Lessons from Charlie Herrington went beyond the tennis court

JENNIFER FIERRO • PICAYUNE COMMUNITY

MARBLE FALLS — After a celebratory dinner with family for winning the District 25-4A crown in girls doubles in 2010, then-Marble Falls High School players Devon Dockery and Kyleigh Ann Futrell ended the evening by paying a visit to Hidden Falls Country Club tennis pro Charlie Herrington.

Herrington had been giving the duo private lessons.

It was a crowning achievement for Dockery and Futrell, the first district title in the sport in a new century, something that was the norm during the 1980s when Marble Falls was a state powerhouse.

Herrington and his wife, Nancy, who was the Marble Falls Junior High School coach for nine years, helped make it that way. In all, the two coached 23 state qualifiers to 10 state championships.

OBITUARY: Charlie Herrington, 69, of Marble Falls dies March 26, 2014

On March 28, Dockery and Futrell were two of about 400 at a memorial service honoring Herrington, who had died two days before at age 69.

During the service, attendees who took lessons from Herrington were asked to stand. The number easily topped 225 and spanned two generations.

Dockery’s father, Joe Don Dockery, was one of them, learning from Herrington at 10. Meadowlakes Country Club, which is what Hidden Falls was called when it opened in 1974, had six courts on which Herrington gave lessons. The longtime coach helped string wooden racquets and take care of other needs at the club, Joe Don Dockery said.

Kimmy O'Connor (left), Charlie Herrington and Paige Secrest after winning the 1987 girls doubles state championship. Courtesy photo
Kimmy O’Connor (left), Charlie Herrington and Paige Secrest after winning the 1987 girls doubles state championship. Courtesy photo

“For us, he not only taught me, he taught my kids and everyone in between,” he said. “How many kids have crossed those courts and been impacted by them? He became a father or an uncle figure to a lot of kids who might not have had that kind of leadership role.”

Among the many lessons Herrington taught was not to fear playing at the net. That’s something he emphasized from the beginning, and Mustangs say it’s what separated them from their competitors, with very few of them willing to stand at the net for fear of getting hit.

Joe Don Dockery laughed when he recalled Herrington telling him to stand with a racquet in front of him at the net as the pro hit him with tennis balls.

No matter their ages, the former pupils say Herrington wouldn’t settle for anything less than his players’ best on the court, and that included their conduct.

Charlie Herrington (left) goes over form with two of his tennis students. Courtesy photo
Charlie Herrington (left) goes over form with two of his tennis students. Courtesy photo

He was known to end a lesson early if he sensed a player wasn’t mentally into it or even putting baby pacifiers in mailboxes if his pupils lost their composure during a match.

The Herringtons also influenced two former players to become tennis coaches: Marble Falls High School’s Jeff Savage and former Faith Academy of Marble Falls coach John Arthur Martinez.

Savage was the pro with the Andy Roddick Foundation who taught after-school tennis to Highland Lakes Elementary School students and went to the other campuses to show children the basics.

“Once I received my teaching certification, I needed a court,” he said. “Charlie was that person who reached out to say, ‘Play here.’ No doubt I wouldn’t be coaching in Marble Falls if it wasn’t for the Herringtons.”

“When I was a coach, I wanted to instill not only the right way to play but a love of the game,” Martinez said, “and a love of the game that we’ll have the rest of our lives.”

In addition to giving private lessons, the Herringtons also played. Nancy Herrington helped start the Marble Falls Community Tennis Association and allows players of all ages to compete against each other. In fact, the day before the service, several players gathered at the Marble Falls High School tennis courts to play, something they believe Herrington would have approved of, Martinez said.

Because of what the Herringtons have done for the sport, their former pupils have reached out to officials at Marble Falls Independent School District requesting the high school tennis complex be named after the couple.

“He gave you the path to maturity,” Joe Don Dockery said. “One of the greatest things we can bestow on him is living in a way we continue to give back to the community.”

“I don’t feel the pressure so much,” Savage said. “I feel Charlie has left the legacy in Marble Falls. I feel it’s not only my responsibility but every player’s responsibility to continue the excellence Charlie set for us.”

Where the Herringtons gave many a path to maturity or a love of sport, they also got something in return. After Devon Dockery’s and Futrell’s district crown in 2010, the Herringtons said the sport did more than fill their home with countless photos and clippings.

“It’s given us a family,” Charlie Herrington had said shortly after the tennis duo’s visit in 2010. “I have been very lucky. I have the opportunity to work with great kids and supportive parents.”

jfierro@thepicayune.com