In Chicago, basketball and football get lots of attention. Despite this, there are many athletic programs in the city that offer a fun and competitive sport, one of them being tennis. XS Tennis and Education Foundation (XS is a play on the word “excess,” which means greater than normal) is a not-for-profit organization in Chicago that gives youth in the city a positive place to go and play a sport that they enjoy. Since 2008, XSTEF has sent 47 students to college on tennis scholarships.
This year XS Tennis hosted the Chicago Tennis Festival at its facility located at 54th and State Streets on Chicago’s South Side. The event, consisting of three Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) tournaments, brought in pro players including Venus Williams who participated in a tennis clinic. This opportunity is helping to bridge a gap in the sports world and expose local youth to professional tennis in a way that is up close and personal. TSL spoke with Kamau Murray, the founder and CEO of XS Tennis, to gain insight into how the facility came about as well as the goal of the program.
TSL: What motivated you to play tennis?
Kamau Murray: I actually didn’t know anything about tennis when I started playing. Both my parents worked when I was a kid, and their schedules didn’t allow them to pick me up, so I needed an after-school activity to keep me occupied.
TSL: Did you ever consider going pro?
KM: Not intentionally. When I started playing tennis, I wasn’t great at it. The gear was cumbersome, and I had to borrow playing clothes from my godfather. My career played out in college. …I prefer coaching to playing pro myself.
TSL: How did you come up with the idea to create XS Tennis?
KM: I was working in New York for a pharmaceutical company when I realized the work wasn’t fulfilling. So I transferred back to Chicago and started coaching high schoolers on the side, and from there, that venture evolved into wanting to bring tennis to as many underserved kids as possible. I wanted to create an athletic environment that would help kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds develop their confidence and have a place to gather after school and in the summer.
TSL: What is your ultimate goal/vision for XSTEF?
KM: I’d love to expand XS Tennis in every way possible. I’d love to make the program accessible to all the Chicago neighborhoods and maybe even expand into other cities. Making sure that any kids interested in tennis and our program can at least get insight into what we could do for them would be ideal. I hope the Chicago Tennis Festival helps bring XS Tennis to a new stage and showcase its potential. I want everyone to believe in the potential of XS Tennis the way I do.
TSL: Why do you feel that tennis is an important sport for Chicago’s Black youth to take part in?
KM: Black people have contributed so much to tennis and have a long and rich historical relationship with the sport. So from Arthur Ash to the Williams sisters and so many more in between, it only makes sense that Black kids are given access to the sport whenever they can.
TSL: What has tennis taught you about life?
KM: Tennis has taught me many important lessons, but I think it’s taught me the importance of having a passion that you need to invest in and tend like a garden. I didn’t love tennis at all the first time I picked up a racquet, and now I couldn’t imagine my life without it. I also feel like it’s taught me the importance of community. If you feel like you don’t have or belong to a community, you can always foster one yourself.
TSL: What’s the best thing about being a tennis coach?
KM: think, and especially working with people like Sloane Stephens, I really love watching people grow as human beings. It matters less to me how they’re performing than how they’re feeling. I always want the people I coach to feel confident and good about themselves.
TSL: How many students are you coaching now?
KM: I’m getting old I guess cause I can’t keep count anymore. However, at XS Tennis, we serve and support approximately 3,000 students annually.
TSL: What does it mean to you to have the Chicago Tennis Festival take place at XS Tennis?
KM: It means everything. I’m honored to have XS Tennis host the festival, and I believe it’ll be great for the XS Tennis kids. I’m looking forward to them getting to see an event of this magnitude up close and personal.
TSL: How can a teen get involved with XS Tennis?
KM: First, I want people to check out what we are doing at ChicagoTennisFestival.com. This is the first time in over 20 years that we are bringing pro-level tennis tournaments to Chicago, and it’s the first time that these games are taking place in an under-represented area, it’s being hosted by an African-American, and it’s the first time the WTA games have had an African-American female director. The easiest way would be to check our schedules and prices on our website, at xstennis.org. All the information they could need would be there. Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to join us at the Chicago Tennis Festival, either!
The last leg of the Chicago Tennis Festival is September 27th – October 3rd. For more information visit ChicagoTennisFestival.com.
By Cierra Lemott, Sophomore, Columbia College Chicago
Instagram & Snapchat: @cece.kodak