When people hear the name MacGregor Park they likely think of Houstonian and Olympian Zina Garrison. Zina became a world champion tennis player through John Wilkerson’s MacGregor Park Junior Tennis Program in the 70’s. MacGregor Park has long been the heart of the Historic Third Ward and Sunnyside communities. The park is where many of Houston’s most successful athletes and business leaders, including Clyde Drexler and Yolanda Adams, spent their youth.
Zina began what would become her storied tennis career one afternoon when she wandered over to MacGregor Park Tennis Center. Her brother was practicing baseball and he told her to find something to do. She did.
Zina started playing in the free tennis program initiated and run by the legendary John Wilkerson at MacGregor Park in 1974. Wilkerson didn’t have a lot of rules but the ones he did have, he enforced. There was no gum chewing or talking on the court. If you didn’t have a hat, you didn’t play. During a tournament there was no sulking, no temper tantrums, and definitely no arguing. Finally, there was no soda pop, period. Coach Wilkerson set the tone for Zina’s career and supported her in becoming the most successful Tennis player in Houston history.
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 then the doubles title that same year.
John enrolled at Prairie View A & M and got a tennis scholarship. Unfortunately, he neglected his schoolwork and found himself academically ineligible. He 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 where he found his real passion – teaching young people on and off the court.
“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 Zina’s determination and her natural talent, she bested her peers, won matches, and became the # 1 ranked Junior Player in the world by the time she was 19 years-old.
Following an illustrious career, Zina returned to Houston to encourage others to play the game right back where she started, MacGregor Park. Zina’s goal in starting ZGA has always been to offer Houston’s youth the same opportunity she was afforded as a young tennis player – an escape and an opportunity to be someone special. ZGA has become an integral part of MacGregor Park and greater Houston.