This year for our star-studded JCC Denver Sports Hall of Fame event, we are proud to honor Irwin Hoffman, the most triumphant Jewish tennis teaching professional. Ever.
That’s right–ever. This is the J’s first ever induction of a tennis player, so why not start it off with a bang?
Irwin was the JCC’s first teaching tennis professional in the 60s, and he went on to have a 52-year career teaching tennis at the Green Gables Country Club. At the height of his tennis career, Irwin and his team managed over 17 clubs and programs. He has coached thousands of young players (many of whom have gone on to be competitive players), and gifted them with life lessons and skills.
A brilliant, humble man, Irwin learned to play ping-pong at the JCC from a Jewish Canadian tennis pro–they played every Sunday for two or three hours. Without ever having a single tennis lesson, Irwin went on to win the state championship as a young man. Soon after his win, he was approached by the tennis pro at the Denver Country Club. When asked if he’d had any lessons, Irwin Hoffman shook his head. The tennis pro saw a star in Mr. Hoffman and made him a ball boy. The pro told Irwin he could watch him teach tennis and learn by watching.
“And so that’s what I did for two years.”
Due to the kindness of this Denver Country Club tennis pro, Irwin decided to pay it forward to young tennis players throughout his career as an instructor.
“That’s what I did for 50 years was have ball boys learn by watching me if they couldn’t afford lessons. It’s the least I could do.”
Tennis might have been his career, but education (and, let’s be honest, altruism) is his ultimate legacy. Even as a young boy, teaching came naturally. Irwin taught all of his friends growing up how to play tennis using his mother’s 1917 tennis racket (if you’re lucky enough to attend his December 11th induction, you’ll be able to see this racket in person).
A Denver native, Hoffman had a successful undergraduate academic and tennis career at the University of Denver. Irwin went on to teach math at George Washington High School by day, all while getting his Masters in Computer Science and Mathematics at DU and teaching tennis at the J in the evening. He has lectured on the subject of mathematics in all 50 states, as well as several countries around the world.
When asked about his personal teaching philosophy, Irwin replied, “The role of a teacher is to have students explain what they’ve been taught, not to have the teacher talk about how much knowledge he/she has.”
When Irwin learned we would be writing this piece on him, he politely replied, “What is there to talk about? What is there to say about me?” To be honest, if there wasn’t a word-count limit on these sort of things, we could write endlessly about Irwin Hoffman. Selflessness and kindness echoes throughout his stories. Sportsmanship and graciousness comes through with every smile and hearty laugh.
Our Interim COO, Jim Swiggart, summed it up well, “I’m enthralled every time I get a chance to talk to him.”