Kevin Essary goes From BMX bike racing to head pro at Parham bridges tennis center
More than two decades since representing Jackson Academy (JA) in matches there, Kevin Essary has returned to Parham Bridges Park, now as head tennis pro for the Parham Bridges Tennis Center.
Essary, a 1998 graduate of JA, took over the position in January, in a tennis career that has come full circle.
“I’ve always loved Parham Bridges. It’s where my background is – where all of my big tennis matches were,” he said. “It’s a hub for tennis, all tennis in Jackson comes through here at one point.”
Essary is excited about the opportunity and looks forward to helping grow the tennis center’s client base, as well as helping bring in more tournaments to the Northeast Jackson facility.
He also hopes to work with the LeFleur East Foundation and the United States Tennis Association (USTA) to fund improvements for the facility.
“This park definitely needs some love. The USTA does some matching grants, if the city or neighborhood can come up with some funds (to make improvements), they will match it,” he said.
Terry Overcash, owner of Overkil Tennis, said he’s excited Essary is on board. Overkil manages the tennis center, which includes public courts, a pro shop and other facilities.
“We had been looking for a head pro and knew he was going to be available,” he said. “We called him and asked him to send in a resume and he did.
“He went to school right across the street from the tennis center and played here and we knew he would understand our clientele. Years ago, he worked at a public park, so he knows how public (tennis centers) work,” he said. “It makes him a nice fit for us.”
Essary, a south Jackson native, got into tennis when he was 10 years old, a relatively late age. Initially he was involved in BMX bike racing.
“My best ranking in any sport was that. I had a falling out after I came in second in nationals,” he said. “I started pursuing tennis after that.”
He initially learned the game from his dad, David, a former executive with McCarty Holman, owners of Jitney-Jungle. “He worked his way up through every department,” he said.
At 15, his family moved to Madison, and Essary was enrolled at JA. At the school, he was a stand-out athlete, who played football, junior high basketball, ran track and played tennis.
He was coached in football by the late Coach Sherrod Shaw and was on the second varsity team to win a state championship his junior year.
“Coach Shaw would come out and watch my tennis matches,” he said. “All the matches at JA were at Parham Bridges then.”
He credits the coach for recognizing his future in tennis. “I was actually a running back at Hillcrest. When I switched over to JA, he moved me to strong safety on defense. He knew I didn’t have a future in football, but did see one for me in tennis,” he recalled. “He was a smart guy.”
As a junior tennis player, Essary was ranked in the top 100 nationally by the USTA, and in the top 20 in doubles.
After high school, he earned a scholarship to play tennis at Jacksonville State University.
“I did pretty well. My freshman season, I started off playing (as the) fifth and sixth seed, by the end of the year I was the number three seed,” he said. “Our team was about 50-50 most seasons. We weren’t at the top of the conference, not the bottom of the conference either.”
After college, Essary tried to play professionally, but gave up after he went to the hospital with full body cramps.
“I’d get into big matches and start cramping up,” he said. “I would stay out there until I started cramping worse and worse, until I couldn’t walk anymore.”
The cramps started in high school but subsided in college. “It got to be a little frustrating … pretty painful, I would say.”
After tennis, he worked a short time for his brother, who had a computer company in Memphis. However, after six months, Essary realized he wasn’t cut out for a desk job.
The psychology major started teaching tennis and never looked back. His first teaching job was at the Ridgeway Country Club, where he taught for three years and served as assistant pro. From there, Essary landed a position with the Windyke Country Club, also in Memphis. He was head pro there for eight years, before becoming tennis director for the city of Germantown. After three years there, he took a job at the Sports Club at Graywood, in Lake Charles, La.
“They had me as director of tennis, but once I got there, they didn’t have a pool manager, a fitness manager, court maintenance guy, no restaurant manager … I ended up taking on all those positions (and) I couldn’t teach as much,” he said.
“I enjoy teaching. That’s kind of what I do.”
Essary made his way back to Jackson about three years ago, when he took a position at the Country Club of Jackson. He was with the club three years before joining Parham Bridges.
“I always tried to come back to Jackson, even when I was in Memphis teaching there,” he said. “I tried a few times, waiting for the right opportunity.
“This is my home. I’m a pretty loyal Mississippian I would say.”
At Parham Bridges, he hopes to bring in and direct some larger junior and adult tournaments, like the Southern sectionals.
He also hopes to work with tennis center leadership, the city and LeFleur East to find funding to make park improvements.
In addition to creating a new park entrance, officials at the tennis center also would like to see additional courts added, in large part, to help the park attract larger tournaments.
Today, Parham Bridges has 14 courts, a large number when the facility opened more than four decades ago, but small when compared to the mega-tennis complexes of today.
Essary is excited about the prospects of being involved in any upgrades at the facility. “We can still host a lot of tournaments as it is, but with some financial backing and improvements, this (park) could be amazing,” he said.