WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Sherman’s Oregon Roots Led to Successful Pacific Career
By Lacy Lee Baker
During a recent visit with 1992 NFCA Hall of Famer Judy Sherman, she said with a laugh, “It’s great to be Judy Sherman.” And, I can see why. Retired from a successful career as coach, educator and administrator, the long-time Oregonian has carved out a busy life doing all the things she loves.
Your career spanned five decades, with softball coach the cornerstone of your years of service to Pacific University. Were you a player before you started coaching?
Yes, I was very young when I started playing. My city, Forest Grove, Oregon, had a women’s team called the Forest Grove Meadowlarks, and we played in the Pacific Coast League against the Lionettes from Southern California, the Shamrocks out of Salt Lake City, and teams from Phoenix and Portland. I was actually 11 when I started playing with them; my school’s physical education teacher had seen me play and went to my parents to ask if I could join the women’s team.
I was fast, and long and lean, and started in the outfield. One of the highlights was playing in the nationals at the old Raybestos field in Stratford, Connecticut. I had to bat against Joan Joyce, and I was just hoping to touch the ball. Well, I did, and I ran like a scared rabbit before getting thrown out.
So, slapping wasn’t invented yet?
No, I was quick but batted on the right side. We would just stand in there and take our cuts.
What are some other memories from your early playing days?
At that same nationals, it was the first game and we were warming up in the outfield. The coach was hitting us flies and one went over the fence. Well, coming from a time when balls were scarce and you had to keep track of every one of them, I just put one hand on the fence and hopped over to retrieve the ball. Apparently, the fans in the Northeast hadn’t seen such an acrobatic outfielder, and they applauded. I was so embarrassed that when I returned to the playing field, I just crawled over and ended up scratching my leg on the fence.
So, you must have been pretty good at jumping too?
I guess I was. In college at Oregon State, I played basketball and volleyball, along with field hockey and softball. I also participated in track when I had the time and at one point held the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) record for the high jump. If I had graduated a year later, I would have been able to train with Dick Fosbury, who perfected the Fosbury Flop and won the high jump gold medal in the 1968 Summer Olympics.
You started your coaching career at Pacific in 1967. What do you think made you successful as a coach?
I had great assistant coaches and hard-working players who were very goal-oriented. I always believed in setting goals and working very hard at the fundamentals. I hated to see softball practices where one person was hitting and the rest of the team was standing in the outfield to retrieve the ball, so I was very innovative in my practice plans. No one stood around at my practices. We had hitting stations and defensive stations, and kept everyone moving the entire time.
I also knew my players as people, not just as athletes. I still get Christmas cards from many of them and I’m glad I still remain part of their lives.
I conveyed my philosophy to them as well, telling them that in business, sometimes you get a PERK, or a little something extra, and we should give softball a PERK. I would then explain:
P is for “Positive Attitude”
E is for “Expect Excellence” (because what we expect, we very often get)
R is for “Respect” (respect for your opponents, the umpires and the game itself)
K is for “Kindness” (because we should give a little kindness because there’s too much meanness in the world)
What do you see as the main differences in the sport since you began your career?
The usual suspects... sports training at a very young age, so skill wise, the players are better... better access to training facilities, so they’re stronger and quicker... and of course, the equipment has made a huge difference. Technology has also played a part, with the capacity to videotape players and break down their swings and other skills. I give credit to Title IX for these improvements; we might have eventually gotten there, but it would have taken a lot longer.
On the negative side, I don’t see players embracing the history of their sport. I see some of our players falling into the same traps like the men before us, expecting everything to be handed to them. Most will never experience sponging water off a field, or carrying the equipment, or having their coach tape an ankle because there was no such thing as an athletic trainer for women’s sports. The sport has had some great athletes, but the players of today probably can’t recall the names of the past. Television exposure is building softball role models today, but without the Olympics, it saddens me to think about the generations of players who have lost the chance to play in sport’s grandest arena.
You have been involved with USA Softball’s selection process since the late 1990’s. What do you think about the recent International Olympic Committee developments (softball out of the Olympics through 2016)?
It’s sad that the IOC did not see fit to keep such a strong women’s sport on the program. However, there are still great world competitions that players can aspire to — the world championships, the world cup, the Pan Am Games and more. As long as we keep exposing the world to the sport through television, I believe there will still be converts to our game and the interest will continue to grow.
Although you had retired from coaching fastpitch in 1992, you remained on as athletics director at Pacific until 2004. Has it been hard to give up your work?
No, because I still help out the new athletics director with event management on a part-time basis. This affords me the opportunity to keep in contact with the student-athletes and still be involved in the life of the college.
The neatest thing that happened recently was the naming of the softball field in my honor. Besides dedicating it to someone from the college, they also wanted to honor a person from the city of Forest Grove. The “city” person that they chose was my father Ellerd Larkins, who had been very involved in the growth of youth softball and baseball in the area. He owned a lumber mill and had donated all the lumber to build a stadium many years ago; he sponsored teams and volunteered his time. Although my father died many years ago, my mother was alive to see the dedication of Sherman/Larkins field, and it was very special for her and our entire family.
And, what else are you doing in your “retirement”?
I’m a very busy gal! I dog-board in addition to having several acres of fruit trees and blackberries, raspberries and blueberries. I also have a six-acre farm where I keep my horse, and maintaining the farm is a job in itself. I’m still involved with USA Softball, and when I can, I plant a vegetable garden.
The dog-boarding ties me down a lot, but I still have some aspirations to travel, like taking a cruise to Alaska or a baseball vacation where I can visit some of the Major League Baseball parks. My two daughters live in the area, and I have three grandchildren, the oldest of whom just started high school. As you can see, I’ve retired from my career, but I haven’t retired from life. It’s great to be Judy Sherman!