This is the second part of Sarah “Coach Jay” Jurewicz’s story. She can be described as a servant leader, a creative expressionist and a coach who does not stop at simply changing players’ lives on the court. Off the court, she is changing lives all around the world. Coach Jay is in her eighth season as head coach of the Wittenberg Tigers Women’s Basketball Team.
A native of Shakopee, Minnesota, Jurewicz is one of the all-time greats in Wittenberg women’s basketball history. As a player, her teams posted a four-year record of 85-24 overall, including a phenomenal North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) record of 59-5. The Tigers won NCAC regular season and tournament titles and advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament three times during Jurewicz’s career — in 1995, 1996 and 1998.
Her first coaching opportunity came at Savannah College as the assistant coach from 2000-2003. She was involved in all aspects of the program, including practice preparation, post development, recruitment and game strategy; Jay helped the team to two winning seasons in her three years.
“It was really exciting; the team here was so athletic and quite amazing,” she said.
Nevertheless, the most interesting thing about her time at Savannah wasn’t the amazing records they upheld; the players were all artists in some aspects because Savannah is an arts and design college. During Jays’ time there, the team had a 19-7 record and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Tournament in 2001-02.
While Coach Jay says she “misses working together with a group,” she also misses being in control of what happens on the court.
“As a coach, you still have some control over what happens on the floor, but you don’t have ultimate control. And as a fan, you have zero control,” she said. “The more and more you’re removed from the court, the harder it is to watch.”
She says when she picks up The Torch and sees her players’ future in stories about the basketball team “that it is great and awesome that [The Torch] is highlighting that these athletes are doing more than just playing in their sport.”
While none of her athletes might have come in with the mindset of only playing basketball, Jay says, “They know their life is greater and goes way beyond basketball here. They know that the things they’re going to learn in basketball is [sic] going to help them if they learn how to apply it beyond the court.”
When Coach Jay was asked to talk about her mentor Pam Evans Smith, who is the namesake for the basketball arena in which she now coaches, she had a lot to say:
“I think she instilled a lot of tangible qualities that I still carry with me today…hard-work that is one of them,” she said
Jay went on to talk about how “what I did as a student here both on the basketball court or out side the basketball court,” was never easy.
“I think dedication was another one I learned from her,” she continued regarding Evans Smith. “Both compassion and passion were qualities that she upheld herself and that she instilled in those who were apart of her program.”
Jay is also now rapidly becoming known as ‘Shoeless Jay’ as part of a philanthropic event in which she participates.
“They’re people who don’t have shoes and socks on their feet in the middle of winter,” Jay said, referring to the event she has committed to doing every other year.
She coaches one game barefooted to raise awareness to how many people around the world go without shoes.
That’s the story all about how one woman became known as a fearless, shoeless servant leader, creative expressionist and a coach.
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