UAPB Tennis legend Carnis Poindexter exemplified the meaning of paying it forward, mentoring countless young adults and sending more than 25 students to UAPB on scholarship.
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Carnis L. Poindexter was born on August 27, 1938, in Roanoke, Virginia to Lillian G. Reese. He grew up in the northeast section of Roanoke but later moved to the Lincoln Terrace apartments across from the upper Springwood Park tennis courts. As a child, church attendance was important to his mother, so he attended Greater Mount Zion Baptist and First Baptist Sunday school and church.
Just before his senior year at Lucy Addison High School, Poindexter began learning tennis utilizing library books and the upper Springwood Park tennis courts across from his apartment complex. In the spring of 1957, while competing in a Junior Developmental Scholastic Tournament, Poindexter caught the attention of Dr. E.D. Downing, a Roanoke dentist, and avid tennis player. Downing soon began mentoring Poindexter by helping him to fine-tune his tennis skills. Downing also utilized his connections to help him earn a full tennis scholarship to attend Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College (AM&N), later renamed the University of Pine Bluff at Arkansas (UAPB), in the fall of 1957.
Poindexter proved to be an extremely competitive collegiate tennis player. He won the National Intercollegiate Singles Championship in 1959, was a single and doubles finalist in the Southwest Athletic Conference in 1960, and won the National Inter-Collegiate Tournament during his senior year in 1961. During this time, he also met Vera Ruth Cornelious, who would prove to be the love of his life. The couple later married and had two children, Carnis F. Poindexter and Clifton D. Poindexter. While at AM&N, Poindexter earned a Bachelor of Science in health and physical education with a minor in general science from UAPB. After graduating from AM&N, he was drafted into the United States Army and valiantly served his country for several years before being discharged. He then went on to earn a master’s degree in biology from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.
In 1964, Poindexter moved to Charlottesville, Virginia where he became a teacher at Burley High School. While teaching at Burley High, he actively competed in tennis matches in the area, winning the annual Roanoke City-County tennis tournament in 1964, 1965, and 1966. In 1965, while still in his first year of teaching, Poindexter started Burley’s first tennis team. In 1965, he returned to Roanoke and began coaching tennis at Lucy Addison High School. Having always been deeply affected by both his Christian faith and Downing’s influence, he began his life’s mission to pay forward all the resources, talent, and time Downing had blessed him with. Along with teaching and coaching, Poindexter also became a mentor to many students in the Roanoke school system. Over the years, he sent more than twenty-five athletes to UAPB on scholarships, following in Downing’s footsteps. In an interview, he stated, ”What Dr. Downing started and did for me, I will be forever grateful. After studying the books, I became self-taught, considered it my Christian duty to help others as he had helped me, so I passed it on.”
He taught at Patrick Henry High School until he retired in 1996, and even found time to compete in various other local tennis championships throughout the years. Still, very much a competitor, he won fourteen tournaments including the first integrated tennis tournament in Roanoke. In addition to serving the students of Roanoke, Poindexter also served as an Elder and mentor at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for over 50 years. He also won the Man of the Year Awards numerous times throughout his time with the church.
Determined to honor him, the students he sent to UAPB rallied together and in 2016, Poindexter was inducted into the University of Arkansas Tennis Hall of Fame. In May of 2018, the River’s EdgeSports Complex tennis facility in Roanoke, Virginia, was renamed the Carnis Poindexter Tennis Courts due to the efforts of John Fishwick, a Roanoke attorney, and Poindexter’s longtime friend. In 2020, he was inducted into the Virginia Interscholastic Association (VIA) Hall of Fame, an organization geared toward preserving the history of black athletes, students, and musicians. In March of 2020, he was also inducted into the first class of the Roanoke Regional Tennis Hall of Fame in recognition of his decades of skillful playing, coaching, and pioneering tennis for all in the Roanoke region.
During his lifetime, Poindexter did exactly what he set out to do. He passed on everything he learned and enriched the lives of his students and community. Poindexter died peacefully in Roanoke on September 21, 2022. He was 84 years old.
Written by: Ninfa O. Barnard