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photo(13)The mission of ZGA is to develop stars in the classroom, on the tennis court, and in the community by providing educational support, positive role models, parent education, and excellent tennis instruction. 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 Zina Garrison.


Read this article from Wimbledon.com’s on a new series “Days that Shook the Ivy” continues with an interview with Lori McNeil, who gave us a fascinating insight from her home in Georgia of the day she beat defending champion and No.1 seed, Steffi Graf, in the first round of Wimbledon 1994. Wimbeldon Article by Benjamin Chatfield on October 6, 2014.

Click here to read the entire article


Zina Garrison Tennis Academy Tennis and Education Programs 
On and Off the Tennis Court Activities for Kids!
Zina Garrison Academy has open enrollment. Once the application form is submitted, the student can come to the park when their age group meets. See the current schedule by clicking here. 
Zina Garrison Academy provides FREE developmental programs both on and off the tennis court.

By Doug Harris | Photography by Hallie Keller –

300-nancyHouston has welcomed some of the world’s most popular entertainers, athletes and public figures. But for one amazing evening in 2013, a worthy cause, a noteworthy anniversary and a milestone birthday brought together a star-studded group so stellar that celebrity watchers everywhere took notice.

The story of this celebration and the organization it benefits illustrates the talent, service and bonds of two pairs of friends who, after playing tennis together, made a commitment to help Houston’s at-risk youth. Today, the work of Zina Garrison and her friend, Lori McNeil, and that of Linda Elliott and her friend, Nancy Lerner, is making a real impact on the lives of young people at the Zina Garrison Academy.

The story begins at Houston’s MacGregor Park, where Zina Garrison and Lori McNeil were introduced to a free tennis program started by American Tennis Association champion John Wilkerson. Garrison began playing tennis on those courts at the age of 10, McNeil at 11, and the two became close friends and eventually doubles partners.

“We hit it off instantly,” said Garrison. “It was easy since we were the two youngest. We did everything together. It helped us become great friends, and we both went on to become top ten players worldwide from Houston.”

Zina Garrison

Garrison turned professional in 1982 after being ranked the Number 1 junior player in the world. She reached a career high of Number 4 and became the first African-American woman since Althea Gibson to reach a Grand Slam final in 1990. At Wimbledon, Garrison beat Monica Seles and Steffi Graf in back-to-back matches before losing the final to Martina Navratilova.

With Pam Shriver, she earned the 1988 Olympic Gold Medal in doubles in Seoul and a Bronze Medal in singles. One of the finest doubles players in the game’s recent history, Garrison captured 20 major championship titles.

Lori McNeil

200-loriA scholarship athlete at Oklahoma State, McNeil became an All-American collegiate player with three Big Eight Championship titles. She captured 12 Women’s Tennis Association tour singles titles, 40 career doubles titles and scored a stunning first-round victory over defending champion Steffi Graf at Wimbledon in 1994. McNeil achieved a career high of Number 8 in singles and Number 4 in doubles.

Lori McNeil and Olympic Gold Medalist Pam Shriver.
Retiring from the tour in 2002, McNeil served as the Assistant Coach of the U.S. Olympic Women’s Tennis Team and as Coach for the women’s team in the World University Games. McNeil was inducted into the Texas Tennis Hall of Fame in 2000, and most recently, into the 2012 class of the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame.

Fate – and tennis – would bring these two champions together for another important new chapter in their lives.

Hoping to provide similar opportunities to young people, Garrison, with the help of John Wilkerson, took her prize money from the Family Circle Cup and founded the Zina Garrison Academy in 1993. In 2012, McNeil returned to Houston to become Director of Tennis at the Zina Garrison Academy, reuniting the winning team of Garrison, McNeil and Wilkerson.

As it turns out, another pair of friends was on a similar course.

Another Dynamic Duo

200-nancyIn the 1990s, a mother of two in Memorial was given a set of golf clubs by her husband. “I asked a golf pro how long it would take me to become a good player,” recalled Linda Elliott. “He told me five years!” She returned the clubs and used the money to buy a tennis racquet and a membership at Westside Tennis Club.
At that time, Elliott’s children were enrolled at Frostwood Elementary. Elliot was acquainted with fellow mom Nancy Lerner. One afternoon, Lerner observed that the usually animated and energetic Elliott looked particularly down and introduced herself. In the moments that followed, Lerner learned of the passing of Elliott’s father, and a friendship was forged that would last to this day.

“It was the luckiest day of my life,” said Elliot. “Our kids became siblings, and we helped each other through good times and bad.”

The good times included promoting awareness of religious diversity among students, teachers and parents at Frostwood. The tougher times saw a back injury for Nancy coupled with the passing of her mother.

In 1996, Elliott began working afternoons at Westside Tennis Center with Linda and Jim McIngvale of Gallery Furniture. “Without any prep, Linda McIngvale invited me to a meeting with representatives of The Nuveen Tour and put me in charge of the project.” The Nuveen Tour was a 13-event circuit staged on four continents with players competing for $2.5 million. The 1996-1997 Nuveen Tour featured Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, and Westside Tennis Court was to play host. Elliott’s first tennis project was to oversee the completion of a 3,000 seat stadium and the logistics of the tournament it would house. But, Elliott already knew the first question to ask. “Do you mind if I bring in my talented friend Nancy Lerner?”

“We met every tennis star we ever dreamed of,” Elliott said. “We were thrown into the water and learned how to swim.”

Joining Forces

200-lindaShortly thereafter, fellow tennis enthusiast Mindy Brown invited Elliott to work part time with the Zina Garrison Academy. Soon, Elliott was scheduling Garrison’s appearances, negotiating her fees and working on fundraising galas.

