The Zina Garrison Academy provides 50 weeks of free programming each year for all children in the Houston area. This tennis and leadership academy was founded in 1992 by legendary tennis professional.
Born in San Diego, California and moved to Houston at 11 years old. Formative years spent on the tennis court at MacGregor Park alongside her close friend, Zina Garrison, guided by American Tennis Association champion John Wilkerson.
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Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil, two of the top tennis players in the world, were products of a free tennis program started by John Wilkerson at MacGregor Park in 1974. Wilkerson didn’t have a lot of rules, but the ones he did have he enforced. If you didn’t have a hat (summers are hot in Houston) you didn’t play. There was no gum chewing or talking on the court. During a tournament there was no sulking, no temper tantrums, no arguing. And there was no soda pop, period. The rest is what we call “a beautiful legacy.” Zina and Lori became tennis legends in Texas and all over the world. Two black women, one program, and loads of extraordinary talent.
Wanting to give back to the community and provide similar opportunities to other young people, Zina and her coach founded the Zina Garrison Academy in 1993 with her prize money from the Family Circle Cup. In the summer of 2012 Lori McNeil returned to Houston to become Director of Tennis at the Zina Garrison Academy.
The Zina Garrison Academy continues to reevaluate itself and change to provide the best possible tennis and education program in the Houston area. Please view the rest of our website to discover the other valuable opportunities we provide. And come join us on the tennis court!
Wilkerson, born in San Antonio was a senior in high school before picking up his first tennis racquet. “My brother and his friend used to play tennis on weekends and they always tried to get me to go along. One day, I don’t remember why, I decided to go with them.” The next week John tried out for his high school tennis team. He not only made the team but beat everyone on it. He went on to win district and state singles and doubles title that same year. From then on, Wilkerson more or less forgot all other sports, and concentrated on tennis. He enrolled at Prairie View A & M and got a tennis scholarship. Unfortunately, he also neglected his schoolwork and found himself academically ineligible and made the decision to join the Airborne 8th Brigade. After two and a half years in Germany he had a better sense of direction and planned his future with education first and tennis second. After graduation from TSU John became the Tennis Director at MacGregor Park and there he found his real passion, teaching young people on and off the court.
Lori McNeil was born in San Diego, California and moved to Houston when she was 11 years old. She spent all of her formative years on the tennis court at MacGregor Park alongside her close friend, Zina Garrison, guided by American Tennis Association champion John Wilkerson. McNeil attended Oklahoma State University on scholarship where she became an All-American collegiate player with three Big Eight Championship titles.
McNeil captured 12 WTA tour singles titles, 40 career doubles titles, including the mixed doubles championship at the French Open. Lori scored a stunning first-round victory over defending champion Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1994, eventually reaching the semi-finals. Lori was ranked as high as #5 in the world during her career.
Retiring from the tour in 2002, after a 17-year successful professional career Lori went on to be the Assistant Coach of the U. S. Olympic Women’s Tennis Team in 2004 and 2008, was awarded the WTA Mentor Appreciation Award in 2006 and served as coach for the women’s team in the World University Games in 2005. McNeil was inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000 and coached tennis star Amanda Coetzer from 2001-2004. Lori worked as a High Performance Coach for the United States Tennis Association from 2004 until 2012. In July of 2012 McNeil joined the Zina Garrison Academy as Director of Tennis and will continue to coach, mentor and inspire future generations of tennis players.
Zina Garrison is holding up her 1981 Jr. Wimbledon title trophy in this photo. Zina did not always understand how tennis works. Garrison began her career one afternoon when she wandered over to MacGregor Park Tennis Center in Houston. Her brother was practicing baseball and he told her to find something to do. She did! John Wilkerson was happy to introduce Zina to tennis to help her brother out. “Zina didn’t know much about tennis when she started,” Wilkerson remembers. “She didn’t even know players kept score. She thought you just hit the ball over the net until you got tired.” Thanks to her determination and her natural talent, she bested all her peers and with John’s coaching became the #1 Junior Player in the world. While many take her success as a natural progression, she had many more obstacles to surpass than the normal player. She had to be a role model to a community that had never had any real success in the sport of tennis. Therefore ,when she decided in 1992 to take her winnings from the Family Circle Cup and start a free tennis program for at-risk youth in Houston no one was surprised. It all had come full circle for the little 10 year old looking for a way to spend the afternoon.