Parham Bridges Tennis Center in Jackson has become a magnet for economic development. Not because of its prime location at the corner of Old Canton and Ridgewood Roads. Nor for the businesses that surround it. No, league play and tournament dollars have turned it into one of the largest public tennis centers in Mississippi.
Since Mike Kilian and Terry Overcash took over management of Parham Bridges Tennis Center and OverKil Tennis Shop two years ago, the 25-year-old center has hosted hundreds of league players and thousands of tournament participants. Kilian serves as director of tennis; Overcash is the facility manager.
Last year, 14 tournaments were held at Parham Bridges Tennis Center. This year, 16 tournaments are scheduled. Four NTRP (National Tennis Rating Program) championships are hosted there, including two major junior championships that draw players from four states. The most recent junior championship showed 75% participation from Alabama, Louisiana and Arkansas.
“Twice a year, we have state tournaments that draw 1,200 to 1,400 tennis players,” said Kilian. “Of course, everybody brings a wife or husband, sometimes a tennis coach or their entire family for the four or five days they are here. Even though those two events are hosted at Parham Bridges, they’re also played at Ridgeland Tennis Center and Tennis Center South. Even though Jackson has more league play and therefore more teams on a percentage level, about 75% to 80% of the tournament players are from out of town.”
Not all tournaments are USTA-sponsored. Some are fund-raising events, such as the Mississippi State University Alumni Association that always sees huge participation, Kilian said.
“We’re definitely going to bring in ATP (Association of Touring Pros) tournaments and challenger events that bring in players ranked from 150 to 500 from all over the world,” he said. “BellSouth Mobility wants to sponsor the first event, which will hopefully be held in 2001 when the courts are ready. We’re hoping ladies tennis professionals will follow suit. If we can get the men here on a regular basis, I feel confident we can get the women here, too. Once we get events rolling in, we can have a huge economic impact on northeast Jackson.”
The city of Jackson authorized a $35-million general obligation bond for public facilities and drainage improvements, which includes rebuilding Parham Bridges’ tennis courts 13, 14 and 15 to meet ATP specifications.
“This means the size and lighting of the courts will be increased so that ATP tournaments with up to a $50,000 purse can be held at Bridges,” Kilian said.
Funds to acquire top-quality moveable bleachers for viewing courts nine through 15 are not covered in the general obligation bond, so Kilian and Overcash are planning fund-raising events. Negotiations are ongoing for a complex land swap deal that will increase parking space. A training room and private area for players is in the works. Other proposed improvements include permanent tournament headquarters, the possible addition of two to five tennis courts and permanent bleachers for courts eight and 11.
According to the USTA (United States Tennis Association), metro Jackson has one of the highest populations by percentage of tennis players in the country. In a survey that included nine southern states, Jackson ranked just below Atlanta and Hilton Head in player density.
“Ann Brady, executive director of the Mississippi Tennis Association, has indicated that the number of league players has grown faster than court availability in the Jackson metro area for the last five years, and (1999) showed the largest increase in participation,” Kilian said. “Needless to say, Jackson is a tennis town, and we think its time to bring the kind of high-level tennis events to our city that places like Charlotte, N.C., and Lafayette, La., are already enjoying.”
To stir interest in league play and attract newcomers to the area, Parham Bridges Tennis Center hosted “Find a Player, Get a Player” the first week of January. The round robin event designed to connect spring league players with teams and vice versa had 38 participants. Despite colder weather and shorter days, more than 120 players signed up for the winter league, Kilian said.
“We recently held a NTRP-rated tournament for local players who wanted weekends free but wanted to participate,” Kilian said. “We ran it on weeknights over a two-week period and it was a success.”
Marketing director Brad Taylor is in the middle of a feasibility and economic impact study.
“It’s difficult to measure the economic impact of Parham Bridges, but I know it’s substantial,” said Overcash. “Our economic value often goes unrecognized.”
When Kilian and Overcash took over in March 1998, the retail store had probably $30,000 to $40,000 in inventory. In less than two years, the OverKil Tennis Shop has turned into a full service pro shop, with almost $150,000 in apparel, equipment and accessories inventory — the largest tennis inventory in metro Jackson. Other services, such as stringing and gripping, have been added, Overcash said.
“We’ve done better business than we anticipated,” he said. “With Mike starting new leagues and the city working with us on new courts, we’ve been more than happy with what’s been going on in the last 18 months.”
Four full-time instructors are based at Parham Bridges Tennis Center, including Ray and Walker Sahag, a husband-wife team that lists Monica Seles and highly-ranked players among clients.
“It would be easy — and comfortable — to sit back, have leagues and a few tournaments,” Kilian said. “But we’re really zeroing in on bringing events and a junior program to the city. We really zero in on getting new kids and intermediate-level kids involved in tennis. To grab kids away from baseball and soccer programs and whatever else they’ve got going on in school and get them on the tennis courts takes a lot of work. Sometimes, you’ve got to be willing to not make money, just to share the love of the game itself. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and be willing to stay extra hours, work weekends, and we’ve done that.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.