By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
When I started this fun adventure of going to lunch with prominent people in the community and writing about it, there were a few people who immediately came to mind that I MUST feature. Today’s guest was actually No. 1 on that list. As my junior tennis coach, Jerry Montgomery was one of the most influential people in my life. Ask anyone who knows him, and they will say he is one of the nicest people they have ever met. They’re not just saying that.
After graduating from Centenary College in 1972, Jerry Montgomery was planning to go to law school, but he put it off for one year to be the assistant pro at Pierremont Oaks Tennis Club – where he had taught lessons during the summers.
“Then I put it off for one more year, then one more year,” Montgomery says as we enjoy lunch at Logan’s Roadhouse. “But I was hooked. I fell in love with teaching tennis.”
There would be no law school, which turned out to be a blessing for many of the top junior tennis players in Shreveport.
The 1970s were the heydays of tennis, and most of the top juniors in the state were from Shreveport. And they played at POTC.
“Our junior development program had more than 100 kids at times,” says Montgomery, who went on to serve as the head pro at POTC. “There were times when all 21 of the courts were filled with young players.”
While Montgomery loved teaching tennis, his real passion was coaching the sport. “Coaching tennis motivated me,” he says. “I loved the competition.”
So, when he had the opportunity to coach the women’s tennis team at Ole Miss, he welcomed the challenge. And, naturally, he was very successful. In his 15 years leading the Lady Rebels, his teams were ranked in the Top 10 in the nation for six consecutive years (reaching No. 6), he coached two of the nation’s top-ranked players, guided the program to its first-ever SEC Tournament Championship (1999), was named SEC Coach of the Year twice (1993 and 1999), had five All-Americans, 33 NCAA qualifiers, and 16 All-SEC selections.
But his players weren’t successful just on the court. He coached four Academic All-Americans and 28 All-SEC Academic honorees. In 1998, his team had the highest GPA in the nation in Division I tennis.
Tennis-wise, being at Ole Miss was a good move for Montgomery. Personally, it was magic. Just three months after arriving in Oxford, Miss., he met – and fell in love with — Allison Pickering. During his tenure at Ole Miss, they married and had their four children (John Abraham, Mary Ivon, Robert Pickering, and Margaret Anne).
“The worst night of my life was when Allison and I told the kids we were moving,” says Montgomery.
Leaving Oxford was not easy – for the kids and, especially, for Allison.
In 2001, Montgomery retired from collegiate tennis and returned to Shreveport to take a leadership role in his family automobile business.
“The kids adjusted well and quickly,” says Montgomery. “That is because of St. Mark’s Cathedral School (where they all attended) and youth sports.
“They had a strong Mississippi connection. They were born there, and they all went to Ole Miss.”
That connection drew three of the children — Mary Ivon, Robert, and Margaret Anne – back to Mississippi as they all ended up in Jackson, while John lives in Houston.
Robert will soon be moving back to Shreveport to go into business with his dad, the CEO and executive vice president of Chevyland.
While the automobile business keeps Montgomery busy, you know where to find him during high school football season as he is a staunch supporter of both Loyola and Byrd football.
“Both my sons played football at Loyola,” he says. “Robert played baseball and John played soccer there, too (Mary Ivon also went to Loyola and played soccer).”
And the Yellow Jackets? Montgomery graduated from Byrd in 1967, Margaret Anne is an alum, Chevyland is a sponsor, and the dealership has hired a number of Byrd players for part-time work during the summer.
A torn rotator cuff has limited the time Montgomery can spend on the tennis court, where he spent so much of his life – including at Byrd (“back then we held the longest dual-match winning streak of any high school teams in the country”) and Centenary.
Back when he thought he wanted to be a lawyer. Lucky for me (and many others), he changed his mind.
Contact Harriet at email@example.com