Celebrating the wins of volleyball coach Julie Jenkins.

I know many local sports fans are celebrating Gregg Popovich’s amazing NBA coaching career. But in honor of Women’s History Month, I’d also like to shine a spotlight on Julie Jenkins, another record-setting leader, one who has toileted in veritable obscurity 5 miles northeast of the AT&T Center.

In October, the Trinity University coach notched her 1,000th career volleyball victory. The two-set sweep over Centenary College marked an extraordinary milestone going into a historic anniversary, as June 23 will mark 50 years since President Richard Nixon signed Title IX, forever changing education — and sports — for women in America.

A self-proclaimed product of Title IX, Jenkins is aware her almost 40-year career wouldn’t have been possible without the 1972 legislation. Her high school in upstate New York didn’t offer a girls tennis team in the mid-1970s and was compelled to accept her on the boys team, an opportunity her older sisters didn’t have before Title IX. Her male teammates didn’t seem to mind, especially after she earned the No. 1 spot on the Owego school’s squad.

Jenkins parlayed that open door into an exceptional career, a Division III volleyball dynasty and now membership into an exclusive club. Across all three NCAA divisions, she is the second woman and the 10th coach to achieve the 1,000-win mark. Among active coaches, she is first in Division III victories and fifth in all NCAA volleyball programs.

Jenkins was attracted to Trinity by the balanced approach the school took to academics and athletics in response to Title IX. The 25-year-old not only lacked experience in coaching (after only one year as an interim) but also in pronouncing items from menus in our city. A 2017 article in this paper about her 900th victory has her recalling she had never sampled huevos rancheros and couldn’t pronounce “fajita” before her 1985 arrival.

Women’s collegiate sports were evolving in the 1980s, and the low-paid part-time coaches usually juggled multiple teams while teaching physical education. Jenkins’ job at Trinity was no different, as she guided volleyball and men’s and women’s junior varsity tennis in the fall and softball in the spring. But Jenkins had faith in the promises made in her job interview and saw a chance to “build something.”

Although years would pass before teaching duties were removed and assistant coaches added, her faith was rewarded. Today, under the leadership of Trinity Athletic Director Bob King, you can’t tell the difference in resources or personnel between the nine men’s and nine women’s teams — another Title IX success.

How has Jenkins contributed to the athletic side of the equation? To quote the earlier Express-News article, “The proof is hanging in the rafters at the Bell Center.” The Trinity gym’s south-facing wall is plastered with maroon posters listing volleyball accomplishments since her arrival, including 20 conference championships, 26 NCAA playoff berths, seven trips to the national quarterfinals, three to the semifinals and one appearance (a loss) in the 1999 championship game. Her teams have won 30 or more matches in each of 19 seasons, and she carries exemplary winning percentages of .710 overall and .907 in the conference.

Known as a demanding taskmaster who would expend hours planning a practice, she is also a humble leader who deflects praise to her young adult charges. When that 1,000th win seemed in hand, Jenkins ensured all 18 players participated in the historic match in Louisiana. Said senior setter Alexis Acevedo, the coach was acknowledging that the achievement wasn’t just because of her six starters but “every single player who has come through the program.”

Jenkins says her real reward is seeing the “light come on” as her players gain the confidence that will follow them off the court into their adult lives.

That’s why I believe Julie Jenkins should share this spotlight.

Betsy Gerhardt Pasley is a retired corporate communicator from San Antonio. She was one of the first women athletes to earn a Trinity varsity letter, the first female sportswriter at the San Antonio Light, and the author of “The Legacy of Women’s Sports at Trinity University: From the Sidelines to the Headlines,” to be published in 2023 by Trinity University Press.

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