Paul Christian Memoir
Places I lived. Lake Charles, La., Gainesville, Tx., Wichita Falls, Norman Oklahoma, Ft. Worth, Dallas, Corpus Christi, Houston, Conroe (April Sound), Houston, Galveston (Tiki Island), Bellville, Pearland.
Lake Charles was not my choice, but that of my parents, Lester and Rhoba—and Halliburton who offered Daddy a job in 1939. So, I was born there in 41. Mama and Daddy—they were quite the athletes. Daddy played football and baseball, and did them well. Then he did what the husbands/fathers did, went to work. As for Mama, I still have a trophy she was awarded as all-star pitcher on a mens’ baseball team. In Lake Charles, she played on ladies’ softball and basketball leagues. Oh yeah, she was lefthanded. Batting champ a few times, too.
Then came Gainesville which was surprisingly the beginning of my tennis career. I found a tennis racquet in a closet and asked Mama whose it was—it was hers. She let me play with it., which I did quite a bit. I couldn’t hit the ball flat, just hit spin shots—what a later in-life revelation.
Halliburton transferred Daddy to Wichita Falls, which I found out had quite a tennis program, including high school coached by a gentleman named Chuck Avera—quite a coach—and tennis pro. In my first tennis class, he explained that the serve is broken into 3 parts, “racquet back, toss the ball and hit it.” So, when he directed us to do that, I took a windup and hit the ball with one continuous motion—THEN the others completed that 3-step process. Coach’s comment was, “what happened?” In a very apologetic way, I just said, “I hit the serve”. He said “do that again!” I did and he told the others in the class, “That’s the way y’all wanna serve!” Whew, he didn’t chew me out for not following directions!! I started tennis class in the 9th grade and Zundy Jr. High, a block away from WF High School and my partner, Lillard and I won the state championship 3 years later. There was lots of tennis during that period—lots! My high school best friend was Jerry Geyman who also went to OU and stayed ‘til graduation. Somewhere in there, my little brother Bob was born 14 years after me. Another lefthander who played tennis and golf, too. Bob passed away at age 55, caused by COPD, which claimed Mama and Daddy in their later years. “Thank you, tobacco!” Then came college, that semester at OU, then to TCU. Lots of tennis during those years.
I think it was then that a couple of family friends told me that Mama and Daddy would have given anything if I had continued with golf (they both played and were pretty good). They never pushed me to play golf, just let me pick my sport. What wonderful thing to let me do!! Jumping way ahead, our sons Corey and Jeep got to attend Summer Day Camps while Mickie-Mom and I were at Westwood. They were exposed to lots of sports. We obviously wanted them the play tennis, but we had them learn how to play tennis and/or golf, and if they wanted later on to play, they had the background to do so. You 2 guys thank my Parents for that!! Corey is a tennis pro now, and Jeep is a very accomplished tennis player—and the both play golf. And my daughter Kathy played on her high school team, varsity of course! We lost Kathy in her later years after an absolutely horrible fight with breast cancer. She died on Christmas Eve 4 years ago, so Christmas time is a bit up-and-down. When Kathy graduated from high school, Mama and Daddy helped us buy a little mustang for her to get back and forth from A&M—happy, happy girl! One more story about my start with tennis, Mama told me that she had played tennis while she was 8 months pregnant with me, and that she had marked me to be a tennis player.
Then came Corpus Christi, which was one of the best places to live if you wanted tennis—what another plus for me! I was hired as teacher and tennis coach at Roy Miller. Again, lots. LOTS of tennis, both coaching and playing. Two young men there Ronnie Flores and Dickie Fikes, played on the team (I pretty much started them), winning the State High School Championship in their senior year. Dickie went on a tennis scholarship to Texas A&M and Ronnie received one from the University of Houston—where I ended up as coach. Ronnie accomplished All American status while there. And you could guess this part---More Tennis, LOTS MORE!
And another truly great friend from my Corpus Christi days and to this day---Ron Woods (and wife/best friend Loyce). Ron and I met upon my arrival and his return from the University of Houston tennis team. Ron is and has been an absolute standout when it comes to contributions to the game of tennis. Payback here for sure!
I left Corpus Christi to become the Tennis Coach at the University of Houston. Many thanks to the Athletic Director at U of H, Harry Fouke, for finally offering me the job! And another great move for me! In 1971, while at U of H, I won the Texas Tennis Tennis Open Championship, which led to another great event described below. And I made a stop on the way home to spend time coaching the Texas Junior Davis Cup Team. What a treat, hopefully for them, too! That tournament win really turned things around, both for me and for U of H too. Harry Fouke was the Athletic Director, and tennis was his favorite sport. Gladys Heldman, described below, helped put UH on the national tennis scene by holding a Virginia Slims event indoors on Hofheinz Pavilion. Later, the quarter-and semi-finals of the “Handsome 8” were played there, led by Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, the finals being played later in Dallas. We were a hotbed for Houston tennis, as-well-as for the world!
Oh yeah, right in there in Houston, I met a girl named Mickie Pontius who became my wife and best friend. What a good move on my part! We both worked at Westwood, 25 years there, with her very successfully managing the tennis shop and helping with numerous tennis activities, and literally putting us on the tennis “Merchandise Map.” We offered a “Cost plus 15” program where the members gave us $100 up front and then bought all the merchandise they wanted for one year. Mickie grabbed hold of that and turned the Tennis Shop into a thriving business. And I struck a deal with the Houston Tennis Assn. to sell them tennis balls for all sanctioned events. Another Tennis home run!
