By J. Fred Sidhu, special to USTA.com
February is Black History Month, which celebrates achievements by black Americans and recognizes the role of African Americans in United States history.
As part of Black History Month, USTA.com profiles 58-year-old Maurice Jackson of Alpine, Calif. at the 2012 International Tennis Federation Seniors Individual Championships.
For Maurice Jackson, a retired probation officer, the sport of tennis started out with an embarrassing episode in his life, but would later become his passion. When he was 22 years old, Jackson picked up tennis - yet he admitted, "It wasn’t by design."
Jackson, who had played team sports as a youth while growing up in Los Angeles, was invited to play tennis with friends of a girl he was dating at the time.
"Being the macho guy I was trying to be, I said, ‘Anybody can play tennis.’ So I went out there and I couldn’t keep the ball in the court. I sprayed it everywhere," Jackson said. "I was kind of embarrassed. It kind of presented itself as a challenge and I’ve pretty much have been playing ever since."
As he began to play tennis and follow the game, Jackson found someone that would inspire him to develop his game and become a better player.
"As I got more into the game, Arthur (Ashe) was still playing at the time. He was a guy I could kind of idolize for what he did on and off the court," he said. "I remember in my early years, I got one of his racquets, the Arthur Ashe (Head) racquet. I kind of patterned myself after his game and it’s something I’ve been doing ever since."
Jackson, who has become a competitive senior tournament player, said as he grew older, it became more difficult for him to play in the traditional team sports and tennis became the perfect avenue for him.
"I was so enthralled with learning the game. I remember going to sleep at night dreaming about being able to play the next day," he said. "I would watch guys like Arthur…watch the way they moved, the way they hit the ball, how they took the racquet back and try to go out and emulate that."
While Jackson enjoys the individual aspect of tennis because of the opportunities to find players at his level, he said that tennis is truly the sport of a lifetime because anyone can pick up the game at any age.
"Tennis is my passion. It serves as motivation as far as living a healthy lifestyle," Jackson said. "I love to compete. It serves as a great inspiration for me and keeps me grounded."