George Ferguson leaves behind a 20-year legacy with Havre High tennis


Last updated 3/17/2023 at 8:14am

Portrait of a Pony

Former HHS tennis head coach George Ferguson speaks with a pair of players last season. Ferguson coached the Blue Ponies for 20 years and led them to multiple state and divisional titles.

After two decades leading the Havre High tennis teams each and every spring, George Ferguson isn't on the courts as a new season of Blue Pony tennis gets underway.

Recently, Ferguson decided to completely change careers and is now in the fulltime tennis industry, working with the sport he loves so much. And while the Blue Ponies will not look familiar without him as he had been coaching the teams since 2003. After taking over for the retiring Sam Dierman, Ferguson believed it would be short term. However, he quickly took to it and led the Ponies for the next 20 years.

"I didn't know when I got into it that it would go as long as it did. I wondered if maybe I was just going to be a short-term solution. But I loved it right from the start. I was blessed to take over a program that had already been really successful, thanks to my former coaches Kirk Miller and Sam Dierman," Ferguson said. "The cupboard was by no means bare. So it wasn't a hard transition. But it certainly lasted a lot longer than I ever thought it would, and I think I'm really proud of the longevity and the consistency. That is something I feel really good about."

When Ferguson was initially hired, many knew that he would be a successful coach for the Ponies. Dennis Murphy was involved in hiring Ferguson for the head coaching job, and he knew instantly that he was the right choice.

"He had an incredible passion for the game of tennis," Murphy said. "It was a heck of a challenge for him coming in right away but he never missed a beat because of his love for tennis."

In his 20 years coaching the Ponies, Ferguson has plenty to be proud of. He coached the boys team to state titles in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2021 and he coached the girls team to its first state title in 2006 and another in 2009. He has coached 21 individual state champions. The boys have won 15 state trophies while the girls have won eight state trophies in 20 years. The boys even won the divisional championship 17 years in a row at one point and have won 18 of the last 20 divisional championships.

For his success leading the program over the past two decades, Ferguson has been recognized as an MCA Coach of the Year on six different occasions. In addition to countless divisional coach of the year awards, Ferguson is currently one of eight finalists for the National Tennis Coach of the Year. Ferguson also turned his program into a year-round machine, with voluntary open tennis in the fall, winter and summer, and he liked coaching at Havre High so much, he even took on the head golf coach job the last four years.

But, despite the personal accolades, Ferguson was most happy to work with hundreds of great young student-athletes that went through his program over the years.

"That's the most important thing to me, the kids," he said. "I'm proud of the success, I'm proud of the trophies and medals and awards and all of that. Any coach would be. But our success also came from the fact that we had amazing kids all these years. Kids who loved tennis, loved our program, bought into what we were building, and who just did their best every single day on and off the court. It's all about the kids. Without them, we're not having this conversation right now. I'm not the person or coach I am today without the countless kids who I have been so fortunate to coach. I loved them all."

One of those kids that Ferguson coached was Tommy Brown, who eventually became an assistant coach for Ferguson. Over his many years working with Ferguson, Brown has learned plenty that continues to help him.

"He taught me everything I know," Brown said. "He was a big part of the start of my coaching career and he basically taught me the ropes and the ins and outs of coaching and helped me get started in that career."

Along with getting to learn from him, Brown got to see the impact that Ferguson made on the players and the program as a whole.

"Obviously the trophies speak for themselves, but the relationships he built with the kids, he did a hell of a job," Brown said. "He was a really good mentor for me and is just a great guy."

As the father of a pair of players that Ferguson coached, Murphy saw first hand how Ferguson impacted his players.

"He did a great job of developing them throughout their careers," Murphy said. "I don't think there's any player that didn't play for George that didn't see incredible improvement from their first practice to their last practice and that's a credit to him to keep working with them."

With his 20 years on the job, Ferguson had the longest tennis coaching career in school history. Along with Murphy, current HHS girls basketball coach Dustin Kraske and former HHS wrestling coach Scott FIlius, Ferguson was one of the most recent coaches to reach the 20-year threshold at Havre High School. But Ferguson was not alone on the journey as he had plenty of help along the way.

"So many people I have to thank for my success and for helping me be the coach I am today, aside from all our amazing kids," Ferguson said. "Dennis Murphy had a tremendous impact on my career. He hired me. He mentored me as far as coaching high school athletics goes, and he's been a great friend the entire time. Kirk Miller was my tennis role model as far as coaching goes. I was also so very fortunate to learn from other people at Havre High who were around when I got started, coaches like Troy Purcell, Jason Wirt and Scott Filius, as well as my friends in the coaching industry like Chris Mouat, Shawn Huse and Mark Samson. Those are all people I learned a tremendous amount from just about coaching in general."

"I also have to personally thank Jim Gregg of Cut Bank and Diane Lewis from Lewistown. They taught me so much. I really looked up to both of them, and I would not be who I am today had it not been for them being in the tennis coaching world when I got into it. They are great friends," Ferguson said. "Of course, every assistant coach I've had, no way I could have done any of this without them either. They all helped me, and all of our players so much. I've just been so lucky to be around so many great coaches over the years. I also had so much great family support. My wife Amy, our parents, they were all part of the team. I was just really lucky to have so many people who had my back all these years."

Ferguson will not leave the world of tennis, as he will next serve as a director of tennis at a club in Denver, Colorado. With him leaving the program, his former players and assistant coaches are sure to miss him.

"We'll miss him. Just seeing him every day, just sharing laughs with and just all the fun times and good memories," Brown said.

Of course, Ferguson's impact on Pony athletics did not stop with the HHS tennis teams. He also worked at the Havre Daily News for many years covering the high school's sports. Along with his coaching, many will miss Ferguson's coverage of the Ponies.

"I don't think people will realize all the things that he did for us," Murphy said. "He had a gift to communicate with our kids and make them feel good and that's really going to be missed."

While it is bittersweet for Ferguson to move on from the program, he is proud of the traditions and the state of HHS tennis and believes it will remain there long after he is gone.

"I am really proud of just what Blue Pony tennis is, and what it means to so many, past, present and future," Ferguson said. "I'm proud of how much fun the kids have. They work hard, we push them in our program, we challenge them, but, we also have a ton fun. The bus trips, hanging out between matches, our Christmas party, Pizza Hut after the Havre Invitational, just all of our traditions, I know those things mean so much to the players, and they pass on all of those traditions to future generations of Pony tennis players. That means the world to me, that I was able to help create, to help build something that became such a fun, successful and important part of so many kids' high school experience. I'm so very proud of that, and those are the things I'm going to miss about not coaching high school tennis anymore. I'm going to miss the relationships, the camaraderie just all the little things that made this so special. I know the program will continue to be great. I know Jeff (Miller), Tommy (Brown) and Josh (Currie) are going to do amazing things with our program. But I'm sure going to miss it all. It's been a blast. Every day was a gift to be able to coach these kids, this program, at the school I graduated from. It was a gift and I'm so grateful that I got to do it for as long as I did."


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