Roanoke tennis legend Carnis Poindexter dies at 84

Published: Sep. 28, 2022 at 1:30 PM EDT
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - A local tennis legend has died after a lifetime of teaching young African American students the art of tennis. Carnis Poindexter died last week at the age of 84, according to the Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home and Crematory.

Poindexter was born and raised in Roanoke. He started playing tennis his senior year in 1956. He earned a scholarship that year to Arkansas AM&N, which is now called the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

He returned to Roanoke and competed in local tournaments. He won 14 tournaments including the first integrated tennis tournament in Roanoke.

He began teaching and coaching at Patrick Henry High School and retired in 1996. During his time as a tennis coach he influenced many African American students who followed in his foot steps.

In 2018, the City of Roanoke renamed the tennis courts at Rivers Edge Park in Poindexter’s honor.

Hamlar-Curtin Funeral Home and Crematory shared this extended obituary below:

“Carnis L. Poindexter was born in Roanoke, Virginia, on August 27,1938, to Lillian G. Reese. He grew up in the northeast section of Roanoke, Virginia, later moving to the Lincoln Terrace apartments across from the upper Springwood Park tennis courts. As a child, he attended both Greater Mount Zion Baptist and First Baptist Sunday school and church.

His school years were spent at Gilmer Elementary School, Booker T. Washington Junior High School, and Lucy Addison High School. Before his senior year at Lucy Addison High School, Carnis took up playing tennis, having access to no country clubs, no formal training, relying solely on books and the sweat of self-taught practice sessions on the upper Springwood Park courts, unknowingly changing the trajectory of his life and others for generations to come. In the spring of 1957, Carnis caught the attention of local dentist and tennis player, Dr. E.D. Downing, after playing in a Junior Developmental (ATA) Scholastic Tournament in the Tidewater area. Dr. Downing took Carnis under his wing, honing Carnis’s craft, and utilized his connections at Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical & Normal College, which was later renamed University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff (UAPB), to help Carnis earn a full tennis scholarship to UAPB in September of 1957. In Carnis’s own words: ”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.” Carnis went on to earn a Bachelor of Science in health and physical education with a minor in general science from UAPB, and a master’s degree in biology from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina.

At UAPB, Carnis won the (ATA) National Inter-Collegiate Singles Championship in 1959, was a single and doubles finalist in the Southwest Athletic Conference in 1960, culminating with winning the (ATA) National Inter-Collegiate Tournament during his senior year in 1961. While at UAPB, Carnis would meet and later marry the love of his life, Vera Ruth Cornelious, and had two sons with her, Carnis F. Poindexter and Clifton D. Poindexter. Upon graduation, Carnis was drafted into to United States Army, honorably serving his country. Carnis’s first teaching job was in 1964 at Burley High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, where he started Burley’s first tennis team in March of 1965. In 1964, Carnis won the annual Roanoke City-County tennis tournament, winning it again in 1965 and 1966. Returning to Roanoke, Virginia, in 1965, Carnis would start his true life’s mission, giving back to others just as Dr. Downing gave to him, by teachingand mentoring in the Roanoke school system, coaching tennis and most importantly sending over twenty-five athletes to UAPB on scholarships. In 1965, Carnis became tennis coach at Lucy Addison High School where he won the 1967 Virginia Interscholastic (VIA)State Tennis Championship. Carnis also coached at Patrick Henry High School. Carnis won various other local events, including ones at Washington Park, Salem Civic Center, and Crystal Spring, throughout the years. During this time, Carnis became a member of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (USA), serving as an Elder and mentor for over 50 years and winning Man of the Year awards numerous times throughout his time with the church.

Due to the efforts of the students he sent to UAPB, Carnis was inducted into the 2016 University of Arkansas Tennis Hall of Fame. River’s EdgeSports Complex tennis facility was renamed the Carnis Poindexter Tennis Courts in May of 2018 due to the efforts of friend and Roanokeattorney, John Fishwick. In 2020, Carnis was inducted into the VIA Hall of Fame. Also, in March of 2020, he was inducted into the First Class of the Roanoke Regional Tennis Hall of Fame in recognition ofdecades of skillful playing, coaching, and pioneering tennis for all in the Roanoke region.

Carnis was a pillar in his community and a God-fearing man who was beloved by many. His life exemplified what it meant to be a servant of Christ, choosing service to others over his own self-interests, truly being a good and faithful servant of Christ. The whole Roanoke Valley was enriched by this man’s life of service, and he truly was a blessing to many.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Vera Ruth Cornelious Poindexter; mother, Lillian G. Reese; and son, Carnis F. Poindexter.Carnis is survived by: his son, Clifton D. Poindexter; grandchildren,Carnis Jawaun Calloway, Jamar Calloway, Shane Lytle, Carnis F.Poindexter, Jr., Brooklyn Lytle, Rushael Easterling, and Briana Hooks; and a host of great-grandchildren, extended family, and many friends.”