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October 1, 2022

THE RICHMOND STANDARD: Richmond Native Sande French Inducted Into Black Tennis Hall Of Fame


Richmond native Sande French inducted into Black Tennis Hall of Fame
Photo courtesy of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.

By Mike Kinney

When she was 8 years old, Sande French’s little brother Don gave her a globe for Christmas. Every night, she would spin it, then dream about the place where her finger would stop it.

“Who knew I would have a chance to experience some [of those places],” said French. “From playing on the public courts of Nicholl Park in Richmond, California, to my first grass court event, the public park that becomes Eastbourne’s event on the English Channel, or a sumptuous meal in Tallinn, Estonia or sushi in Tokyo, or witnessing the longtail soaring and the crystal blue skies of Bermuda, traversing the Great Wall of China, a stroll along the Huevo de Julio in Buenos Aires, the grandeur of the Taj Mahal, stepping on the revered motherland of Cameroon, to the low grass of Wimbledon.”


Had someone told French she would live this dream, “I would have laughed them into the next county.”


“Yet, here I am watching worldwide tennis from the best seat in the house,” French said.


On Saturday, Sept. 17, French, a Richmond native, Richmond High graduate and the first and only Black female chair umpire in professional tennis in the U.S., was formally inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame. She was among seven people inducted at the 14th annual ceremony at Virginia Union University in Richmond, Va.


We were tipped off to this Hall of Fame honor by Arto Rinteela, president of the Fairmeade Hilltop Neighborhood Council, who was a classmate of French’s in the graduating Class of 1974 at Richmond High. Rinteela remembers another one of French’s talents that manifested in the high school marching band.'


‘Everybody wanted to be around SandE.’


“She was a talented clarinet player,” Rinteela said. “She had a great personality and was very smart. Everybody wanted to be around Sande.”


Rinteela also recalled French as “one of the few” tennis players at Richmond High in those days.


While accepting her latest honor (see the video of the ceremony here), French reflected with deep gratitude on her 36 years of officiating professional tennis. Her resume speaks for itself. In 1993, French became the only African-American in history to chair the US Open Singles Final. She has chaired 10 U.S. Open Finals, worked Wimbledon six times and the Australian Open three times. She also chaired the Fed Cups internationally and the NCAA championship Final.


Photo courtesy of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.


French also gives back to her profession, taking the initiative to conceive, implement and teach chair clinics and training in Northern California. She has volunteered as a referee for regional wheelchair tournaments for 12 years, coached a wheelchair player, was a member of USTA chair mentoring program in 2010, assisted coaching at Mendocino High School in 2014, and was a USTA trainer and/or evaluator from 1995 to 2015.


Her awards and accolades are numerous, from 1991 Umpire of the Year in Northern California to election into the Bay Area African-American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame in 2007. Four years prior, she was honored with the Multicultural Participation Committee Trailblazing Award.


Throughout her career, she has inspired others, including people of color, to aspire to become tennis officials or to achieve higher levels in their careers.


‘One never knows what life will bring. The endgame always is to improve from the previous day.’


During the Black Tennis Hall of Fame induction ceremony, French thanked her college teammate, Karen Cook-Henderson, “who nudged me and got me started in officiating 36 years ago.” She thanked various “ohanas,” from her family to her colleagues over the years.


French also expressed “immense gratitude” to Jay Snyder, who as chairman of officials saw her potential by giving her a shot. She acknowledged her “first bestie umpire Joy Gay, who regularly stood up for us when we were treated unjustly, pushing back on the archaic practices.”


“When she passed in 1996, I took over her mantle, which is where my trouble began,” French said.


Along with Cecil Holland, French sued the USTA and ITF for discrimination, alleging officials of conspiring to keep Blacks and women from officiating important matches. It’s a stand “that cost us both of our careers,” French said. “Twenty-nine years later nothing has changed, we all know why.”


Photo courtesy of the Black Tennis Hall of Fame.


