A memorial service for a tennis coach who created one of the biggest community clubs in the country has taken place.
Milton Gayle brought youngsters together from the US, Jamaica and the UK when he hosted a memorial event for 1975 Wimbledon winner Arthur Ashe – the first black player to lift the trophy.
The winner of the 2018 Barclays unsung hero worked as a tennis coach for nearly 50 years in South-east London’s most deprived areas and encouraged those from all backgrounds and abilities to play tennis.
Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1952, he immigrated to London in 1967 aged 15.
It wasn’t long before the ball dropped and his interest in tennis first served when working as a ball boy at a country club in Jamaica after a tourist gave him a Fred Perry tennis racket.
Yet, 1960s London meant his only tennis partner was a wall for many years.
Although he could not pursue tennis to the level he wished, his passion never waned.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s he began coaching at Burgess Park where he taught up to 30 kids on a single run-down court.
He then became a qualified coach, reaching a Level 5 LTA (Lawn Tennis Association) Coaching Qualification, the highest level offered by the national governing body for tennis.
He said at the time: “Instead of playing, I turned to coaching and I never left my local community – even though I teach tennis at the highest level because I didn’t want another child from my community to go through what I went through and couldn’t play. So, I did all I could to bring tennis to my local community.”
His enthusiasm and tireless efforts led many to take up the sport, so much so that the local council and lottery funded the redevelopment of Southwark City Tennis Club in Burgess Park, which became one of the largest community clubs in the country.
Since then the club has given a base for underprivileged kids to roll with tennis competitively.
Producing national level juniors and players who have gone on to gain scholarships to US Universities, many of the club’s players have also gone on to coach and inspire others , including 22 year old Arum Akom who is currently the coach at Butterfly Tennis Club.
Kunal Patel, who knew Milton since he was a child, and was coached by him as a youngster and as a university student said: “He was more than just a coach. He was a zealous promoter of sport, an irreplaceable servant to the local community, particularly for the young and disadvantaged.
“He coached my sister in 2006 when my family had just immigrated to the UK at a time when we were very poor.
“He was truly an exceptional coach. He fundamentally transformed my game and gave me so much belief in my tennis.
“I recall him saying to me, ‘Practice hard and believe in your game. You will beat these other guys very soon’. Honestly, almost everything I know and share about tennis I owe to Milton. I will forever be grateful to him.”
The memorial service took place in Tanner Street Park, on Saturday May 1, and featured testimonials from fellow tennis players and those who knew him well.
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