By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD
I hadn’t seen Kenneth Myers in many years, so I was very excited when I ran into him at the monthly meeting of the Northwest Louisiana Community Tennis Association meeting a few months ago.
Even better was hearing the news that Myers – who attended Captain Shreve, Grambling, and LSUS — was returning to Shreveport to take over as head pro at Cockrell Tennis Center.
What a fascinating story!
Tell us about your family and background.
My mom, Lueburda J. Myers, was a 33-year retired Caddo Parish teacher having opened up two schools in the MLK Cooper Road area — then Linear High School and next Green Oaks High School, where she retired having served as PE teacher, girls’ basketball and tennis teams coach, and civics teacher. After retiring from teaching, she became the first Black superintendent of the 16 SPAR Recreation Centers. My dad drove trucks at the time for local-owned Melton Truck Lines. Rhett, my older brother, was exceptional while on the mid-70’s LSUS debate teams, having individually defeated Ivy League schools in competition. My whole family played tennis while first living in Scroggins Apartments directly across the street from Booker T. Washington High School.
How and when did you start playing tennis?
My Mom grew up on a sugar plantation in south Louisiana. When she was little (7 or 8), she was with the owner’s children visiting and she saw from a distance what was to her at the time, “ … looks like they are hitting a ball with a stick,” which was a wooden tennis racket. She said, “One day I am going to learn how to play that game,” which she did while she matriculated at Grambling — also learning how to swim since girls weren’t allowed to swim in the bayous down home.
Next to Booker T. Washington on Milam St. and in front of Lakeside Recreation Center is a fire station. What used to be in that exact location pre-1960 (long before the fire station) were two tennis courts with hanging lights from a pole where Black Shreveport played tennis taught by a man famously known as “Fat Sam.” My Mom said I would be in the stroller while she played. I can often remember 20+ people rotating and playing through the night, especially during summer. SPAR had an end-of-summer recreation center tennis tournament for Black kids that I played in a couple of summers beginning when I was 8 or 9 years old. One summer they had an exhibition featuring two former collegiate players who had just graduated and were playing professionally – La. Tech’s Phillip Campbell and Southern University’s Joe “The Pro” Jones, who was the best Black tennis player in Shreveport at the time. Joe told my mom that she might be able to get me in the indoor tennis facility where he was working at in Spring Lake. She got me in, I joined the year-round Junior Development program, and in 15 months I had qualified for the Boys 12s Nationals. I went on to play in the Boys 14s Nationals held at Pierremont Oaks Tennis Club. In the finals of the Louisiana State Open held at Querbes, I defeated Australia’s Mark Kratzmann, who went on to defeat Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker on his way to four Junior Grand Slams. In college, I am the only D1 black player (Grambling State) to be ranked in NCAA history. I became the two-time Black National Champion, winning the same title as Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe. The crown jewel locally was in my first City Men’s Open tennis tournament in 1988, when I defeated — in succession — players who owned the last 20 championships: Andy Lloyd in the quarters, Luis (Lucho) Varela in the semis, and the great Pat Harrison in a nail-biting three-set thriller. I won a total of four Men’s City Open Singles Championship titles in four different decades.
Tell us about coaching women’s tennis at Grambling.
In my 16 seasons as a D1 coach, I have coached two All-Louisiana selections — including numerous All-SWACs with a Freshman of the Year selection right before COVID. One of my most enriching wins was against Southern University in the 2022 season, when my women’s team defeated the Lady Jaguars from Southern University for the first time in front of a home crowd.
How did the job at Cockrell Tennis Center come about?
Cockrell was without a pro for several months and had a dozen committed Black juniors who had recently started playing during the pandemic. I was asked by a couple of board members from the NWLACTA if I was interested. I was.
Tennis is seeing a resurgence in popularity, especially in new people to the sport. How busy is at Cockrell? Are young people taking up the sport?
Working with the existing juniors beginning the first of June and then officially starting in late July as the Tennis Director, adult and junior participation has picked up — specifically with the local CTA/NJTL being the underwriter for tennis clinics at no cost during July (two weeks) and October during October Fall Break week along with October Tennis ‘R Treat day and Family Schools Tennis Mixer giving dozens of black youth an opportunity for an introduction to the game of tennis. Plans have been enacted to begin outreach to reach underserved youth through schools, rec centers, and mentorship groups.
What other sports do you play?
I played and excelled in all team sports except baseball.
You can invite any four people (alive or not) to dinner. Who would you invite?
One, I would invite my maternal grandfather, who died five months after I was born. Two, I would invite world tennis champion and first Black Grand Slam Champion Althea Gibson. Three, I would invite Robert “Whirlwind” Johnson — who discovered Althea Gibson and Arthur Ashe and is considered the Godfather of Black Tennis. Four, I would invite Tally Holmes, the first Black National Champion (1917) who played against US Champion Bill Tilden in front of thousands in New York City.
Contact Harriet at email@example.com