When people hear the name MacGregor Park they likely think of Houstonian and Olympian Zina Garrison, who became a world champion tennis player through John Wilkerson’s MacGregor Park Junior Tennis Program in the 1970s and who returned to Houston to encourage others to take up the game. Today the Zina Garrisons Tennis Academy continues offer a welcome respite to children thru out Houston, by providing tennis instruction and life lessons for the entire community. MacGregor Park has long been the heart of the Historic Third Ward and Sunnyside communities, and was the development ground to many of Houston’s most successful athletes and business leaders including Clyde Drexler and Yolanda Adams.
Zina Garrison, was one of the top tennis players in the world, a product of a free tennis program started by John Wilkerson at MacGregor Park in 1974. Wilkerson didn’t have a lot of rules, but the ones he did have he enforced. If you didn’t have a hat (summers are hot in Houston) you didn’t play. There was no gum chewing or talking on the court. During a tournament there was no sulking, no temper tantrums, no arguing. And there was no soda pop, period. The rest is what we call “a beautiful legacy.”
Zina became a tennis legend in Texas and all over the world. A black women, one program, and loads of extraordinary talent.
Zina wanted to give the kids of Houston the same opportunities that she was given as a child. Zina and her coach, John Wilkerson, founded the Zina Garrison Academy in 1993 with her prize money from the Family Circle Cup. She wanted to inspire kids just as she was inspired. She believed that any kid, given the right tools, would be able to grow up to be a productive member of society. The Zina Garrison Academy was never intended to just provide tennis education, but to provide everything a child would need to become successful in life. She always envisioned the program being a free service to all members of the community. The program remains 100% free to this day.
The Zina Garrison Academy continues to reevaluate itself and change to provide the best possible tennis and education program in the Houston area. Please view the rest of our website to discover the other valuable opportunities we provide. And come join us on the tennis court!
John Wilkerson, born in San Antonio, was a senior in high school before picking up his first tennis racquet. “My brother and his friend used to play tennis on weekends and they always tried to get me to go along. One day, I don’t remember why, I decided to go with them.” The next week John tried out for his high school tennis team. He not only made the team but beat everyone on it. He went on to win district and state singles and doubles title that same year.
From then on, Wilkerson more or less forgot all other sports, and concentrated on tennis.
He enrolled at Prairie View A & M and got a tennis scholarship. Unfortunately, he also neglected his schoolwork and found himself academically ineligible and made the decision to join the Airborne 8th Brigade. After two and a half years in Germany he had a better sense of direction and planned his future with education first and tennis second. After graduation from TSU John became the Tennis Director at MacGregor Park and there he found his real passion, teaching young people on and off the court.
Zina did not always understand how tennis works. Garrison began her career one afternoon when she wandered over to MacGregor Park Tennis Center in Houston. Her brother was practicing baseball and he told her to find something to do. She did! John Wilkerson was happy to introduce Zina to tennis to help her brother out.
“Zina didn’t know much about tennis when she started,” Wilkerson remembers. “She didn’t even know players kept score. She thought you just hit the ball over the net until you got tired.”
Thanks to her determination and her natural talent, she bested all her peers and with John’s coaching became the #1 Junior Player in the world.
While many take her success as a natural progression, she had many more obstacles to surpass than the normal player. She had to be a role model to a community that had never had any real success in the sport of tennis. Therefore ,when she decided in 1992 to take her winnings from the Family Circle Cup and start a free tennis program for at-risk youth in Houston no one was surprised. It all had come full circle for the little 10 year old looking for a way to spend the afternoon.