Willis Thomas, Jr.

Panelist: History of the ATA and Black Tennis

Willis Thomas started playing tennis at the age of 4 and developed a love for the game, taught by his father, who was a USTA Official. Willis was a successful tennis champion and was a former junior ATA doubles partner to the late Arthur Ashe. He later coached many tennis champions such as Katrina Adams, Zina Garrison, and Leslie Allen. Willis Thomas also served two terms as the President of the American Tennis Association.

His passion for the game has never diminished, as demonstrated by his work at Washington Tennis & Education Foundation (WTEF) as the past Vice President, Programs. The WTEF is a premier educational and tennis organization for underserved children in Washington, D.C. The mission of WTEF is to improve the life prospects of low-income, underserved children and youth. Willis continually influences youngsters to foresee a future using tennis as a stepping stone. A testimonial from two of his students, the Ragland brothers, Joe and Mike Ragland, was 13 and 11, living in one of Washington's worst neighborhoods and heading for trouble when they met Willis. Thomas. When he offered to teach them to play tennis, the boys didn't jump at the chance. In their neighborhood, tennis was for "sissies." But Thomas stuck with them. "This man took about 15 of us under his wing, gave us rackets, balls, clothes, and hope," Joe Ragland says. "If it wasn't for Willis, I'd be either in reform school or still trying to be a great basketball player."

The Ragland's are just two of thousands of D.C. kids whose lives changed when they met Willis Thomas.