In a typical year, the Hmong International Freedom Festival, or J4, attracts about 40,000 people to St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood each July. It is a weekend of athletic tournaments, food, vendors, and community. Due to COVID-19, the full-scale event was canceled in 2020 and again this year. One part that is still happening this year, though, is the tennis tournament.
Dating back to its creation 15 years ago, the Hmong J4 Tennis Tournament was created to provide a larger and more inclusive tournament for Hmong and other Asian American players. “This tournament was created because many young tennis players could not afford the $100 entry fee of the Lao Family Tennis Tournament. There was too much emphasis on the prize money and not on growing the sport in our community,” says tournament director Koua Yang. “Currently, we have 60-80 players annually coming from all over the United States like California, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio, North Carolina, and Michigan.”
The atmosphere is a sight to behold. From the sounds of people cheering on their players to the smell of a fresh can of tennis balls, the tournament provides a welcoming environment for those observing play. Competitive from the first round to the championship, the tournament promises exciting matches for spectators. “The tournament is full of players and fans of the sport, which brings energy and excitement to the event,” says Yang.
On Saturday, July 3, and Sunday, July 4, some of the Midwest’s top Hmong and other Asian American athletes will compete in the 2021 Hmong J4 Tennis Tournament at Harding High School.
Organized by tournament directors Yang, Song Thao, and Ricky Moua, this tournament consists of singles and doubles play. Due to popularity and many different skill levels in singles, the tournament directors have decided to create three different flights for the singles tournament. Flights will include a juniors level for high school-aged competitors, a 4.0 level for those looking for solid match play, and a 4.5 tier for the most-experienced individuals.
Unlike other tennis tournaments open to the public, this one focuses on athletic talent within the Hmong and Asian American communities. “I’m looking forward to seeing all the great tennis players and just being in an environment where I feel welcomed,” says Jeru Thao, who has competed in this tournament three years in a row.
This tennis tournament comes as one of the three sporting events being held by the Hmong community over the holiday weekend. Volleyball and Flag Football tournaments will both be held at Zane Sports Complex in Brooklyn Park. Play begins at Harding High School on Saturday, July 3, at 9 a.m.