Bloomington sisters work on books to promote diversity in tennis

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Taylor and Briah O’Neal started playing tennis at the age of 3 and 4.

A decade later, they publish the authors of a book that promotes diversity, equity and inclusion in tennis.

The O’Neal sisters – Briah O’Neal, a sophomore at Bloomington High School South, and Taylor O’Neal, a new year from the South – are competitive junior tennis players who have written, illustrated and published a book for kids titled “Serve It To Me Too!” The book, released in 2019, is just the first in a three-book series that Taylor and Briah are working on.

“I just wanted to be able to share my experience as a junior player, an African American girl in the sport, what it was like and share our experiences and our perspective through the sport,” Briah said. “I think it’s really important that kids our age can see something like this.”

Bloomington South's Briah O'Neal hits a backhand during her No.1 singles match against Bloomington North's Alex Shirley in the tennis section on May 19.  South lost 3-2, but O'Neal won 6-4, 6-2 to stay alive in the individual singles tournament.

Briah and Taylor got into tennis because of their father, Frank O’Neal, who is a huge fan of Venus and Serena Williams. O’Neal recalls being in Michigan with his wife, Tina O’Neal, who was pregnant at the time, walking past the Southfield tennis courts and saying, “If we have a daughter, she plays tennis. “

And that’s exactly what happened.

“I love the competition,” said Taylor. “I like how I’m always motivated to do better because there’s always a person out there where you think they work harder than you.”

Briah and Taylor were inspired to share their story after hearing from other young writers. As brand ambassadors for girls’ clothing store Justice, they were sent to Justice headquarters in Ohio for a summit in April 2019, where they heard from keynote speakers, including young authors.

“We were really inspired to put our own journey into it to represent what we experienced in tennis,” Briah said.

Once back from the top, they immediately began work on the book, with Briah writing and Taylor illustrating.

“Everything we did coincided with each other and it turned out to be something amazing,” Briah said.

They had to balance their passion for working on the book with other obligations, which was a challenge, but something that playing tennis had already taught them.

“It’s a lot of discipline that goes into playing tennis and it’s a lot of structure, and these are schedules that you have to stick to,” Briah said. “You develop the will to resist certain things and to understand the meaning of sacrifices.”

Tina O’Neal, a former English teacher who is now a clinical assistant professor at Indiana University’s School of Education, said she got very excited when the girls told her that they wanted to write a book. Briah and Taylor went to work with her to make sure they made time for it.

The O'Neal Family - Taylor, 13;  Briah, 14 years old;  daddy Frank;  mom Tina;  Shaun, 7 years old;  and Casey, 11 - pose in front of the Indiana Memorial Union at Indiana University.

Their father, on the other hand, was more in the dark. For a while, he thought they were just working on a school assignment, but said he couldn’t be more proud of them.

“It’s gratifying for me to be a parent to have daughters who look at these situations in life and say to themselves, ‘You know diversity is in this sport,'” said Frank O’Neal. “We can all grow up because of this sport. ”

The book focuses on a young girl, Deja, who is looking for activities to fill her summer after school. As Deja is browsing the TV channels, she stumbles upon a match between Venus and Serena Williams – the idols of Briah and Taylor – and asks her father if she can practice tennis. Deja continues to grow and develop as a tennis player, which leads her to the opportunity to go to a tennis academy.

“The last part of the book where she says, ‘Serve it to me too’, is the big message of diversity, equity and inclusion, that we are all a part of this sport, we can all learn from it. and learn from it. ”Briah said.

Taylor said she wanted the book to show what she and her sister went through and that working hard can lead to good opportunities, like the tennis academy in the book.

“I want to see more diversity in the sport that we play and that kind of shows that when she goes to the academy and competes in tournaments and things like that in the book, she goes there and she realizes. that there aren’t as many girls as he looks like him, ”Taylor said. “And I feel like there is a good meaning in that and people can really take something away from it and see that tennis is really for everyone and you can still connect with anyone. which through sport. ”

The book is written for children since the sisters themselves are children, they said.

“I think it’s the kids who have to recognize what’s going on and recognize that it’s good to play this sport and to be and to be like us and to feel included and part of something bigger”, Briah said.

Briah and Taylor’s parents helped them find a publisher and a professional editor to guide them through the process of preparing the first book for publication in November 2019. The O’Neal sisters promoted their book and shared the process of publishing a book at a young age through social media and local events and workshops.

They also host a talk show on their Instagram, @onealsistahs, called Tennis Tea Talk, where they talk about hot topics in tennis. For the second season of their show, which takes place this summer, they invite African-American students to share their tennis experiences.

Tina O’Neal said the Bloomington community has been very supportive of the girls and their book. The book is on display at the IU Tennis Center and is sold online and at the Indianapolis Racquet Club, as Briah and Taylor are often in Indianapolis for their junior tennis tournaments.

Although Briah and Taylor have spent time promoting the book, they hope to continue their momentum by working on the second and third books in the series, which will follow Deja’s journey over the years as she enters the world. professional tennis. Briah has already started writing and said Taylor will start sketching soon. Their second book is expected to be published in 2022.

“Serve it to me too!” Can be purchased on Amazon. To follow the O’Neal Sisters, visit their website onealsistahs.com and find them on Instagram at bit.ly/2U566Vu.



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