La Jolla Tennis Club board faces backlash over ouster of Black and Asian tennis professionals

The La Jolla Tennis Club at 7632 Draper Ave.
The La Jolla Tennis Club at 7632 Draper Ave. has a board of directors responsible for running the club as a nonprofit service to the membership and the city of San Diego on city-owned courts.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The newly elected board that oversees the La Jolla Tennis Club is facing backlash over its removal of certain professional coaches and staff members.

Several people who complained to the La Jolla Light about the board terminating the contracts of some pros described the action as everything from insensitive to racially motivated. Those whose teaching privileges were struck and are no longer allowed to rent courts for instruction are Ronald Agenor, a Black man; Jennifer Dawson, an Asian woman; and Mark Davis, a White man.

The La Jolla Tennis Club board of directors, which is responsible for running the Draper Avenue club as a nonprofit service to the membership and the city of San Diego on city-owned courts, denied the decision was racially motivated.

According to an email last month from the board to club members, the number of teaching professionals would be reduced as of May 1 from seven to four.

“The board has heard consistently from members, and from the pros, that there are too many pros at the club,” the notice read. “Court usage and membership at the club has increased dramatically in the last year, and the demands for court time between pros and members are often conflicting.”

Dawson, who offered private instruction at the Tennis Club for 12 years, said her removal “came out of the blue; there was no warning.”

The board “said they wanted to keep us posted and asked if we were happy with the number of hours. We said it was good,” Dawson said. “Then we got an email asking to talk. ... They said they were cutting the number of pros and I wasn’t coming back.”

Davis’ termination came as a surprise to him because he was always willing to accommodate court schedules so as not to take away from others who wanted to rent court space, according to a person close to him. Davis did not respond to a request for comment.

Agenor, who at one point was ranked No. 22 in the world as a professional player, appealed the decision to end his contract, citing “unacceptable and invalid” reasons for his termination.

He asked the board via email to reconsider, pointing to his “fully booked” and “successful and popular” clinics. However, he was told the board “will not be revisiting its decision at this time.”

One of Agenor’s clients, who spoke to the Light on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation,
said the decision may have been racially motivated. The person alleged Agenor was mistreated because of his race and that a Tennis Club board member circulated an email asking whether Agenor “was even allowed to work in the United States.”

“Myself and many others don’t understand the lack of respect and decency that was shown to him,” the person said. “The question on our minds is ... if he were White, would a pro with his ... credentials be treated this way?

“Given that the club has also let go their only female and Asian pro and only kept White male pros, I believe an investigation by the city in this matter is necessary.”

A representative of the San Diego Parks & Recreation Department did not respond to a request for comment.

As emails circulated claiming race to be a motivating factor, the board sent a response to all club members, stating: “An email was sent around ... to club members and reporters suggesting that some of the board’s recent decisions were racially motivated. The board would like to emphatically deny that race or religion contributed to any decisions it has or will make and to communicate the factors that contributed to those decisions.

“The board carefully reviewed the situation and took into account a variety of factors when making the decision to end teaching privileges with Mark Davis, Jennifer Dawson and Ronald Agenor, including length of service, interest in taking on new clients, membership status of the pros’ clients, whether the pro had a formal or informal arrangement with the club, number of complaints and general involvement with the club outside of private lessons, among others.”

The Tennis Club board last month also parted ways with club manager Scott Farr after offering him a contract renewal with a lower salary than he was willing to accept. His replacement, Vic Kramitz, started May 3.

After 15 years as manager, Scott Farr will be leaving the club April 30.

“They determined I was working too little and paid too much,” Farr said.

He said he thinks the board “is trying to micromanage the club instead of letting the manager do it.”

When word spread in March of Farr’s impending departure, board President Ralph Temple said Farr “ran the club well.” He did not comment about Farr’s contract.

He also could not be reached for comment about the tennis pros.

Former La Jolla Tennis Club manager Scott Farr
Former La Jolla Tennis Club manager Scott Farr says he doesn’t think the club’s board used racial bias in terminating the contracts of certain tennis professionals, though he believes “the optics of that decision are not good.”

Farr said the board’s conduct on his last day at work was “insensitive” and made him and assistant Mike Graves (whose contract also was terminated) “uncomfortable.”

He said certain board members “were hovering for four hours waiting for us to leave. ... That’s just not the way you do it.”

When asked if he thinks the board used racial bias in terminating the tennis professionals, Farr said no. But, he added, “the optics of that decision are not good.” ◆