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Former Gymnastics/Trampoline: Worldwide trampoline legend Hennessy dies

Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 26, 2015

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Former UL trampoline coach Jeff Hennessy, right, with his 1977 team, including world-famous daughter Leigh Hennessy, second from left on the bottom row. Hennessy died Tuesday evening at the age of 85.(Photo: Photo courtesy of athleticnetwork.net)

In UL athletic discussions between Ragin’ Cajun fans over the decades, his name may not have come up very often.

But very few coaches or athletes representing the university achieved more in this life than Jeff Hennessy.

The longtime USA Trampolining coach and UL physical education professor died Tuesday night at Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center after a lengthy illness. The 85-year-old was a resident of Broussard at the time of his death.

Hennessy’s list of achievements during his distinguished coaching career is almost too large to detail.

For starters, he was the USA Trampolining team coach from 1964-1980. His Wikipedia biography says that he coached more national and world champions during that period than anyone in the nation.

Throughout that time, his primary occupation was being an associate professor of physical education at UL from 1959 to 1986.

“I went to USL in the late 1970s,” son-in-law Mark Robson said. “At that time, he was like a rock star on the campus at USL. He was producing national and world champions with his trampoline teams. They were traveling the world. They competed in Russia and all over the world. It was a big deal back then.”

Robson, who came to USL from Scotland to play and later coach soccer, married Hennessy’s prize pupil — his daughter Leigh.

Leigh Hennessy is the all-time national leader in national trampoline championships, and like her father, also coached the U.S. national team.

She’s also been in the movies as a stunt woman and an actress. Leigh and Robson are currently living in New Orleans.

In 2007, the Hennessys became the first father-daughter pair ever inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame.

“Anyone who ever said ‘Jeff just did this’ or ‘Jeff just did that’ didn’t know him very well,” said Ed Dugas, a former UL professer college and current coordinator of athleticnetwork.net, a website dedicated to former UL athletes and coaches.

“In addition to working a full load as a college professor, he would put together world events and coached athletes that would excel against the best in the world.”

Among his countless international feats, he coached the first USA team to compete in the Soviet Union in 1974. He was a U.S. delegate to Winston Churchill’s funeral in 1965.

On the collegiate level, he led UL gymnastics teams to undefeated records in 1960 and 1961. He led the trampoline team to the NAIA national championship in 1969.

On the AAU circuit, his trampoline teams won national titles from 1964 to 1975 and from 1979-81.

“He was a great teacher,” said Brian Butcher, who was coached by Hennessy at UL from 1969-72. “He was well-respected around the world.

“He was a trailblazer in the sport. He latched on to it and had great success.”

In addition to his daughter, Hennessy’s list of champion pupils is a long one, ranging from 1984 Olympic diving medalist Ron Merriott, national champion and 1969 Miss America Judith Ford and world champions Stuart Ransom, Jimmy Yongue, Don Waters, Wayne Miller and Gary Smith.

Smith currently owns Acadiana Gymnastics, which he started in 1977, after being coached by Hennessy at UL from 1969-73.

Dugas said few realize that Hennessy also was an expert videographer for the football team and men’s basketball teams during his time as a UL professor.

After retiring in 1986, Hennessy remained an advocate for trampolining. He played a vital role in trampoline finally becoming an Olympic sport in 2000 in Sydney.

Nephew Mark Neal said Hennessy was also the most sought-after expert witness nationally for trials involving trampoline accidents after his retirements.

“He was very innovative,” Dugas said. “He was a great promoter. He was tremendous for our university.”

David’s Funeral Home of Broussard is handling arrangements. A funeral service is planned for Saturday.

Athletic Network Footnote by Ed Dugas.
Click here for the AN profile of Jeff Hennessy.
To view over 20 years of Gymnastics/Trampoline photos, click www.athleticnetwork.net , Photo Gallery (left side of home page),
Gymnastics/Trampoline, the 1960-2012 years.