French says the inner workings of professional tennis will be revealed in her upcoming book.


“McEnroe deserves a whole chapter,” she quipped. “It will be fun.”


As a Black, gay woman who achieved great things in tennis officiating, French said she’s benefited from generations of barrier-breakers.


“I stand on their shoulders,” she said. “I embrace their excellence and am forever indebted for their sacrifices.”


She added, “One never knows what life will bring. The endgame always is to improve from the previous day."



The Richmond Standard





June 13, 2022

Black Tennis Hall of Fame Welcomes Its Stellar New Board Member, Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Odera



Dr. Odera is a major contributor to Black tennis globally, as a successful coach, administrator and business owner, and a non-profit director. She has risen to the height of the profession as a tennis professional and sports administrator.


Her extraordinary ability won national and international acclaim as demonstrated by the results from the over 16,000 Black children who have passed through her hands as a tennis coach. To date, her influence has grown, and graduates from her tennis program are successfully playing their trade in every continent in the world, including the USA, where many of her proteges played NCAA, NAIA and JC, while others have played ITF, Junior Grand Slams and Davis Cup.

Dr. Odera is an incredibly experienced practitioner in education, recreation and health, and worked in leadership positions for the last 27 years in various capacities, including as Senior Research Officer in a medical institution, Principal at a high school, a non-profit CEO, Director at an award winning sports academy, Head of Department at a junior college and an adjunct university lecturer. 


She is a speaker, published in international peer reviewed scientific journals, an author and an avid blogger on personal and organizational development issues, especially in non-profits. It is Liz's aspiration to help develop structure and long and short-term strategic plans, design programs, and frameworks within which staff successfully operate, and provide support towards functioning Boards. 

She also believes in the power of sports in changing lives, and is honored to represent many fine individuals and organizations that have influenced their communities positively around the world. "I enjoy mentoring and have experience leading individuals and large teams in change-making sports environments in business and non-profits, including high profile soccer, rugby, basketball professional clubs, WTA players, college teams and country clubs."

Dr. Odera was inducted into the Black Tennis Hall of Fame with the Class of 2021.



Dr. Elizabeth "Liz" Okongo Odera, Contributor - Inductee Bio




April 5, 2022

Black Tennis Hall of Fame Extends its Deepest Condolences to the Family of Lange Johnson, Creator of The Whirlwind Johnson Foundation, also the Son and Grandson of Hall of Famers Robert W. Johnson, Jr. (2020) and Dr. Robert W. Johnson (2008)



Longtime Washington, DC-area resident passed away on March 28, 2022, of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS). Johnson, an avid tennis player and golfer, lived in Fairfax, VA, at the time of his death. He graduated from The Potomac School, Woodrow Wilson High School, and University of the District of Columbia.Born December 27, 1961, in Washington, DC, Lange was the son of Robert W. and Nerissa L. Johnson. He was the grandson of Dr. Robert W. Johnson, credited with coaching tennis greats Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson. Lange and his siblings were all ranked tennis players in the United States Tennis Association (USTA). He continued to compete in tournaments until shortly before his ALS diagnosis.In 2015, Lange created the Whirlwind Johnson Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to furthering the legacy of his grandfather and restoring Dr. Johnson's historic residence and tennis court in Lynchburg, VA.Lange had successful careers as a Vice President at Time Life and at Universal Music Group. He is survived by his wife Elizabeth, daughter Zoe, sisters Jolynn J. Smith (Jeffery), Eileen J. Williams, and brother Robert W. Johnson III (Daisy). He is also survived by nieces Alexis and Dylan Williams, NoraJane Conway, and nephew Evan Smith. Lange's loving in-laws, Francis and Virginia Burk, sisters-in-law Alison Shipman (Hunt) Abigail Burk, and Emily Smith (Jason) also mourn his loss. Lange was preceded in death by his brother Julian.Funeral service will be scheduled for a later date. To honor Lange's life and legacy, please consider donating to: 

Published by The Washington Post on Apr. 4, 2022.





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