Linda Elliott, Zina Garrison and Nancy Lerner cele-brated Garrison’s induction into the Black Sports Hall of Fame.
Linda Elliott, Zina Garrison and Nancy Lerner cele-brated Garrison’s induction into the Black Sports Hall of Fame.
When an opening for Academy Director presented itself, Elliott said, “I need to talk to two people: my husband, Rick, and my best friend, Nancy.” Lerner’s reaction was simple and direct: “It’s not a question of can you do it, it’s do you want to do it?” Soon, Elliott’s love of children and tennis were united, and the Zina Garrison Academy had new leadership.

Lerner later came on board as chairman of the Academy’s gala in 2002 and became President of the Board in 2008.

As it turns out, the Zina Garrison Academy would not be the only collabo-rative project for these two friends. Lerner and her husband, Steve, had been looking for a business where their son, David, a Briarwood graduate, could thrive. “In 2011, the Lerners and Elliotts purchased Memorial Drive Tire & Auto. Today, Linda and I run it with the assistance of our talented manager, Doug Peak. Best of all, my son David plays an important role,” said Lerner.

While actively involved in the operation of Memorial Drive Tire & Auto, Elliott directs the affairs of the Zina Garrison Academy from her desk at the automotive repair and service center.

“This enterprise has exceeded our dreams and expectations,” said Lerner. “We treat customers the way we want to be treated, and we incorporate our Academy mission and philanthropy within our business by supporting local schools and causes. It’s not about payback; it’s about being a good member of the community.”

The Academy Celebrates 20 Years

For two decades, the Zina Garrison Tennis Academy has been developing stars in the classroom, on the tennis court, and in the community, with free programming year-round. To date, the Academy has provided educational support and tennis instruction to over 25,000 underserved children in Hou-ston, helping them discover their individual talents, stay healthy and become future leaders in the community while learning the sport of tennis.

On Saturday, November 16th, native Houstonian Garrison returned to celebrate both the 20th anniversary of the Zina Garrison Tennis Academy and her 50th birthday. The gala, A Story of Love, included the presentation of the Academy’s “Service with Love” award to tennis legend Billie Jean King. King was honored for her contributions to the Zina Garrison Academy’s program and her championship endeavors on and off the court.

Olympic legends Pam Shriver, Carl Lewis, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Carol Lewis were on hand, along with former Texans players Chester Pitts and Travis Johnson, and NBA Hall of Famer Calvin Murphy. They were joined by former tennis professional Katrina Adams and Taylor Townsend, the Number 1 Junior Girls player in the world.

When asked about Garrison and McNeil, Lerner offered the ultimate praise. “They bring to the table not only world class talent in tennis but also the values and standards of their day to day living. They remember the opportunities they had, and they care about the kids. Together, they are a force of nature.”


Photo1-1Three’s Company . . . The pride of Houston: Lori McNeil, Zina Garrison and Coach John Wilkerson is on the cover of the Texas Tennis Magazine issued March 1987


njtlpicACE – Academic Creative Engagement

The ACE philosophy is designed to support academic achievement, health/wellness and social/emotional skills by guiding children through educational processes that include decision-making, problem solving and working together toward common goals. When combined with a tennis program, it provides important Developmental Assets and reflects the ideals and principles of the Zina Garrison Academy by giving children access to a safe, healthy, educational environment. The lessons are engaging, support classroom instruction, and encourage students to communicate and participate in each activity.

girlsincGirl’s Confidence Class

Girls Confidence Class is inspiring our ZGA girls to know that confidence is a choice: less people pleasing and perfectionism and more action, risk taking, and fast failure. Seminar conducted by Linda Elliott, Executive V. P. of ZGA


Boy’s Leadership Program

ASK (Attitude, Skills, Knowledge) began in February of 2012 for our male students ages 12-17. This class meets every other Thursday with volunteer leadership. Our young men are learning communication skills, how to look for role models in their families and peer groups, how to problem solve in a respectful and appropriate manner, and how to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of every day life.

Academic Support Programs

One-on-one tutoring in all academic subjects.


Health and Fitness Program

Staff members lead our competitive students in open discussion and group activities once a week to explore how to best prepare for tennis matches, how to maintain a balanced diet and how to improve long-term health.



NJTL National Student Athlete Program

Our students participate in this 12-month point-based competition with youth throughout the United States. Academic scholarships go to those with the best grades and junior tennis tournament results. ZGA has finished with the top students for the past four years and our students have received over $34,000 in college scholarship funds.

Community Service Program

All year round students must participate in ZGA community service projects. We participate in Special Olympics and the Breast Cancer Walk. Our competitive students give back to our program by assisting the coaches with the beginner students during in our summer program four days a week from 8:45 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Reading is funReading is Really Fun

Reading time for 4-6 year old ZGA students on Friday afternoons

College Summer Job Program

College students are invited to apply for junior staff positions.  College students must be former ZGA students and have at least 2 years of tennis experience in our Competitive Program to be considered for employment. In 2011 we employed four former students as Junior Staff coaches.


School Year

September 12, 2016- May 23, 2017


June 13, 2016 -August 12, 2016

For more information contact:

Lori McNeil  832-776-9805

kids_balls in air

If you’re new to ZGA, here’s what you need to do to participate:

  1. Make sure you fill out the application before coming to the park.
  2. Check what time your age group meets on the schedule.
  3. Come to the park when your age group meets!

*Make sure you wear tennis shoes and a baseball cap.

You’re ready to play!