La Jolla Tennis Club ‘definitely not doing anything racist’ in removing teaching pros, board and others say

The La Jolla Tennis Club at 7632 Draper Ave. has nine courts owned by the city of San Diego.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

A racial justice advocate and several La Jolla Tennis Club members are coming to the club board’s defense in the wake of criticism it faced recently after certain tennis professionals’ contracts to teach at the club were terminated.

Earlier this month, several people complained to the La Jolla Light after the board struck the teaching privileges of Ronald Agenor, a Black man; Jennifer Dawson, an Asian woman; and Mark Davis, a White man. As a result, only White men remain with contracts.

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

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 of directors 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.

The board told club members in an email in April that the number of teaching professionals would be reduced as of May 1 from seven to four. It said the board had heard from members and pros that there were too many pros at the club and that “the demands for court time between pros and members are often conflicting.”

Earlier this month, board President Ralph Temple couldn’t be reached for further comment about the tennis pros, but this week, he and other board members reiterated to the Light that race was not a factor.

Club member Tom Gegax, one of the executive producers of the documentary “Spark: A Systemic Racism Story,” agrees.

Kindled by local support of the Black Lives Matter movement, a group of La Jolla friends and colleagues has produced a documentary exploring systemic racism, with plans to release it widely as a public service.

He told the Light that “there is enough systemic racism out there that when you point the finger at something that is not racist … [it] is a disturbance to combating racism. When you take the focus away from where racism exists throughout society and you put a light on something where there isn’t racism involved, such as with this board, the club and the decision-making, it shines the light on the wrong thing. This is a hard-working group of people and there is no [racism] here.”

Temple said the club is “definitely not doing anything racist. … We are certainly not going to discriminate against anybody. Our policy is to not discriminate in any way. We have members of all races and religions. There is no discrimination.”

Speaking to the removal of the three professionals, Temple said the decision to let anybody go “is a difficult thing and we based it on practical concerns. It has nothing to do with who anybody was. We had seven pros for nine courts; that’s just too many. It was allowed to get that way under the previous management structure. We were trying to put things into more of a balance; our courts are very heavily used. In March, there was 87 percent use throughout the day. We don’t have the room and space to have lessons be taught all day long, especially since some of these lessons are for non-members. ... Two of the pros that were dropped were teaching one lesson each, and with non-members.”

Several people sent emails to the Light supporting the board and its decision. One said the majority of the membership is happy with the reduction in coaches.

Board Vice President Terri Bourne said two of the pros had contracts with former club manager Scott Farr, not the club itself.

“Per our special use permit with the city, we have to have contracts with our pros,” Bourne said. “Two of the three did not have contracts with the club. One only teaches one person who was not a member at 9 a.m. four times a week, which is prime time. It was taking up courts from our members. We had to put our membership on hold awhile ago [due to increased usage]. So something had to give.”

Farr, who left the club at the end of April, said this month that he did not think the board used racial bias in terminating the tennis professionals. But, he added, “the optics of that decision are not good.”

Bourne and Temple said the possible perceptions of a decision to leave only White male instructors “was never even in our consciousness” and that they based the decision solely on the criteria they had.

Temple added that with the recent hiring of new club manager Vic Kramitz, the board is looking to hire an assistant to the manager and that the job is “open to anybody.”

“We are trying to get a diverse group if we can,” Temple said. ◆