By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
Shreveporter Helen Hickman Wood was recently inducted into the Tulane University Sports Hall of Fame along with her teammates from the 1974 Newcomb tennis team – as trailblazers of Title IX and their influence on women’s sports.
Wood grew up playing tennis in Shreveport and was a member of the Captain Shreve team – along with Anne Borders, Karen Cotter, and Alice deRochemont – that won the 1969 National Interscholastics Championship.
The 1975 Tulane University graduate taught tennis for years, is now a petroleum land professional, and has produced seven CDs of Offenbach Cello Duets. Oh, and by the way, she is the creator of Counter Culture.
The Hall of Fame celebration took place last weekend in New Orleans and the team was introduced during halftime ceremonies of the Tulane-East Carolina football game. Wood talks about the induction, the good old days of tennis in Shreveport, and how she came up with the idea for Counter Culture.
What does the Hall of Fame honor mean to you?
Well, it’s a pure thrill and an incredible, precious honor.
What was it like at the ceremony?
It was so nice! The induction Friday evening was in the Clubhouse space built into the stadium, on the second floor all along one side; and the field looked great through the viewing-windows when we first got there (and it was still daylight). It was just so neat to see all of the teammates and coaches arriving together after so many years. The various recipients’ speeches were fabulous. The next day, Saturday afternoon, we were presented on the field at halftime of the football game. The presentation was great and they showed our old team picture overhead on the scoreboard-billboard as we were being announced. We waved to the crowd and were greatly cheered. It could not have been more of a treat or a bigger thrill. Everyone was so nice and friendly.
What are some of your fondest memories of playing tennis in Shreveport?
Oh gosh, there are so many! I always loved the tournaments. Even earliest-on, in the “8 & Unders,” and on into the teenage years until Querbes opened, at Princess Park, downtown . . . everything about that! Franklin McCarter was the pro there and a great player, teacher and coach.
I rode my bicycle to play at Pierremont Oaks Tennis Club every day after it opened in my neighborhood in the early 1960s. The City and State Tournaments at Querbes Park were always wonderful. Tournaments at POTC were great all along, too.
I so fondly remember the days of “Helen & Helene’s Halloween Classic” that I cooked-up with Helene and that originated on the Centenary courts behind the Gold Dome, then moved over to Querbes Park, where Helene was the pro and manager (after her brother Franklin passed away).
Lee Hedges was our coach at Captain Shreve. He was the head football coach and didn’t really know how to play tennis at first, but he was a great coach and wonderful man. One day, to my delight, he asked me to teach him how to serve. So, I did!
I always had many nice connections through tennis and I’ve always loved to play. I love golf too, but tennis has always been “it.” Good old tennis!
Who is your favorite tennis player of all time and why?
I am going to have two: Rod Laver (for the old/classic one), because he wrote the book “Tennis for the Bloody Fun of It.” His strokes were the finest ever and his classic kindness and super athleticism are remarkable. Plus, he’s a lefty, which is so neat to watch. I met him when he came to Shreveport and played in the Gold Dome at Centenary one time. I had him sign my copy of his book, that still has a special spot in my library and that I will certainly treasure forever.
My second one (for my current, absolute favorite) is Valerie Harrison Woolbert, because she is such a fabulous person and was such a great champion back in her day. There is no better friend, coach, player or booster of tennis around, and I am honored to get to hit and visit with her several days a week today (unless something pressing comes up, causing one of us to have to cancel).
How did you come up with the (brilliant) idea for Counter Culture and the names of the menu items?
I was riding up the mountain on a ski lift in Aspen with a friend (Garen Houston), and I told her: “I am going to open a frozen yogurt store in Shreveport when we get home, and call it ‘Counter Culture.’” I had met up with her and some other friends there, on my way home from a road trip to Los Angeles. I had gone to a movie in the suburb, Westwood, and next door to the theater they had something I’d never seen before: a frozen yogurt store. I had some and loved it. When I got home, I called that store back and asked them what to do to open one. It was before any kind of franchising or anything like that in the food industry, so I got to do whatever I wanted and didn’t have to adhere to any specific rules or ways to set one up (perfect for me!). I got the same kind of machine they told me about and definitely wanted to get the same flavor I’d had when I first tasted it (which turned out to be the “Frogurt” brand). I started to source that and everything else I needed in Shreveport and found the right spot for the location (right across the street from Centenary College, on Kings Highway).
When I got it all together and was ready to open, my life-long friend Cathy Jacobs came in to join me with it. She named the Humphrey Yogart and the Banana Crack. I named the Orange Cooler (which encompasses all the “Coolers,” since you can get grape and other fruit-juice flavors of that too), and the David’s Drink, named after our old Shreveport and A-Train musician friend who always ordered it, David Egan.
When we first opened the doors, the very first paying customer came to the drive-in window and ordered a shake. We looked at each other in horror! We had not actually made one of those yet in all our testing and preparations. The shake machine had possibly only arrived that day, or the day before, but Cathy and I remembered how to make them from when we were kids playing tennis at Pierremont Oaks Tennis Club together, and the snack bar operator there, James Nunally, would let us hop behind the counter from time-to-time and make our own drinks and shakes. So, growing up there in tennis had its other perks too!
It’s a beautiful day and you have the choice to play golf or tennis. Which do you choose?
Golf, since it is easier on the old “bod.”
What do you like to do to relax?
Go on walks with my precious husband, Beecher; and work in my yard (particularly in the vegetable garden out in my backyard).
Contact Harriet at firstname.lastname@example.org