The Chicago Prairie Tennis Club celebrates over 100 years as a non-profit organization that supports tennis as a lifetime sport. A small group of African-Americans established CPTC in 1912 believing that “athletic competition and good sportsmanship are prerequisites for building personalities and character.” Along with Mrs. C.O. (Mother) Seames, the organization’s founder, this small group of individuals paved the way for African American’s Participation in a sport on previously accessible.
The Chicago Prairie Tennis Club (CPTC) was founded in 1912 by a small group of African Americans who believed athletic competition and good sportsmanship are prerequisites for building good personalities and character. Nathan E. Caldwell the first president; Louis A. Thompson, vice president; Benjamin H. Martin, treasurer; and H.A. Isaac, secretary. Co-founders were Mrs. Maude Lawrence, Madelyn Baptist McCall, Ruth Shockey, and Mrs. C. O. (Mother) Seames, who had been active in black tennis circles since 1906. Initially, CPTC members played on dirt and clay courts at 37th and Prairie Avenue, hence the name Chicago Prairie Tennis Club. Moving to the Armory tennis courts at 35th and Giles Avenue, CPTC remained there until Mother Seames and her husband built four tennis courts at 32nd and Vernon Avenue in 1920. It was the first private grounds for a Black tennis club in the United States. Four years earlier, CPTC had launched a series of annual tournaments.
By 1925, Dr. O. B. Williams had won four championships, Edgar G. Brown, won two and Professors J. Cromwell and Frank Perkins, each won one championship. Women’s singles, which started later, was won once by Dorothy Radcliff and four times by Isadore Channels who dominated women’s tennis both in Chicago and nationally during the 1920’s. She was lauded by Black and White sportswriters who lamented the racism which barred her from the White tournaments that would have given her the game-sharpening competition she needed. About this time, Richard Hudlin of St. Louis captained the University of Chicago Tennis Team. While he never became a national champion, he retained a national ranking.
Another tennis star, Douglas Turner of the University of Illinois, won the Big Ten Collegiate Championship and also won the American Tennis Association’s Men Singles Title. Wilbur Clarke followed Turner in the early 1930’s as a University of Illinois tennis star and also retained active membership in CPTC until his death. By 1933, CPTC had moved from the Mother Seames courts to 60th and Wabash Avenue, where it leased grounds from the Celotex Corporation for $275 a year. It was there the Chicago World’s Fair Tennis Championships were held in 1934. Members such as John Reasons, W. D. Davis, Walter Ballou and others borrowed money from their Credit Unions to keep CPTC alive during these Great Depression days.
Lovetta Pollard Reason, who came to Chicago from Omaha in 1923, learned to play tennis reluctantly with her dormitory matron at Western University because her roommate insisted on playing cards in her room. Lovetta, who became CPTC secretary in 1933 and served in this capacity until 1993. In 1946, the first Tri-City Tournament was held in Chicago. The tournament has been held annually over the Labor Day holiday weekend for the past 63 years in partnership with Cleveland (Forest City Tennis Club), Detroit (Motor City Tennis Club), and Chicago (CPTC) and is a forum for competition as well as developing and maintaining relationships among Tri-City participants young and old. CPTC hosted the Tri-City Tournament in 2007 and reclaimed the Mother Seames Trophy. In 2011, the tournament will be held in Detroit. CPTC takes pride in helping develop the first black U.S. National Champion. Not Althea Gibson or Arthur Ashe, but a pigtailed youngster, Lorraine Williams (now Bryant), who won the U.S. Lawn Tennis National Girl’s 15 title in 1953.
The Chicago Prairie Tennis Club recognized that in order to reach a professional tennis level, training had to begin at an early age. The previous focus of the club as an adult and family social tennis organization changed in 1975. CPTC’s Junior Development Program was formed that year as an outgrowth of this new direction. When the program first began, a small number of juniors would meet during the summer months and a few dedicated instructors would devote a couple of days per week to work with these youngsters. By the second year the number of juniors in the program had doubled and their attitudes and participation were so dynamic that the tennis program began to research avenues for extending the development program through the fall and winter months. The Club realized that this extension would cost a great deal of money, however this did not deter the Club’s efforts. The Club began to raise funds to carry the expenses of the indoor junior development program. In the early 80’s Lake Meadows Tennis Club located at 32nd & Ellis Streets, Chicago, Illinois operated by Draper & Kramer Management Company became the summer home of Chicago Prairie Tennis Club which has 6 full size tennis courts with a Club house.
From humble beginnings with a small group of junior players and dedicated volunteer instructors, CPTC has developed a year round multi-level curriculum impacting over 150 juniors annually. Since its inception in 1975, CPTC has provided tennis instruction to over 300 junior players. But even if CPTC can aid only a few youths in finding a meaningful purpose in life, a few in obtaining scholarships, a few in keeping busy enough to stay off the streets, and a few in becoming physically fit, CPTC has still made an impact on the youth of Chicago. Under CPTC’s present philosophy and structure, it can boast of the many accomplishments made by CPTC juniors who have participated in the Junior Development Program and have become teachers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs and tennis pros. Many of these former junior players achieved National, Western and CDTA rankings and recognition and earned tennis scholarships to attend colleges nationwide. Among these are: Katrina Adams, Malcolm Avant, Jamal Baggett, John Devine, Scott Devine, Richy Gray, Mark Neal, Charles Nelson, Jr., Scott Harrison, James Hurt, Robert Jackson, Sheila Jones, Lisa Kanazee, Stacy Knowles, Sidney McWhite, Wendy Mitchell, Brian Nelson, Noel Occomy, Todd Occomy, Nigeria Payne, Rakina Payne, Kathy Simons, Eric Smith, Marty Bufford, Jr., Malcolm Bufford, Latron Mason and James Walton, Jr. CPTC strives to make tennis available to every youngster in Chicago. The game of tennis promotes character development and self worth by encouraging academic excellence, physical development and goal oriented recreation. We are so very proud of our rich and full 99 years of history and celebrate with our membership today the distinction of surviving as the nation’s oldest historically African-American tennis club.