Coach Jerry Hirst, 79, died peacefully surrounded by his loving family on March 16, 2021. Born in San Francisco, CA, on January 22, 1942 in the middle of a blackout, Jerry was the second son of Minerva (Gundersen) and Wayne R. Hirst. Jerry’s family moved to Oklahoma where he found his love of tennis in middle school. He and his older brother Wayne began going to a park near their home where men like Thurston Land, Colonel Drake and Colonel Stephenson showed them how to play tennis after noticing that the brothers were playing according to ping pong rules. Jerry and Wayne made a promise to each other to practice every day, even if it meant shoveling snow off the courts, and eventually won the Oklahoma State Doubles Championship two consecutive years representing Harding High School. Jerry was then crowned the State Singles Champion his senior year. As a nationally ranked tennis player, Jerry was awarded a full scholarship to East Texas State University in Commerce, TX where he and Wayne led the Lions to multiple Lone Star Conference Championships and the NAIA National Championships. Jerry graduated from ETSU with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree.
While at East Texas State, Jerry met the love of his life and wife of over 56 years, Alice Etter Hirst. After graduating, Jerry began his career as a public school educator. Over the next 5 years he coached high school football, boys’ and girls’ basketball, and boys’ track.
Jerry became the Head Tennis Coach at Harlingen High School in 1966. He worked tirelessly to promote and grow the game of tennis in Harlingen and the entire Rio Grande Valley. The Cardinal Tennis Team won 29 District Team Championships and numerous individual championships during his career. A special highlight was when the 1991 Cardinal Tennis Team reached the finals in the State Championship Tournament. He was instrumental in establishing the South Texas Tennis Coaches Association where he served as President and Treasurer. He also helped form the Greater Harlingen Tennis Association and served on the Board of Directors for many years. Both organizations were established to promote tennis in schools and community for students and adults. Coach Hirst retired from Harlingen High School in 2004 after 39 years of service. During those years, he had 36 tennis players receive tennis scholarships to various colleges and universities. In addition to the athletic scholarships, he and his former player Walter Ingram created the Dorothy Ingram Scholarship to raise money for Cardinal tennis players to go to college. Coach Hirst never forgot his roots and how much his life changed because of the group of men that spotted a couple of boys playing with ping pong rules on public courts.
While serving as coach for the Cardinals, Coach Hirst was awarded:
In July of 2000, Jerry was invited to represent the United States of America as a member of the Gordon Trophy International Team. He remained a member of the team and enjoyed the annual competition with the Canadian National Team. He also played national Father/Daughter tournaments with his daughter Katy, and Father/Son tournaments with his sons Steve and John. He was extremely proud that he was able to achieve national rankings with each of his children. In 2009, Jerry founded the South Padre Island Hirst Tennis Classic for senior men’s tennis – an event whose proceeds supported the Gordon Trophy. The 13th annual “classic” was held February 19-20, 2021 in spite of the extreme cold weather!
Jerry was the devoted husband to Alice Etter Hirst for over 56 years. He had the great fortune to coach both his younger brother Dan Hirst, daughter Katy Lucci, son Steve and Howard Kasanoff on his Cardinal Tennis teams. His older son John chose to follow his father by coaching basketball. All of his grandchildren and their friends called Jerry “Coach”. He was blessed with seven grandchildren: Jordan Hirst, Neely Kasanoff, Jacob Hirst, Merrill Kasanoff, Mary Alice Hirst, Charlie Hirst, and Evaline Hirst. He loved nothing more than spending time with each of them and following all of their successes. In addition to his grandchildren, he is survived by John (Christie) Hirst, Katy (Tom) Lucci, Steve (Kay-Lynn) Hirst, Dan (Gena) Hirst, and Glenn (Imelda) Hirst.
He was a friend to everyone he met, a mentor to all he taught, a fierce competitor, a champion in every field of endeavor and a best friend to each member of his family. “They say you only live once, but if you live like me, once is enough.” Frank Sinatra
A Memorial Gathering with the family present will be held at Buck Ashcraft San Benito Funeral Home in San Benito from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2021.
In lieu of flowers, memorials can be made to the Coach Jerry Hirst Memorial Scholarship Fund through the following GoFundMe link or a charity of your choice. http://bit.ly/coachhirst
All guest should wear a facial covering and practice social distancing while visiting the funeral home.
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