Almost on my first day in Houston, I got involved in a weekly tennis game which lasted some 35 years with my longtime partner Tim Heckler, Richard Schuette and John Been---great tennis, great fun, great guys. There were very few changes until Richard had to quit with bad knees. A guy named Ron Fisher, who saw eye to eye with me on what this great game was about, became a semi-permanent fill-in. Ron came to be another good friend. He was already a great player!
There came to be more with whom I got to play with regularly. And again, great players and great guys from South Africa, England and Australia. Most of these guys played at Wimbledon several times, as-well-as the French, U.S. and Australian Opens. What excellent and often overpowering friendship-based competition. Adrian Bey who passed away a few years ago, Keith Diepraam who loves to teach (oh yeah, his wife Pam also played those Grand Slam events, also quite a talent.). Others are Alan Boss, Mike Collins (winner of 2 Wimbledon Junior Titles), Curtis Richmond (who also passed away), Steve Wedderburn who possesses the most perfect topspin backhand. Keith and I have remained in contact almost every day for a good while—thank you my friend for being there! One day in the spring of 1973, I sat down with a couple of Aussie gentlemen, Rod Laver and Roy Emerson. Rocket was considered the best tennis player in history, and Emmo had won more Grand Slam titles than anyone in history—12 which held up for a long time. The result was (without thinking twice) my move to April Sound to run a brand-new tennis club and to run those “Laver-Emerson” Clinics. 2 years of that were highlighted by a couple of Pro Celebrity events hosted by Glen Campbell and the other by Lloyd Bridges, with a ton of celebrity participants from Hollywood and elsewhere. What a treat for a kid from Louisiana! Side note—Tommy Connell, my assistant at April Sound then, played with the Tarzan actor, Ron Ely. They quickly became “Tarzan and Boy.” Tommy won a handful of
USTA National championships (Gold Balls) and is now a member of the Texas
Tennis Hall of Fame.
Then back to Houston to Westwood Country Club for 25 years. Great place to be, with indoor courts and a very supportive membership. Some truly great Member-guest/Pro Am events and more. I ended up resurrecting the club’s Summer Day Camp, maintaining it for some 20+ years. And it was about 1980 when a group of Indoor club pros put together the still-going Ladies’ Indoor Interclub League. I became the sole Director of that league in the nineties, now 30 years running and still going. Many good friendships were created at Westwood, particularly, Dickie
and Joy Pulaski. He and I enjoyed some treats on his birthdays, hot air ballooning and a night in Memorial Park with the Rodeo Trail ride. A reporter took Dickie for a “regular” participant, took a picture and interview and posted it in the paper.
Speaking of contributing to the game of tennis, I have been working long and hard to pay back to the game for everything and everyone it has brought to me. I’m not sure when I realized I needed to do this—no doubt unconsciously—but I became involved with the Houston Tennis Association way back. And the Corpus Christi Tennis Association before that. Then onto Texas Tennis Association committees—Awards Committee for almost 30 years, Discipline and Grievance for about 30 (Chairman for most of that time), Hall of Fame for maybe 20? And lately,
as Chair of the Texas Sportsmanship Committee, into my 4th year with this committee. Still trying to pay back! The term with D&G was my first truly direct attempt to help tennis by making the bad actors pay for their poor sportsmanship by assessing suspension points or simply suspending them from play for a period of time.
Then a move to Galveston (Tiki Island) Mickie bumped into a tennis-clad lady at a bank there, asked where she played tennis and that I was looking to play. This was Barb Sasser, wife of Dominick. Barb very casually said, “In my back yard.” Well, they had 2 courts there, one hard court and one grass court—Wow! And there I was, playing on grass and couldn’t hit a flat shot. And left-handed too. What fun that was! Dominick liked to buy and sell property, so he and I hit it off very well, as I had earned a real estate license. So, thru that phase, I managed to put a bit
more money in the bank. But these funds simply allowed our financial security to increase—all else had been covered all the above.
Tennis was and still is such a great game I got exposed to—and from many, many sources as you can see. It created a wonderful life for my entire family. I’ll never be able to break-even with Tennis’ contributions to me—but I’m still trying to pay my way, pay back to this great game.
And what all did I get to do because of tennis? Again, President Bush and Chuck Norris. Wow! Meeting so very many people, traveling to so many places—Hawaii a few times (USPTA meeting), Argentina (via tennis friends), The Australian Open via USPTA, French Open and the U.S. Open (several times), all over the U. S., Russia, Normandy, Switzerland and The Netherlands because my tennis profession afforded me the financial ability. Mexico frequently. Much, much more—thank you tennis! Oh yeah, 2 trips to Norway representing a sister city relationship between Stavanger and Galveston. And they got to visit us twice! A true highlight of my tennis travels. And back in 1971, after winning the Texas Open in singles and doubles, I received an invitation to play in the National Grass Courts tournament at the Meadow Club in Southampton, NY. Jack Kamrath, who I beat to win the Texas Open, and I were invited to play in the USTA National Grass Courts Championship by a great lady, Gladys Heldman, who was the editor/publisher for the ”World Tennis Magazine.” She arranged for us to also be accommodated there, in a home with 15 bedrooms and as many bathrooms owned by a family very closely associated with Wall Street. What a treat! Thank you, tennis and Gladys.
Some things which came my way, not because of where I lived but just when it happened.
The Texas Section Awards Committee created Sportsmanship awards for junior players in the 14-and under and 12-and under levels. I was selected for the boys 14’s. Ken McAllister who was awarded the Boys” 12-and under level and I drove to Abilene to present the junior winners on those 2 levels. And Emily Schafer (Schuette) was one of those additions. Through all of the above, a lot of education was financed for our kids from kindergarten thru college--none of it came from the real estate side.