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Post & Courier (Charleston, SC)
SUMMERVILLE — The town has banned a tennis instructor from providing free lessons at Doty Park after officials said he refused to follow rules.
James Martin started offering free tennis lessons in 2016 to underprivileged youth through his Tennis Development from the Heart program. In April 2017, town officials notified him in a letter that "outside tennis instruction would no longer be permitted at Doty Park."
Martin was offered the opportunity to extend his tennis program at the Saul Alexander Playground about a mile from Doty Park. He refused because there was limited parking and the town told him he didn't have "exclusive rights" to the courts.
There have been clashes between Martin's program and the town's. On May 29, Martin and members of his group occupied a tennis court at Doty. A team captain from the town's U.S. Tennis Association team told Martin the courts were reserved for the town's use.
Martin suggested the captain use another unreserved court that was not being used, which led to a verbal altercation. The town claimed Martin used "foul language" toward the captain. Martin said he did not use foul language before "everyone left the park." Martin said there was no May 29 match posted on the USTA website and the team captain was simply trying to "kick them off the court."
A July 12 letter informed Martin that he was placed on trespass notice and prohibited from returning to the park. Martin has "chosen to harass town staff with threats of calling the police (and) threats of filing an 'ethics complaint' with the State of South Carolina," it said. The town referred to the incident where Martin "refused to vacate courts reserved by town staff."
Mayor Wiley Johnson said on July 20 he doesn't want to see anyone banned from the tennis courts and plans to meet with the town administrator and parks and recreation manager soon.
"I know this thing is still not over," Johnson said.
In response to discontinuing Martin's tennis program, the town started offering free tennis lessons through the town's tennis professional, Nancy Sumersett. Clinics are from 5-6:30 p.m. Wednesday for children ages 6-14.
Summerville Parks and Recreation Manager Doyle Best said Martin refused to follow procedures set in place by the town. They mainly involved "scheduling conflicts" between Martin and Sumersett, he said.
Councilman Aaron Brown started the Tennis Development from the Heart program with help from Janitors for Jesus, which is based between two local churches — Baum Temple AME Zion and Brownsville Community Church of God in 2016.
Brown solicited Martin, both of whom are black, to lead the program for underprivileged young people who could not afford tennis lessons. In all, the group has taught 75 children ages 5 to 17. Martin said his group has helped bolster the number of black children on tennis teams at local high schools.
Brown said at a recent meeting that Martin's program was discontinued because Martin refused to follow the rules.
"It doesn't matter what you're doing, you have to follow the rules," Brown said.
Activist Louis Smith said the town is attempting to prevent minority children from accessing the Doty Park courts.
"They don't allow minority children to play on the park. I want to say this loud and clear to the Summerville Recreation Department, we will stand up for our children. The Jim Crow era is over," Smith posted July 19 on Facebook.
Martin agreed, stating the town is conveying a message that "if you're black and you're not paying ... we're not going to allow someone else out there to teach you this game."
Best said claims of racism are unfounded.
"The purpose of our department is to provide recreational opportunity for all ages and all races. There's no discrimination going on, on the basis of color, age, and gender such as that."
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