Bossier Tennis Center pro Todd Killen’s fondest memory of his days playing in The City tennis tournament isn’t about winning the men’s singles title multiple times.
No, it’s about a loss.
Fifteen years ago, Killen, then 24, faced an 11-year-old named Ryan Harrison in the men’s open singles semifinals at Querbes Park.
Harrison, now ranked No. 57 in the world and a French Open doubles champion, won a thriller 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 in front of a large crowd.
“I’m not proud about it, but it was the most memorable moment for me,” Killen said recently.
“There were two people that were rooting for me in that match and that was my father and best friend because everybody wanted Ryan to win because that’s what this was about.
“They wanted to see that person that’s coming and how they compare and that was fine. I was still going to fight as hard as I could.
“But he beat me when he was 11 and I was 24, and it was one of the most memorable matches that I’ve ever played. I just want that to happen. I want those memories. I want those feelings to come back for everybody else.”
Killen made his remarks on the porch of the Querbes Park Golf Course clubhouse. It was a gathering of some of the most prominent tennis figures in Northwest Louisiana. The purpose was to announce that The City tournament is coming back.
It will be called The City Championships. Tournament organizers are smartly starting slow with only men’s open singles and doubles events. The tournament begins Thursday evening at Bossier Tennis Center and runs through Sunday.
One of the tournament’s many charms, Killen said, was the up-and-coming juniors getting a chance to play the top adult players in the men’s and women’s open divisions.
The tournament started in 1923 at the state fairgrounds. It eventually moved to Princess Park then Querbes Park Tennis Center, which opened in 1965.
Generally held during a week in late August, it quickly became one of the staples of the local sports scene.
While everyone referred to it as “The City,” it attracted players from all over Northwest Louisiana.
The event probably reached its peak during the tennis boom of the 1970s and 1980s and remained strong in the 1990s.
Not only did The City attract a significant number of players, large crowds came to watch the evening adult division matches. It wasn’t unusual for there to be dozens of spectators on hand for the men’s and women’s open singles finals held traditionally on Sunday afternoon.
The championship matches had umpires, linesmen and women, and ball boys and girls. That’s how big of a deal it was.
Killen remembers it well.
“The crowds that were there, all the bleachers were covered, the upstairs at Querbes,” Killen said. “That’s what I want to get back to.”
The tournament was a family affair. There were popular events such as father-son and mother-daughter doubles.
There were adult mixed doubles and divisions for older players ranging from 35 to 70.
The junior division was played during the day. Back during the tournament’s heyday, kids didn’t have to return to school quite as early as they do now.
As the tennis boom subsided, the tournament started to lose some of its luster. As leagues and tournaments based on playing ability increased in popularity, The City became just another tournament on the calender.
The number of participants declined, especially in the adult open divisions. Eventually, The City just kind of faded away in the 2000s, although there have been sporadic attempts to revive it.
Longtime local players Jeffrey Goodman Rick Holland and Killen are behind the latest effort.
They have the backing of the most prominent tennis figures in the area.
Among those at the announcement were Phillip Campbell, assistant director of tennis at Pierremont Oaks; The Indoors pro Jimmy Livesay, multiple men’s open singles champ Andy Lloyd; Jerry Montgomery, one of the most successful coaches in the area during the tennis boom last century; Dr. Bill Borders, another multiple men’s singles winner; and Lance Dreyer, assistant head pro at Southern Trace.
The first tournament this weekend at the Bossier Tennis Center will have prize money.
Eventually, organizers hope to bring back all the old events, including the junior portion of the tournament. The plan is to actually put it on twice a year at Bossier and Querbes.
Organizers are also opening the event up to all players who live north of Alexandria.
Goodman and members of his family competed in many of the tournaments.
“We just hope that slowly, over time, we can get it back to what it once was — a way to get more folks in the area playing tennis and a catalyst for getting more people interested in striving to become top level players,” Goodman said.
On a personal note, I played in The City junior tournaments in the early 1970s during the tennis boom. My brother, Doug, and father, Lee Hedges, also commpeted. Once I got a little older, I tried my hand in the adult open divisions with little success.
After I quit playing, I still enjoyed going to Querbes in the evenings and watching the matches. I also worked behind the counter at Querbes for a stint.
When I started working part-time at The Times in 1987, one of the first stories I wrote was about The City. I eventually covered several tournaments over the years.
One of my favorite memories as a junior was walking to Strawn’s for lunch after playing a morning match. It wasn’t unusual to play against someone and then walk to Strawn’s with them.
I also enjoyed watching the evening matches with the late John Gresham. In addition to watching some good tennis, we had a lot of laughs. Gresham was also a very good player. He and I won the 16-and-under doubles one year, mostly because of him.
Probably my fondest memory was hanging around longtime Querbes pro and tournament director Helene McCarter.
She ran the tournament with an iron hand. When I first met her as a kid I was a little scared of her. I think probably most were.
But everybody loved Helene once they got to know her. She was a joy to be around.
She was also fun to watch play, especially doubles, with her spin shots that would drive opponents crazy.
I don’t know if they’re planning to, but it would be nice for the new version of the tournament to honor her in some way, maybe name a trophy after her or something like that.
In fact, once Querbes is renovated, it should be rededicated the McCarter/Querbes Tennis Center or maybe the McCarter Courts at Querbes Tennis Center in recognition of what Helene and her family meant to the sport of tennis.
But one step at a time, and the first is to get the tournament going again. Kudos to those that are working hard to do just that.
Russell Hedges is Sports Editor of the Bossier Press-Tribune. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org