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Spotlight on Former Athlete - James F. Boustany - Tennis 1977-81
Boustany still living the tennis life
By Bruce Brown
James Boustany and tennis.
It's like peanut butter and jelly. Crawfish and beer. Serve and volley.
Some things just belong together.
Lafayette native Boustany has been on the tennis court most of his life, including a standout college career for Louisiana's Ragin' Cajun program from 1977-81, some time on the pro circuit and a longtime career as a tennis coach in the New Orleans area.
“I had nine brothers and sisters,” Boustany said. “I coached my sister Kathryn. She was a four-time state singles champion, and was a Metro Conference champion at Tulane.
“I've always had a love for tennis.”
Boustany arrived at UL just in time to catch a fast-rising rocket. The Cajuns had just won the Southland Conference in 1977 and were on the way to dominating the league,
In the 1978 SLC tournament at Cajun Courts, UL's Paul Griffith defeated Steve Hernandez for the singles title and Boustany teamed with Gus Orellana to beat Griffith and Hernandez in the doubles final.
UL would post dual match records of 19-9, 23-7, 23-10, 20-8 and 24-5 (109-39 total) during Boustany's years with the program.
And he put up some fancy numbers of his own with a 76-41 career singles record, 162-76 in total wins (45-15 in 1978), an 85-35 doubles career, and season doubles of 26-6 in 1978, 21-15 in 1979 and 17-3 teaming with Florindo Jopiti in 1981.
The building job coach Jerry Simmons did at UL, and then at LSU, helped to earn him a spot in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and he proved to be a lifelong influence on Boustany as a player and teacher.
“I looked all over the South,” Boustany said. “Georgia, Alabama, Texas. I signed with the University of Arkansas because my doubles partner was going there, but I got homesick. Coach Simmons took me in and helped me get going.
“I was confident in my shots when I got here, but I sat out the first semester to build my confidence back up. Paul was such a leader. I learned a lot from him. I could see myself change.”
But teaming with Orellana proved to be a perfect mix.
“Gus helped me so much with my confidence,” Boustany said. “He was a great doubles player, and he was always so calm that it helped me to stay calm. He helped me believe in myself.
“We developed such a great and quality friendship.”
Boustany saw Orellana's legendary calm on display when the two won a prestigious international college event in Guadalajara, Mexico, as Orellana also claimed the singles crown.
Boustany and Orellana both produced pressure-cooker service games to clinch victory.
“He was always calm under pressure,” Boustany said. “We had a great tournament. I've still got the watch they gave us.”
There were numerous moments with Simmons, as well.
“We were playing at Texas, and they had me playing No. 1 singles,” Boustany said. “I was hitting the ball as well as I ever hit it. So Coach Simmons comes over to me, twitching his mustache, and tells me to put more spin on the ball. I said, 'But I'm seeing the ball great.'
“He said, 'Just trust me for this first game,' and it changed the whole match. It was amazing what he saw. You learn to trust your coach.”
Dealing with mischievous teammates offered off-the-court drama to his time at UL.
“We were playing Texas at a time when they had beaten Oklahoma in football, and it was wild,” Boustany said. “I was driving one of the cars, and Paul said we could wait before going back, as long as we got back for classes.
“I believed what everybody said. We took turns driving back, and we all made it to class.”
It wasn't long before Boustany found out that Simmons was ambitous for his UL program.
“Coach asked us if we wanted to keep dominating the Southland Conference, or wanted to build a nationally-ranked program,” Boustany said. “We decided to go for it, and Simmons said we had to step it up. We were running at 5 a.m. six days a week. I was in the best shape I'd ever been in my life.
“If you got in trouble with him, then Simmons made you ride with him in the car, with his windshield wipers always on.”
Testing the pros
Boustany, Jopiti, Toru Yonezawa, Tarek El Sakka and Patrick Hughesman all made a run at professional tennis once their college days were over. While in Europe, Boustany could stay with then-doubles partner Jopiti in Zurich or Hughesman in London.
“At one time, we were playing in Norway, in a hut while we played in a tournament,” Boustany. “The hut had a bunkbed. If you won that day, you got to sleep in the bunkbed; if you lost, you slept on the floor.
“We were up in the mountains. It was impressive. We stayed in a bomb shelter in Switzerland. We took the train everywhere. It was great.
“It's unbelievable how good players like Toru and Tarek were. They were such fighters.”
Boustany found one foe he couldn't stop when a back injury railroaded his pro playing career.
Happily enough, the natural teacher in him emerged and he has enjoyed a long career teaching mainly in New Orleans.
“I see a lot more than most people do,” said Boustany, who staffed workshop events for Simmons while at UL. “I teach a lot of fundamentals – racquet position, footwork, body control. I do a lot of work on serves. That was always a strength of mine.
“You also have to work a lot on quickness. The ball moves so quickly today. (Ex-teammate) Bill Bryan taught me that you can never learn enough about the game.”
Bryan and Griffith have enjoyed years of success as pros in the Acadiana area, along with All-American Ashley Rhoney and others. For Boustany, it was the Crescent City.
He worked for 20 years at the New Orleans Country Club, including a dramatic episode with Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“We had to completely rebuild the tennis courts,” Boustany said. “It was amazing to see everything under water. We had to re-surface everything, start over. It was very, very hot in the days after Katrina, too, without much rain.
“Our house did not flood, but the club had to start over.”
Boustany took a three-year break from the game to help family business upon the failing health of his father, then returned to New Orleans.
“They rebuilt the tennis facility in City Park,” he said. “I work with 200 kids and ladies, all age groups, teaching 30-40 hours a week. We were really lucky to get the new facility.”
With Virginia Crocker – No. 1 in Louisiana and No. 25 in the South among 14-year olds – Boustany has prize pupil to lead the way.
But those just starting the game also benefit from his experience and love of the game. It has been a way of life.
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Click here for James and his 1981 Tennis teammates.
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James (bottom left) and some of his Jerry Simmons teammates at the 2013 Tennis Reunion.
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Click here for more 2013 Tennis Reunion photos.
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Click here for James Boustany's Athletic Network Profile.
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Click here for the 2007-present annual/chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.
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