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Queens declares 'Billie Jean King Day' as US Open celebrates equal prize money milestone
Borough president Donovan Richards Jr. made the proclamation during the 25th annual City Parks Foundation tennis benefit—an event co-founded by King that helps fund free youth tennis programs in New York City's public parks.
Published Aug 30, 2023
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NEW YORK—A day after being lauded by former First Lady Michelle Obama on opening night of the US Open, Billie Jean King was surprised with another honor at the annual City Parks Foundation Tennis Benefit.
King’s fight for equal pay took center stage on Monday, when the US Open celebrated its 50th year of awarding its men’s and women’s champions the same prize money—after 1972 winner King and a number of top women threatened a boycott of the 1973 event if pay disparity continued.
On Tuesday, King was recognized again as the New York City borough of Queens officially declared August 29 to be “Billie Jean King Day”. Borough president Donovan Richards Jr. made the announcement via proclamation at the benefit, which is fittingly hosted at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.
“The tennis center is in Queens, so this is even more special,” King said in a speech. “I don’t live in Queens, I live on the Upper West Side. But I’m a New Yorker, that’s for sure.”
The City Parks Foundation (CPF) is an independent nonprofit that offers free youth programs across New York City’s five boroughs, with its tennis program ranking among the biggest free municipal programs in the country.
Mike Silverman, Director of Sports for CPF, praised King’s lasting legacy as he reported that over 4,000 kids took part in free tennis programs at 32 city parks in the last year.
“Billie Jean, as everyone knows, is a pioneer,” Silverman told Baseline. “She’s incredible. She’s a leader—whether it’s having the leadership to pursue equal pay for women here at the Open 50 years ago, or whether it’s being a leader in founding our event 25 years ago.
“She always seems to have a greater purpose in everything that she does, and it’s something that always has a major impact.”
In fact, it was King who had the idea to host an annual fundraiser for the organization, Silverman added, as she determined there was a need to save the tennis program from being held at the mercy of fluctuating city budgets. King suggested to hold a benefit every year during the US Open—when New York City’s interest in tennis is at its peak—and host it at the USTA National Tennis Center, which was later rededicated in her honor in 2006.
“The USTA National Tennis Center is now named after Billie Jean, and it’s in a park. We feel like it’s all very fitting,” Silverman said. “We’re very appreciative of the USTA for allowing us to do this every year and raise money to grow the game in the parks of New York for kids.”
While CPF celebrated its wins, the organization also highlighted critical issues in the American tennis pipeline: while 55 percent of tennis in the U.S. is played on public parks, there’s a one-to-one churn ratio of players—meaning that for every player that takes up tennis, another player leaves the sport entirely. A shortage of accessible and affordable coaching at all levels, but especially in the beginner to intermediate level, is another cause for concern.
“It’s so important to have free access to tennis. If I hadn’t had free access in Long Beach, California growing up, I would not be standing here,” King said. “Long Beach had public access, and I got free coaching.
“Coaching is vital, we all touched on that tonight. It’s so important, and we don’t have enough coaches, definitely don’t have enough women coaches, so it’s really important that we provide this opportunity.”
That’s where Samantha Chui, one of the evening’s honorees and the recipient of the Billie Jean King Junior Achievement Award, comes in. The Jamaica native started playing tennis at Queen’s Cunningham Park at the age of seven through the City Parks program, and continued to play for the next 10 years.
“When school is out during the summer, other sports are usually not in season,” Chui told Baseline. “Tennis was one of the only sports that we could find, so we were out there every day, five days a week in the morning playing tennis in City Parks programs... Tennis and this program have been a part of my life for 16 years now.”
After aging out of the program at 16, Chui earned an internship with CPF that allowed her to learn about the business of sport and also gave her the opportunity to coach during the summer. The 23-year-old has been coaching tennis for the last six years and counting, and recently graduated with a Master's degree from Villanova University.
This year’s City Parks Foundation raised over $500,000 from donations and ticket sales to the event.