Dodging the bright yellow balls aimed in her direction with an easy going laugh, Jan Doke stood on the other side of a tennis court, facing eight kids armed with tennis rackets.
"Extra point for whoever can hit me," she yelled out to the young tennis players.
Laughing, coaching and listening intently as one of her young students tells her the story about her missing tooth during a lesson on how to hold a racket, the long-time instructor for Hartland Community Education shows her years of experience and endless patience.
A popular instructor for more than 20 years at Hartland Community Education, Doke has been teaching kids in the community one very important lesson – stay active and have fun while doing it.
“If you want your child to be active in something and you aren’t sure what they want to do, have then sign up for something with Miss. Jan,” said Carol Hayes, Recreation Coordinator for Hartland Community Education.
Hayes says that many parents have chosen to follow Doke from sport to sport over the years, just to keep their children with the popular instructor on a regular basis.
Getting kids excited about sports and confident in their own abilities is her favorite parts of the job, according to Doke.
“They just get the biggest smile on their face,” she said. “I don’t care how good they are or how big they get, when they come back and say, ‘I can do that.’ that just makes my day right there.”
Twenty-three years ago, Doke was a stay-at-home mom raising her two young sons when she began teaching toddler gymnastics at Community Education. Originally, Doke had gone to college to become a gym teacher, but later dropped out of school when she was told there wouldn’t be any jobs for her in her field.
“That’s all I wanted to do, since I was little," she said. "Was be a gym teacher.”
Although according to one of her co-workers, the real reason Doke enjoys working with children so much is due to her short stature.
“Jan likes small children because most adults are taller than her,” Toni Silsbe, scheduling coordinator for Hartland Community Education said, teasing the 5-foot-tall Doke.
Her size being a regular joke between the two friends, Silsbe is also quick to point out that the community education staff recognizes the fact that anything Jan is associated with will become popular.
"Anything Jan is doing, anything Jan is associated with, parents want their kids signed up for," Silsbe said.
Besides gymnastics, Doke also teaches soccer and tennis and is involved with Safe Town, latchkey and pickleball.
Doke says her years of teaching at community education has been a way for her to fulfill her goal of teaching and also combines her two favorite things, kids and sports. Acting “goofy” with the young kids in her classes and being the recipient of sloppy kisses and endless hugs are just considered extra perks for Doke.
Whatever her reasons, Doke says she is very happy with how her life and career turned out and says the biggest lesson she has learned over the years is “to let kids be kids.”
Jan Doke is part of our "Greatest Person" series for Hartland Patch. If you know someone who does great things for the community and should be highlighted, send me a message at firstname.lastname@example.org.