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"When I started here, I had 15 pupils," says Hoffman. "I was some place for them to be two hours a day. For the entire summer I made $237." His smile after each sentence is like punctuation. Against his deep brown face his teeth stand out like popcorn. He is giving his visitor a history lesson as they walk.
"Some of them were not too eager. I had to borrow a motorboat to go capture them off their sailboats. 'Your mother paid me to give you tennis lessons and by God you're going to practice,' I said."
The pro who had the Green Gables job before Irwin "just handed it over" because there was no money in it. In Denver there were two worthwhile tennis jobs: at the Denver Country Club and the Denver Tennis Club. Irwin estimates there are now at least 15 or 20. His former pupils have 80% of them—the Lake-wood Country Club, Rolling Hills, etc.—set up by Hoffman for a percentage of the action. He has kept the concession (as head pro and manager) at the HeatherRidge indoor club for himself.
Like Rich Hillway, Irwin Hoffman is a high school teacher, with a Ph.D. in mathematics education. He teaches computer math at George Washington High, one of the first courses of its kind in the country. He has written seven monographs on the subject. Irwin once tried to put a tennis draw into a computer, but the computer clammed up.
To be the most successful tennis pro in Denver, Irwin Hoffman followed what he relates to be a logical ascension. "When the golf courses got crowded, and President Kennedy put everybody on a health kick, tennis was right there. The advent of the indoor courts made it possible for a pro to make a living year-round. In the last two years, a guy who hustled could do very well."
"I've had to learn. I've learned, for example, that the pro shop is a bad investment if mishandled. Two hundred people can't support one. I used to work 12 to 13 hours a day. I kept my own books because I didn't know any better. Do you realize how many years I broke the law because I didn't know about workmen's compensation?
"My wife couldn't take it. She made me stop every night at 9 so we could talk. We talked until she went to bed at 11. Then I went back to work. Seven days a week, May to October. I wound up with a very expensive divorce."
Hoffman now is part of a syndicate that owns apartment houses and filling stations, and some raw land. He has a new wife and a $110,000 home, with a tennis court. "And I have my own bookkeeper. The sign of a successful tennis operation is having your own buyer and own bookkeeper. All I do is sign the checks."
Irwin is on a court at Green Gables, teaching a gray-haired man in a golf cap the keyboard. One of Irwin's polite young players, a boy of 13 or 14, pats balls into the line of the man's flailing racket. The man is stiff-armed and straight-legged, as if he had been left out in the rain and had rusted.