By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Longtime Detroit-area girls tennis coach Judy Hehs has been named one of 23 National Coaches of the Year for 2019-20 by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NHFS) Coaches Association.
Hehs was selected first at the state level and then from among the eight sections that make up the NFHS – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. She previously had been named national Coach of the Year for girls tennis for 2014-15.
The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Hehs’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.
Judy Hehs coached girls tennis at Bloomfield Hills Academy of the Sacred Heart from Fall 1996 through Spring 2019 and served as co-coach of six MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship teams over her last eight seasons with the program. She was slated to coach the girls team at Wixom St. Catherine in Spring 2020, but that season was canceled due to COVID-19. She also coached Sacred Heart’s varsity girls basketball team from 1988-95 and two sports at Detroit Country Day – field hockey in fall 1987 and then junior varsity boys tennis (while also serving as the varsity assistant) from spring 1988-2000. Hehs was inducted in 2015 into the Michigan High School Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame and her girls tennis teams have a record of 169-80-18. She is principal at Wixom St. Catherine and in her 34th year as an educator.
“Let me share my ‘why do I coach’ philosophy: Do I coach to ‘give back?’ Do I coach to ‘make a difference?’ Do I coach for ‘selfish reasons?’ Do I coach because I ‘love it?’ I coach for all those reasons and more. The tennis court is my classroom now; it’s the place where I can teach tennis and valuable life lessons. The challenge isn’t in making great tennis players. It is about building great people. And building great people doesn’t mean we’re looking at wins and losses. Don’t get me wrong, winning is great and fun and helps to build a great team and program. But there is no better place than a tennis court to teach real life lessons – lessons about work ethic, teamwork, problem solving, independence, and the moment when effort turns into belief and belief turns into accomplishment. Athletics is a vehicle to becoming a better version of one’s self. I believe that participating in athletics can change lives, and not just the lives of the athletes whom we coach, but also the person whom we become through coaching. I had coaches in a variety of sports from elementary school through college who inspired me and motivated me to become a better version of myself. Every time I step on that tennis court, I hope to be that person in the lives of my players who inspires and motivates, and helps them become better versions of themselves. That’s why I coach.”
Four more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Dean Blackledge was honored in boys cross country after leading Hanover-Horton to its second Lower Peninsula Division 3 championship in three seasons in 2019. Kent Graves was the honoree for girls golf after leading Grand Rapids Forest Hills Northern to its third-straight LP Division 2 championship that fall. Livionia Stevenson’s David Mitchell was honored in ice hockey; Stevenson most recently won the Division 2 championship in 2012 and finished runner-up in 2015 and 2016. Dexter’s Michael McHugh was honored in boys swimming & diving; although the 2019-20 Lower Peninsula boys season didn’t conclude because of COVID-19, his teams have won four straight Division 2 championships.
The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.