Ferriday native Shepard inducted to Jackson State sports hall of fame

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 25, 2000

Jackson State tennis coach Willie Shepard’s office sits in the same building as JSU sports hall of fame. The Ferriday, La., native often takes a stroll through the hall, pausing to look at the pictures of greats like Walter Payton and Jackie Slater.

&uot;Those are people who’ve gone on to make their mark on the world,&uot; Shepard said. &uot;It never dawned on me that one day I could be included on that hallowed ground.&uot;

Shepard sees a familiar face when he looks at pictures in the hall these days – his own. For his 14 years as JSU’s tennis coach and a spectacular career as a player there from 1977-1980, Shepard was inducted into the hall earlier this month.

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&uot;It hasn’t hit me quite yet,&uot; Shepard said. &uot;It’s quite an honor. I’m in an elite group athletes. Not many people from Ferriday can say they make it to the hall of fame at the college level.&uot;

A graduate of Ferriday High School, Shepard’s sport of choice was basketball. He made the team as a walk-on at then-Northeast University in Monroe, La., before he ever picked up a tennis racket.

When he did as a college freshman, though, his life changed forever.

&uot;I was a pretty good athlete, and a I had a knack for it,&uot; Shepard said. &uot;The more tennis I played, the more I wanted to play it.&uot;

Shepard spent the summer after his first year of college living and breathing tennis.

&uot;I used to hang out at the Duncan Park tennis courts all day long,&uot; he said. He also began winning tournaments in and around Natchez, which drew the attention of college scouts.

&uot;I had the occasion to come to Jackson State to play in a tournament,&uot; he said. &uot;I was looking for a place to go. I felt I’d gotten as far as I could go in basketball. Let’s just say I wouldn’t have made the hall of fame.&uot;

Shepard was given a tennis scholarship to JSU based on the recommendation of a coach who had watched him play in Natchez.

&uot;They said they had heard good things about me and they were trying to build up the program,&uot; Shepard said. &uot;I came to Jackson State that summer and never left.&uot;

Since then, Shepard has twice been named the Mississippi player of the year and has earned SWAC coach of the year honors five times. He has won over 20 tournaments and has coached more than 1,500 players.