Sillas, an attorney, artist, writer and fisherman at the San Clemente Pier is the author of the award-winning book, View from the Pier—Stories from San Clemente. He may be reached at email@example.com.