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The Dart: Tennis players forged bonds on tennis court that continue to last

 

NATCHEZ — Nothing was going to keep Joseph Tucker from coming home to Natchez Saturday.

On any other ordinary day when LSU was playing Ole Miss and when Southern University was celebrating its homecoming, Tucker would be celebrating with the rest of his family and friends in Baton Rouge.

But Saturday was not an ordinary day for Tucker when The Dart landed on the Duncan Park tennis courts.

Saturday was an opportunity for Tucker to show his gratitude to Natchez tennis pro Henry “Hawk” Harris for teaching him about tennis and about life.

“I owe a lot to Henry — a whole lot,” Tucker said after his last match on the court. “If Henry came to me and said, ‘Hey you owe me, pay me back,’ I wouldn’t have enough to pay him.”

Tennis players from around the country gathered at Duncan Park Saturday to compete in the sixth-annual Henry Harris Tennis Tournament.

Tucker was one of the more than 70 players who came to play tennis and reunite with Harris and players they rarely see.

Forty years ago, Tucker happened to come to the tennis courts with a friend after football practice, and Harris saw Tucker and handed him a tennis racquet when he was 14 years old, Tucker said.

“He told me to go out there and play, and it as been history ever since,” Tucker said.

Tucker’s first attempts at the game were not very successful. His first summer tournament at Duncan Park ended quickly, losing his first match.

“I didn’t win, but Hawk saw potential in me and gave me a little trophy,” Tucker said. “That was motivation for me to come out there and play.”

Harris’ encouragement pushed Tucker to excel in the sport.

“At one point, I could beat everyone in Natchez except for (Harris),” Tucker said. “After all of the years I played him, I could never beat him.”

Tucker went on to get a college scholarship at Alcorn State University.

“I had other offers from other schools, but I was a mamma’s boy and didn’t want to leave,” Tucker said.

As much as Harris fostered his love of tennis, the Natchez tennis pro was so much more, Tucker said.

“I didn’t have a father figure at that time, so Henry took me under his wing and everywhere he would go to adult tennis tournaments, he would take me so I could watch,” Tucker said.

Tucker said his mother knew that Harris once worked as a police officer and encouraged her son to hang around with Harris. During those times, Tucker said he learned about how much Harris cared about children and spent time fostering and mentoring others.

These days, Tucker lives in Baton Rouge with his wife and four children. Family and work as a supervisor for the Baton Rouge Water Company keeps him too busy to play much tennis. Even still, Tucker said he makes a point to drive back home to participate in the annual tournament.

Tucker has attended every Henry Harris Tennis Tournament, even if he doesn’t play. Last year, Tucker was sidelined by injuries and watched from the sidelines.

“I owe that to Henry to show up every year,” Tucker said. “Even if I am not playing, I still show up.”

“To Hawk, I owe everything,” Tucker said.

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