Though never married with children of her own, Judy Hacker "adopted" every student she met. The retired Clawson coach and teacher died April 22 at the age of 72 from cancer. She lived in Ortonville.
Physically, she may be gone, but through the scores of former athletes whom she groomed to be better on the courts and fields — but more so on the playing fields of life — her spirit continues to grow.
Schalm Elementary School physical education teacher Laurie Putman met Hacker when she was barely 10 years old.
"She and Lou Young ran the recreation department for the city (of Clawson)," Putman said. "Some neighborhood friends asked me if I wanted to play on summer ball teams. She had high school girls coaching the teams."
Putman joined with the older junior high girls and made it to the finals, where she "played under the lights" in the championship game. But it wasn't the game that left an imprint on Putman.
"The two gals that were coaching my team both grabbed me and said, 'You see that lady out there umpiring first base?' and I said, 'Yeah.' And they said, 'She'll probably be the most important person in your life someday.' "
Putman took note of Hacker, and their paths soon crossed again.
"When I went into seventh grade, (Hacker) was the (physical education) teacher. And at the first of the year, she was calling names off, and when she came to mine, she said, 'I know you.' She asked me to be manager of the high school basketball team," Putman said.
Putman got to be around the pioneer coach who virtually started women's athletics for Clawson High School all through junior high and then all through high school, participating in every sport Hacker coached — basketball, softball and field hockey. In her four years of playing basketball for Hacker, Putman said she encountered only six losses.
"A group before me in the late '60s or early '70s never lost a game," Putman recalled.
But winning wasn't the goal Hacker had set her sights on. She wanted to create a family of athletes, competitors who would hold dear to each other, on the court and off. Winning was just the icing on the cake — a by product of the love and appreciation she poured into every student with whom she came in contact.
"She was like another parent to everybody," said Putman, a 1977 Clawson High School graduate. "She always promoted family before school and sports. And she was there for everybody — no matter your situation."
Clawson athletic secretary Daphne Hoeft enjoyed her time as a student with Coach Hacker.
"Everyone liked her," Hoeft said. "She was very competitive from what I remember. She was a great gym teacher."
Since the Hacker's retirement in 1995, former athletes would get together for a golf outing every other year. Turnout was always tremendous, and the success of the teacher was evident in each and every student.
"Everybody just has this 'family thing' for each other," Putman said. "Everybody wants to take care of each other, and everybody knows how to treat each other. There's not one person that she's touched that has a problem with any other. We all take care of each other like a family."
From the early 1960s up to her retirement, each student was instilled with Hacker's love and respect for one another. That mutual respect is honored each year in girls basketball with the Judy R. Hacker Award, which is given to an athlete who shows desire, dedication and determination. It's an award athletes covet.
"One athlete won the Hacker Award when she wanted the MVP," Putman said. "She was disappointed at first, until I told her I'd give up any MVP to get my name put on that. It's the most prestigious award we have."
Hacker's former players have gone on to lead successful lives, on and off the courts and fields she "loved" them on. Teachers, coaches, athletic directors and even members of the Michigan High School Hall of Fame have succeeded with the love and guidance of Judy Hacker.
As a woman, coach and friend, Hacker lived each day to make it better for those around her.
"She touched a lot of lives and made a difference in all of them," Putman said. "She treated us like her own. And she has that same respect back."
Her burial will take place in her hometown of Dayton, OH. Memorials may be made to McLaren Hospice, Michigan Humane Society and the Rose Center. Visit gramarfuneralhome.com to read more about the coach and sign the guest book.