‘If I were White, I would still be coaching’: Former La Jolla Tennis Club pro alleges unfair treatment
The club’s board president maintains that ‘race was never considered’ in cutting ties with Ronald Agenor, who is Black.
It’s been three months since the La Jolla Tennis Club terminated the coaching contract of tennis player Ronald Agenor, but the decision, and what he sees as poor treatment during the process, still bother him.
Agenor, who is Black, sent emails to the La Jolla Light this week and last outlining his concerns, stating bluntly, “I have been treated unfairly by the club” and “If I were White, I would still be coaching at the club today.”
In April, the recently elected La Jolla Tennis Club board of directors ended teaching privileges for three coaches, and they are no longer allowed to rent courts for instruction. In addition to Agenor, they are Jennifer Dawson, who is Asian, and Mark Davis, who is White.
In May, the Tennis Club board, 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 suggestions from some club users that the decision was racially motivated given that two of those let go are Black and Asian. Agenor said “four White male coaches were able to remain at the club.”
At the time the decision to cut ties with the three pros was announced, the board cited an imbalance between coaches and court availability, stating to its membership that “the board has heard consistently from members, and from the pros, that there are too many pros at the club. 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.”
However, Agenor, who said he had been at the club for nearly two years, wrote that the board’s action speaks to a larger problem because it has “actively decreased diversity in leadership and teaching pros, embodying systemic racism.”
He also claimed the board ignored “emails to address false rumors, allegations, misinformation circulating, confusion and sabotage taking place at the club toward me.” In addition, he alleged the club didn’t act when he informed officials several times about a woman “wandering around the club for many weeks” who threatened him and used racial slurs.
LJTC board President Ralph Temple told the Light: “The board took into account many factors, including, but not limited to, length of service, interest in taking on new clients, membership status of clients, existing contract status and number of complaints when deciding which pros to offer contracts to after the departure of [former LJTC manager] Scott Farr. Race was never considered when making the decision not to offer Mr. Agenor a contract, so the board would have made the same decision regardless of Mr. Agenor’s race.”
Agenor stated that “the process of evaluation was not transparent, even though I repeatedly asked for transparency. They refused. The club is open to both members and non-members, and both members and non-members have always been allowed to take lessons from the coaches. There has never been a rule that said a certain number of hours had to be performed to members of the club by any coach. ... Before the COVID-19 pandemic started, 90 percent of my clients were members of the club and just a handful were non-members and coming only occasionally.”
Temple acknowledged that “there are no specific requirements regarding time devoted to members to maintain a contract” but said “the time each pro spent teaching members vs. non-members was one factor the board took into consideration when deciding which pros to offer contracts to after the board decided that the club could not feasibly support seven pros with only nine courts.”
The contracts for Agenor and Davis were established with Farr, who also departed in April after turning down a pay cut. “Both made arrangements with Scott Farr that were not approved by the board, and both were not offered contracts to teach at the club after Scott Farr’s departure,” Temple said.
Agenor — who as a professional tennis player reached the No. 22 world singles ranking in May 1989 — said he appealed the board’s decision, citing his credentials, but was unsuccessful. He said he sent an email “questioning the validity of their reasons for no longer renting courts to me and reminded them that they never responded to any of my emails addressing the meetings I requested regarding all of the concerns I had. In that same email I asked to have my court rental privileges reinstated. They refused ... and instead chose to continue practicing inequality.”
Several club members have come to the board’s defense, including Tom Gegax, one of the executive producers of the documentary “Spark: A Systemic Racism Story.”
“In my opinion, this wasn’t a racist board, nor was the decision based on racism,” Gegax said. He noted that a White coach’s contract also was terminated.
“I’ve known the current board members personally for more than a decade and I have never seen or heard one moment of anything that resembled racism come from them,” Gegax said.
Further, he said, when a now-former board member made a statement “tinged with racial overtones,” the board called out the member, who later resigned.
Farr told the Light in May that he also did not think the board used racial bias in terminating the pros, though he added, “The optics of that decision are not good.”
Agenor, however, said he believes the board “is grabbing at straws to save face and change the narrative. ... This board has been on a mission to prevent me from coaching at the club by all means necessary. The club that was once warm and welcoming to me abruptly changed and became a toxic and hostile environment. It is very clear what is going on here — equality and diversity has definitely been eliminated by this board. ... My credentials and professionalism as both a former top 25 tennis player in the world and tennis coach speaks for itself, and if I were White, I would still be coaching at the club today.” ◆
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