Judy Jagdfeld didn’t feel capable of taking over the Hartland boys tennis program in 1981.
To hear her tell it, the school didn’t have many options when she was approached about coaching the team.
“Some coaches were players, some coaches just love the game, some of them like working with young kids or sometimes they just couldn’t get anybody else to coach,” Jagdfeld said. “I was a combination of all of those. I didn’t feel like I knew enough about coaching tennis. I was reluctant to do that.”
Jagdfeld agreed to take the job, becoming what is still a rarity as a woman coaching a team of boys.
A self-described recreational tennis player, she got up to speed by attending as many coaching clinics and watching as much video as possible.
She went on to coach for 35 years and 64 seasons overall, having added coaching duties for the girls team in 1986. Nearly 1,000 players called her “coach” during their high school careers.
Now, 42 years later, Jagdfeld feels an apprehension similar to what she experienced before taking that first coaching job as her name will go alongside the top tennis coaches in state history.
Jagdfeld will be inducted into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches’ Association Hall of Fame at a banquet Friday in Holland.
When she was coaxed into providing information during the nomination process, her reaction was, “Are you sure? Are you sure you guys want to do this?”
One of her former players is certain she is deserving of the honor.
Doug Moffat, the current boys and girls coach at Hartland, was surprised Jagdfeld wasn’t already in the Hall of Fame when he attended an induction ceremony two years ago. Moffat and former Howell coach Bruce Grotenhuis, a 2003 inductee, were Jagdfeld’s biggest allies during the process.
“I had four years with her,” Moffat said. “Everybody you talked to said she was such a great coach, so encouraging, so positive. I’m introducing her at the dinner. A name students had for her was ‘Jumpin’ Judy,’ because she had so much energy and still does today. She’s 80 years old and still traveling a lot. She just got back from France, is playing two or three times a week. Why would you not want to grow up to be like that? She’s such a tremendous role model.”
Jagdfeld was a curiosity when she became the boys head coach. The Livingston County Press did an article asking the boys about the differences between being coached by a man and a woman.
“They said the big difference was ‘when we win, she hugs you instead of shaking your hand and she brings snacks to practice,’ ” Jagdfeld recalls. “That was the big difference they saw. I really kind of went into it because they asked me to do it and I really enjoyed working with young people. I love the game myself.”
Jagdfeld continued coaching for 15 years after retiring as a teacher, returning from the winter trip her and husband Jim annually made to Mexico to coach the start of tennis season in the cold weather that usually greets Michigan spring athletes. She stepped down following the 2015 girls season.
“I loved teaching, loved my profession,” Jagdfeld said. “When you’re coaching, you’re teaching, but here you are with a much smaller group. You only have kids out there who really want to be out there. I just really enjoyed that.
“Finally, after I was around 72, Jim said to me, ‘How long are you going to do this? We could still be down in Mexico instead of coming back in the middle of March for tryouts.’”
The Jagdfelds will head to Mexico as soon as Friday’s induction ceremony is over.
“We’ve got our rackets already packed,” she said.
While coaching Hartland, Jagdfeld experienced the same difficulty as her Livingston County Division 1 counterparts in getting past Detroit Catholic Central, Northville and Novi at the league or regional level.
“I can’t tell you how many times we came in third or fourth in those,” she said. “Those were always big things for me. When we were in Division 2, my teams did better. I definitely had kids who went to state, and we went to state as a team several times. Division 1 and that conference just killed me most of the time.
“When I talk about memories, it wasn’t always those winning memories for me. It was moments on the court, being with the players. I have moments going to the fence, coaching a kid, turning him around. Sometimes parents ask, ‘What did you say to him?’ ‘OK, if I told you, I’d have to kill you.’ Probably one of my strengths in coaching is that I was able to find what I call ‘the button’ for each player. Even though it’s a team sport, it’s individual. What might work for one kid is definitely not going to motivate the next kid. I enjoyed that, seeing if I could turn their games around.”
Contact Bill Khan at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @BillKhan.