Battlefield Park tennis community has big plans for future
JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — When Jackson police found a body lying near a children’s playground at Battlefield Park one rainy March day in 2021, it was the catalyst for a drive to change the area’s perception.
Venecca Green, a Jackson attorney and captain of the Battlefield Tennis Community Association, said for years other tennis clubs and community members murmured about how unsafe the park was, painting a picture of criminals slinking around in the dark.
But for Green and other tennis players at Dorothy Vest Tennis Center at Battlefield Park, the perception didn’t fit the reality they knew, or the future they knew the park could have.
Following that dreary morning, Green founded Friends of Battlefield Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization aimed at increasing community engagement, improving the health and wellness of the community and reducing crime, according to the group’s website.
“We actually see the restoration and revitalization of that whole quarter through tennis,” Green said about expanding the Dorothy Vest Tennis Center for tournaments and restoring the area around Battlefield Park and along Highway 80.
Green’s plan focuses on a tennis center economic development project that could bring not only potential revenue to the city, but the revitalization of Highway 80 near the park.
The idea came to Green after attending the Southern Sectionals at the Mobile Tennis Center in Alabama.
One of the world’s largest public tennis facilities with some 60 state-of-the-art lighted courts, the facility hosts many tournaments, including adult and junior U.S. Tennis Association games, which bring in thousands of attendees to the Mobile area, according to the center’s website.
Jackson City Council President and Ward 7 representative Virgi Lindsay said part of the city’s role is to help assist Green and the organization’s efforts as best they can, including providing some funding, fixing the lights at the courts and installing more lights throughout the park. The park is in Lindsay’s district.
While plans for economic development in and around Battlefield Park are still in the beginning stages, with Green having an engineer and architect sketch up her vision, there is support from the U.S. Tennis Association and other investors, Green said.
The next step is reaching out to stakeholders to get the ball rolling. Green said she sees the development of a Battlefield Park hotel across the street for people to stay while attending tournaments.
BATTLEFIELD PARK, TENNIS PART OF SOLUTION TO KEEPING KIDS SAFE
LaPeriall Jones, facility manager of the Dorothy Vest Tennis Center, said since the first meeting with city officials and community members in April 2021, there have been talks with park and recreation officials about ways to uplift the park.
This includes removing the unused pool and replacing it with a water feature for kids to play in and removing the basketball courts.
Security cameras have been installed around the courts, Jones said, adding the tennis community has a great relationship with the Jackson police who routinely patrol the area and are responsive when called.
Jones’ own organization, Ace to Deuce Community Tennis Association, wants to get more children and teens interested in tennis, as well as recruit more volunteers, coaches and donors to help with fundraising.
“What this does, it gives the kids something to do,” Jones said. “They’re not sitting at home playing video games, they learn a skill, they get to think, because you got to think and they’re not just sitting there plotting what’s the next big adventure we can get into friends.”
Because of the pandemic, many community centers and recreational centers have had to close, leaving children without a place to hang out. Advocates and city officials have said that many kids become involved in crime when they are left to their own devices.
In 2021, at least nine teens were killed and at least six were involved in a shooting in Jackson. Five days into 2022, 14-year-old DeMarcus McGinnis was shot and killed while sitting in a car and three other teens were injured, police said.
Jones and Green hope to partner with Jackson State University to bring coaches and mentors to the courts to teach after-school programs filled with Jackson Public School students.
Jones said Ace to Deuce has been working with Jackson Public School kids but would love for more get involved.
“Research supports that (tennis) encourages kids to become individuals, critical thinkers and problem solvers,” Green said. “And if we can solve our problems other than with a gun, then they’re not committing a crime.”
Jones added the goal is to create teams for kids to compete against others and help build life skills. In the fall, Ace to Deuce formed two teams for kids under 18 and both competed in the state championships, with the girls’ tennis team placing third and the boys’ tennis team placing second.
“We need people like Ms. Green and her organizers to step up and be a part of positive energy for our children,” Lindsay said. “We need more Venecca Greens.”