'Way before my time'
Before Durham’s Joe Williams made all of those unsuccessful runs at an elected office in the Bull City and before J.C. “Skeepie” Scarborough took over the family funeral business, they were youngsters playing tennis in Durham.
A guy named George Logan swung his racket with them.
“A lot of people were involved with tennis at that time,” said Bonnie Logan, George’s sister. “I just went out with him one day and he taught me the game, and that was it and I just got hooked on it. I played around with him, and I got into it real heavy.”
Bonnie Logan wound up becoming a good tennis player — a really good tennis player, the first black woman to play in the Virginia Slims professional circuit, part of the narrative that will pertain to her induction into the N.C. Tennis Hall of Fame on Saturday. The Hall of Fame is affiliated with the N.C. Tennis Foundation.
“The citizens of North Carolina have every right to be proud of Bonnie Logan,” N.C. Tennis Hall of Fame member Lendward Simpson said.
Simpson was Logan’s playing partner when the two were national mixed-doubles champs, reaching that pinnacle three times with the American Tennis Association, a mecca for black tennis players that was founded in 1916.
“Her achievements on and off the court reflect positively on her native state and the sport of tennis that she loves,” Simpson said.
Between 1964-70, Logan captured seven straight ATA women’s singles titles.
During Logan’s college days at Morgan State University in Baltimore, she was so dominant among the female players that she was given permission to compete against the men. She won the No. 2 flight at the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tennis championship.
Logan, who lettered in five sports, spent her last two years of college playing against women and advanced to the NCAA championships. She was inducted into Morgan State’s sports hall of fame in 1983.
In 2009, Logan was enshrined in the Black Tennis Hall of Fame, based in Bradenton, Fla.
Strong foundation in Durham
“I was really into sports at that time, and that competition — I liked that,” Logan said.
Logan grew up near W.D. Hill Recreation Center, not far from N.C. Central, where she honed her game on the school’s clay courts.
Hillside High School has produced its share of top-shelf athletes, and Logan was one of them.
“I was undefeated there the entire time I was there,” Logan said about her Hillside career. “Never lost a singles match — or doubles, as a matter of fact.”
Hillside didn’t have a girls’ tennis team this past season. There just wasn’t enough interest, Hillside athletics director Bob Hill said, because some of the girls who might have played tennis were in the school’s marching band or in other activities.
The paradox with that is striking, because opportunities abound nowadays for black youths to get involved with tennis across both socioeconomic and racial lines. There was more tension in that regard when Logan was coming along, yet she said black kids in Durham were keen on tennis.
“It was so unique at that time,” Logan said. “Tennis was so popular among black youth.”
Durham’s Dennis Corbitt was among those Durham kids having a ball with tennis. He played for Hillside after Logan, though both were coached by Carl “Bear” Easterling.
Easterling also coached John Lucas Jr. in both tennis and basketball.
“He’s the one that started John Lucas playing tennis,” Corbitt said.
Lucas was the top overall pick in the 1976 NBA draft by the Houston Rockets after his college career at the University of Maryland.
During the same year that Lucas was drafted into the NBA, he also was an All-American and ACC singles champion in tennis.
“About the only team that could beat us was Chapel Hill,” Corbitt said, adding that Northern sometimes would beat the Hornets. “(But Easterling) completely turned Hillside tennis around.”
Corbitt said that by the time he and his peers arrived at Hillside in the late 1970s, they were ranked statewide on account of Easterling having worked with them before they began high school.
“He did it free of charge,” Corbitt said. “The only thing we had to pay for was the balls. That’s what’s missing today.”
Looking forward, not back
Logan said tennis was good to her, although there were some tough times with respect to the racial situation in America when she was on top of her game.
“I really don’t like to really talk about it,” Logan said. “The point is that I did pretty good in the situation that I was in. They weren’t ready for me. It’s very difficult for me to talk about it, because it took me a long time to get over a lot of things that happened.
“I was way before my time.”
In 1973, Logan was accepted on the Virginia Slims circuit, the top women’s league at the time.
“I made a few dollars; I didn’t make anything to speak of,” Logan said. “I really needed an agent or something like that to manage me.”
Logan said she was her own coach and had to grind to get sponsors, on the way to being among the first people of color to play in the South African Open.
After professional tennis, Logan settled in Baltimore to teach school and coach.
Logan, 63, still lives in Maryland but plans to move back to Durham.
“I haven’t talked about it in a long time,” Logan said about her tennis career and her spot in the state’s tennis hall of fame. “It’s a good thing that this is happening, because when I come home and I look at all of those trophies and everything, I just can’t imagine all that work that I put in.
“And now to know that it’s going to be always recognized, it’s a beautiful thing on this Earth.”