Billy Clark makes it simple for beginning tennis players.
Clark, the manager and tennis pro at Magnolia Tennis Club in Columbus, says he wants only two things when he gets new players on the court. “You’ve got to be able to serve the ball, because that’s how a point gets started, and you’ve got to be able to keep score. And sometimes keeping score is the hardest part.
“Then a parent will ask, ‘Are they ready?’ And I’ll say, ‘Yep, they can serve, they can hit the ball over every once in a while, and they can keep score. They’re ready to play.
“Parents sometimes are really asking, ‘Are they ready to win?’ And I’m not really sure about that, but they’re ready to play. Get out there and have a good time.”
That’s the whole point of tennis to Clark, and it doesn’t matter if they’re just starting out or accomplished players, kids or adults. Ask Clark what he loves most about his job, and the answer comes back quickly.
“Being able to interact with all of the people,” he said. “I love interacting with the kids and the adults. We all have something in common through tennis. Everybody loves tennis, and we have a good time.”
Those not looking for a good time are advised to go elsewhere.
“I tell the kids, don’t come here with a hangdog look,” Clark said. “We’re out here to have fun.”
Clark has been having fun pretty much full time for about 20 years. He had taught tennis on the side while still in the corporate world, but changes there led to some reflection.
“I don’t know what I was thinking at the time,” he said. “My wife is a potter, and she sells her pottery. We just decided that I’d teach tennis, she’d do pottery, and we’ll just have a good time.
“It certainly wasn’t the headaches of running a company. I enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and found I really enjoyed teaching tennis.”
He’s done a lot more than teach, and despite a late start with the game, Clark has been around.
“I’ve just been involved for so long,” he said. “I got into officiating, I string rackets, got to meet a lot of folks. I used to play a lot of tournaments, met a lot of folks. I just love tennis. I’ve coached high school, I’ve done league teams, I’ve been involved in pretty much every facet.”
Clark was honored for his efforts with induction into the Mississippi Tennis Hall of Fame at a dinner sponsored by the Tennis Foundation of Mississippi on April 9 in Jackson.
“Actually I found out two years ago, and then they had to cancel because of COVID and then they postponed it again,” Clark said.
The year’s other nominee was recognized posthumously, giving Clark an opening for a joke.
“I told some of them, the other guy was posthumous, and if they keep on waiting, it might be two of us,” he said.
But Clark is very much alive and still pretty busy. The club keeps him busy, although summer is a little slower, and he coaches tennis for both Heritage Academy and Caledonia High School. That’s not bad for someone who got a relatively late start in the game.
Aside from very limited exposure while at Mississippi State — he graduated in 1972 — Clark had not started playing tennis until his sons picked up the game in the mid-80s.
While still working in the corporate world, he started teaching tennis on the side at Twin Rivers in Greenwood. When his sons attended Pillow Academy, he was asked to coach there, and when he moved to Cleveland, Mississippi he coached at Bayou Academy. He’s been at Magnolia for 12 years.
For Clark, every stop along the way has been about tennis as a way to meet new people.
“In my speech at the Hall of Fame thing, I talked about how tennis is one big family,” Clark said. “You’ve got something in common. It’s all about tennis. They don’t care how much money you’ve got, they don’t care about blah blah blah. It’s about tennis.”
Tennis as a vehicle to meet people is the subject of one of Clark’s many stories about the game.
“My son played junior tennis. When he finally had a driver’s license, we’d let him go to Jackson. There was a guy who lived in Jackson, and all of the guys that were competing against each other, they’d go down and spend the night with this guy.
“They had a good time, partying, whatever — I said, just don’t let the cops call me — and they’d try and beat each other‘s brains out the next day on the court. Next thing you know, they’re back at it. To this day, they keep in touch. It’s just a great way to meet folks.”
And those folks love being on a court.
“I had a guy who called me to play, and he’d beat me 0 and 0,” Clark said. “There’s no telling how many times he beat me 0 and 0. But he kept calling. This guy’s name was Jim Dunn, and he would call me: ‘Come on out and play.’ And I was like, I’m going to get beat again.
“This guy kept calling me, and I wondered why does he keep calling me? And over the years, I figured it out. It’s just about tennis. He just wanted to play. He loved tennis, and he wants other folks to enjoy it. And that’s what it’s all about.
“But I did start to get games off of him.”
Being the manager at a tennis club with more than 200 people, coaching two high school teams — Heritage has won boys and girls MAIS titles during his tenure — and doing whatever else someone in the tennis community needs him to do keeps Clark busy. But don’t expect him to stop any time soon.
“People ask me when I’m going to retire, and I say, ‘I’m having fun,’” Clark said. “Some days I might get a little tired, but I’m having fun.”
You can help your community
Quality, in-depth journalism is essential to a healthy community. The Dispatch brings you the most complete reporting and insightful commentary in the Golden Triangle, but we need your help to continue our efforts. In the past week, our reporters have posted 59 articles to cdispatch.com. Please consider subscribing to our website for only $2.30 per week to help support local journalism and our community.