By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
Her journey to head tennis pro is not a common one — she didn’t grow up playing tennis and compete in junior tournaments, play in high school and college, and then start teaching lessons. Jill Zimmer, the new owner and head pro at Southern Hills Tennis Center, took a different path – and quite an interesting one.
Tell us about your family and background.
I was born in Natchitoches in 1976. My father was a game warden in the Kisatchie National Forest, where my Taylor Family has lived since the early 1800s. My sweet father, who passed away when I was 13, was in War II and the Korean War. They had me later in life, so I was a little bit spoiled. I have one older brother and two older sisters. My mother was a P.E. teacher and a basketball softball coach for 30 years and a sports fanatic. I grew up on the softball field pretty much of my young life. At a very young age, I was with those high school girls catching and throwing for hours every day.
How and when did you start playing tennis?
My story of how I started playing tennis is a little different than most. I didn’t start out as a junior player. In fact, I actually started when I was 32 years old when a friend of my husband’s was a tennis pro at Stone Bridge country club at the time. My friend had begged me for months to play, but I told her I wasn’t really the tennis person type.
So, one day she finally broke me down and I went to play. Let’s just say from that moment on, I became obsessed. The playing catch and throwing on the softball field had paid off. My hand-eye coordination was really good and I picked it up really fast. From then on, I started taking tennis lessons from pretty much everyone in town. I would make goals for myself every two years. I wanted to move up a level, and I did. My goal was to make it to 4.0 but I passed that goal and became a 4.5. I feel like that’s pretty good for not being a junior player and playing my whole life.
Then I got asked to be the Airline tennis coach. I was terrified but then when I started it, I was like, “Wow, I can do this.” My mother was so unbelievably proud of me and bragged to everyone that I was a coach like her. And I definitely see her in the way I coach. My mother passed away three years ago and that’s what made me get certified as a teaching pro. She inspired me to keep pushing myself and make my goals come true.
How did the job at Southern Hills Tennis Center come about?
If you would have said to me, “You will be the owner and head pro at Southern Hills Tennis Center,” I would have laughed in your face. It started by me just working up there part time for my friend Tyler Semmes. He had moved to Kansas and Rhonda Rubben asked if I would like to be the interim pro. I said, “I’ll try it, I guess.” With that said, weeks went on and then, she sat me down and asked the big question, “Jill, would you want to be the official head pro and own Southern Hills for yourself?” I said, “Rhonda, you’re out of your mind. There’s no way I can do this.” Then I remembered, “Okay Zimmer, you just coached kids that never played tennis before and they went to state, and then you just passed a really hard tennis certification test without being a junior player. You can do this.” So — with a lot of thinking and praying — I took the chance on this diamond-in-the-rough place.
I hear wonderful things about what you’re doing at Southern Hills. What are some of the improvements to the facility and things you have implemented?
First and foremost was to move the process on new court resurfacing and get my pickleballers their new six courts. I kind of made that my mission for them. I got a meeting set up to view some pickleball courts that would be similar to what they were wanting, and SPAR went ahead and got that rolling. I have worked in making the center feel welcoming and, as everyone says, “putting that ladies touch to it,” and trying to keep things clean and maintained. Recently, we have lightened up the place with painting inside and the outside door, which looks amazing, thanks to an awesome sponsor.
What do you like to do to relax?
I love to travel. My family and I love California and actually just got back from there. I love to get out to our family land and just be still for a couple of days when I’m really needing to relax.
And, of course, a good hotel in Dallas is always good, too.
You can invite any four people (alive or not) to dinner. Who would you invite?
Well, of course, you have to have Jesus there. And besides my mom and dad, it would be Jerry Seinfeld, George Strait, and — I know this is crazy — but Post Malone. Haha!
Contact Harriet at email@example.com