|Ventura Martinez and Elia Rodriguez|
in their tennis whites
sitting on the ground during a photo shoot
|1920s Tennis Dress|
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|Araceli Rodrigues Casas|
In Camaguey it was mostly young women who took up the sport initially. They would meet at the only public court in the city at the Casino Campestre Park to pair off and play. This was a cement court in poor repair, and there was no hope that better facilities would be forthcoming. “Why don’t we build a tennis club with proper courts and a clubhouse,” suggested Pilar Garces, “owned and operated exclusively by women.”
|Officers and Directors of the Camaguey Tennis Club — And Ventura|
When the club opened in 1919, 106 ladies joined as founding members. And when “the Tennis” — the name everyone in Camaguey used for the club — celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary it was already one of the premier institutions in Cuba, receiving distinguished guests from all over the world, hosting championships and fielding players in tournaments throughout the country and abroad. Its women-only membership policy was unique.
|A court at the Camaguey Tennis Club, 1945|
Felipe Pichardo — by then a well-known poet, writer, and orator — gave a speech on the history of The Camaguey Tennis Club Friday evening, January 28, 1944 at the Club. That speech is reprinted here in its original Spanish with a full English translation.
Two stories Felipe Pichardo told that evening were the story of the club’s horse, and of Ventura meeting Elia.
“But it is necessary to say more of Ventura. He was, in one person, the administrator, foreman, laborer, tennis player and dialogue prompter at the talent shows. And he also played the part of the veterinarian since he was the keeper of the Tennis’ horse.
“The Tennis’ horse! We would be ingrates if we did not dedicate a reminisce to the horse. I don’t know were he came from; I don’t know from what animal asylum that sack of bones came from. We used him to pull a primitive roller that was used to pack down the court, which the tennis players themselves would then mark with the ritual lines. But the tragic thing about the horse was not his poor figure, but his terrible ailment. He had an ancient wound in his neck that never closed, and from it dribbled out the water he drank. It was here on the Club’s grounds that Ventura kept vigil over the horse with a brother’s love.
”It was here on the Club’s grounds that, later, Ventura met the beautiful adolescent Elia Rodriguez Casas, when she had returned from the school where she had finished her studies. In short order Ventura found himself without ventura (happiness) — in other words, heartbroken — until he finally convinced her to be his noble wife.
Elia Rodriguez Casas
“Ventura’s labors for the benefit of the Camaguey Tennis Club were prodigious, and won’t be forgotten by this audience.
In addition, he was a strong and unflappable player of the fine sport, and inseparable partner of Salome Zayas Bazan. They formed a pair that would have been unbeatable, if it wasn’t for another pair, Aurelia Garces — elegant in tennis without many equals — and me. ... Obviously.”
Founder of the Camagüey
Tennis Club in 1917
“Why don’t we build a
tennis club ... owned and
operated exclusively by women.”
|Camaguey Tennis Club Swimming Pool|