Larrick to Join Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame
With her 80th birthday on the horizon and in the midst of her 41st year as a tennis teaching professional for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, Jean Larrick will soon be adding “Hall of Famer” to her impressive resume when she gets formally inducted into the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame on October 27.
Larrick — who currently works out of the Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield — has put an estimated 4,000 kids through tennis programming during her standout career. She works with adults, too, and has long been magnetized to players just getting their start in the sport.
“I always was drawn to somebody who couldn’t do anything,” Larrick said. “I knew they could. Because the kids I worked with, I knew they could. Teaching somebody who never played before is tough. I worked with red ball, green ball, orange ball, purple ball. Any ball you want to throw at me. I’ve done it a long time.”
Larrick has coached nearly every high-level junior player to emerge from the Cooper Complex. A prolific player herself, Larrick has captured more than 400 titles in singles, doubles and mixed doubles at the local and national levels. She earned four National Public Parks championships in age groups ranging from 25 to 55 and has been nationally ranked in singles and doubles within the USTA Missouri Valley.
Remarkably, Larrick, who is also certified in pickleball, won a pickleball tournament just this past summer. She stayed active in tennis competition until 2019, participating in a 65 & Over league that year and winning a 25 & Over USTA Missouri Valley doubles tournament the year prior.
“That was pretty good after having two knees done,” Larrick said.
Larrick — who said the variation of skill levels and age groups keeps her job fresh and challenges her to continue coming back for more — has coached and played on several USTA women’s championships teams throughout the decades. She gave the following advice to players aspiring to be as active as she is later in their lives: “Just don’t give up.”
“I always say to players — they don’t quite believe this — it takes two years to really get to know what this little ball and you are doing,” Larrick said. “You can hit the ball over the net. But really starting to hit with somebody — that’s hard. That’s tough. It’s easy to quit. I mean, how can you tell in four weeks? You really can’t. You’ve got to give yourself a chance. Because I’m telling you, anybody can play.”
Larrick got her start in the sport as a 10-year-old when her friend invited her to play. Larrick loved the competition and played tennis collegiately one year at Millikin University and later in life at Missouri State University, from which she graduated in 1979. Originally from Decatur, Illinois, Larrick has lived in Springfield the past 52 years.
Larrick has also coached swimming and volleyball and was a member of the five-time Illinois Women’s Fast Pitch softball state champions. She worked as a tournament director, league verifier and refereed tennis matches for more than two decades. She headed up the USTA Missouri Valley leagues in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. Larrick still assists with leagues today.
“I like the organization of the Missouri Valley structure. It has changed over the years, I’ve seen that. Ball changes, staff changes, structure changes, District changes, whatever. How’s that? They’re willing to change. Because if you don’t change, it ain’t going to work,” Larrick said with a cackle.
Larrick indicated her passion for teaching tennis stems from her love of school teaching. Education is in Larrick’s DNA, and she served in special education and adaptive physical education at the K-12 level within the Springfield and Republic school districts. She retired 10 years ago.
With her coaching career spanning multiple decades, Larrick is a familiar face for those involved in the Springfield tennis scene.
“I had somebody say, ‘I heard your voice down there. And here I’ve got my son. You had me at 11.’ He was 40. You know what I mean? Stuff like that. I’m on three and four generations,” Larrick said.
Larrick has cultivated strong relationships throughout her tenure. Though she has high expectations for her students and pushes them to improve, she also pays attention to details and provides her players with “extras,” as she calls them. She puts on new grips for them free of charge. She talks about racquet types and string tension. When someone needs help, Larrick steps up.
“I’ve got tennis friends from here to there,” Larrick said. “I talk to players. I pay attention to who I have. Not who I had, but who I have right now.”
Larrick has received a litany of awards, including a 2020 USTA Missouri Valley Gold Star. She was selected for the 2016 USTA Missouri District Community Service Award and 1990 USTA Heart of America District Community Service Award. In 2003, Larrick was presented the Perry Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Public Parks Tennis Championships. Four years later, she was picked for the Intersport Network Women’s Senior Sports Award.
And now Larrick will add a crowning achievement with her enshrinement to the Springfield Area Sports Hall of Fame at the Oasis Inn and Convention Center in late October. Sisters from Texas and Illinois, granddaughters, great-granddaughters and other family members — in addition to friends from around the Springfield area — will be in attendance on Larrick’s induction day.
“I’m elated,” she said. “My feelings inside are that somebody cared to pay attention to me. It just kind of finalizes what I’ve done. That’s the great part of that. It always will be there.”