The Daily News-Record sports pages hosted a weekly series called Friday Flashback, as we catch up with local athletes, coaches or administrators. David Driver ’84 is the sports page editor. This article was published April 30, 2020.
Jewel Lehman took advantage of a small opportunity and turned that into a major career move.
While working on a master’s degree in kinesiology in the early 1990s at James Madison University, she was a volunteer assistant coach with the Dukes’ volleyball team.
“I just went to practice at JMU and would shag balls and hang out,” said Lehman, who holds several kill records at Division III EMU. “The second year I was there (coach) Mary Harrington got pregnant. Her graduate assistant and I took the team for a few weeks while she was out. We had the team for maybe two weeks; we coached a couple of matches. That really gave me a good opportunity at the Division I level.”
And she took advantage of that opportunity — about a year later she was named the head coach at Division I Campbell in rural Buies Creek, North Carolina.
“Frankly, the salary they offered me was unbelievably low. I decided to take it, knowing it was barely enough to live on. But it was a good time,” said Lehman, who grew up in Mt. Clinton and was the three-time player of the year in ODAC volleyball while at EMU.
The Camels had little success in volleyball before Lehman took over for the 1994 season. Campbell was 13-19 the previous season and 7-33 in 1992. The coach before her posted a record of 20-52 in those two seasons — but the Camels went 14-15 in the first season under Lehman.
“We were (nearly) .500 that first year and everyone thought it was the best thing ever,” said Lehman, part of four straight ODAC title teams at EMU. “I was used to winning all of the time. A record of .500 was mediocre to me at the time.”
Lehman, a member of the EMU athletic Hall of Fame, faced a career decision after the 1997 season.
When Campbell let go of several veteran coaches, Lehman realized the lack of stability in the coaching profession — especially at the Division I level.
“It really had an impact on me,” she said.
She finished her doctorate degree in exercise science from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro in 2003 and the next year returned to coaching volleyball at Division III Goshen, a Mennonite-affiliated college in northern Indiana.
Lehman compiled a record of 62-90 before stepping down in 2009 to once again focus on her academic career as a professor of kinesiology at Goshen. “I didn’t feel I was doing a great job at either one,” she said Thursday of coaching and teaching in the classroom. “It was a hard decision to make since I was struggling to do both well.”
Volleyball has taken her a long way from her days at Mt. Clinton Elementary and John Wayland Intermediate School.
Lehman played just basketball as a freshman at EMHS and didn’t start volleyball until her sophomore year on the junior varsity squad. It was not until her senior year at EMHS that Lehman was on the varsity volleyball team.
Lehman headed to EMU and was on the volleyball team as a freshman under coach Peggy Kellers.
After being subbed out in the front row while playing back row as a freshman setter, Lehman worked hard on hitting the following summer in the old EMC gymnasium with several top male players at a time the school did not have a men’s team. The hard work paid off as Lehman became a powerful hitter and led EMU to three more ODAC titles as she was named Player of the Year in 1984, 1985, and 1986.
While in college, Lehman also coached JV volleyball at EMHS and club volleyball in the Harrisonburg area and that led to a long coaching career.
These days she likes to bike and travel — with the pressures of coaching in the past. She was married in 2016 to Deana Baker, a former college teammate.
Lehman attended graduate classes more than 25 years ago at JMU with Spotswood grad Kirby Dean — a basketball player at EMU soon after Lehman starred at the Park View school. “As great of a player as she was, she was a better person. She was unassuming and genuine and I enjoyed getting to know her,” said Dean, Director of Parks & Recreation for Rockingham County. “When I got to EMU, I heard all about her.” He was not the only one.