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Growing up, Jennifer Marie Sanders learned to play baseball on the streets of a Dallas neighborhood and went to baseball games with her father.
Now she coaches the Fort Knox High School baseball team, the Eagles.
Though the role is a new one for her, she said the assistant coaches and team members have helped her adjust and learn the ropes whenever possible.
“Everybody’s been extremely patient,” Sanders said.
Having moved to Hardin County last July, Sanders took a job as an art teacher at Walker Intermediate School in Fort Knox. She teaches art to fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade students.
“I’m very laid back, the way I teach,” Sanders said. “I give them a very broad idea and let them have at it.”
Additionally, she serves as sponsor for the Junior Red Cross Club, which does volunteer work and other projects. One project, for example, involved sending cards to wounded warriors.
“I’m real proud of our kids,” Sanders said. “They’re awesome.”
Becoming a teacher and baseball coach was a slight revision of her original plan. Asthma prevented her from joining the U.S. Army and later the U.S. Navy.
Sanders graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington and earned her teaching certificate after being hired through an alternative teacher certification program of the Dallas Independent School District. She taught art in kindergarten through sixth grades.
Eventually she was notified of a job opening for an art teacher, though she wasn’t told where it was. After being interviewed she was told it was for Walker Intermediate School in Fort Knox, and she realized she could teach soldiers’ kids.
“To me, it’s a way for me to be able to serve my country,” she said.
Sanders credits her grandfather — or Popop, to her — for providing the foundation for that job.
“Popop is the one who taught me all the art,” she said.
The coaching job came when Sanders saw an opening for an extra duty assignment for a baseball coach. From her childhood days playing street ball, Sanders felt she learned about camaraderie and “what a team was about,” and she had fond memories of her father taking her to Texas Rangers games.
She decided to apply and got the position, becoming the only female head coach of a high school baseball team in Hardin County. She also is the only female coach of a 5th Region baseball team.
Since then Sanders has been learning important nuances of the sport.
Sanders recalled jumping up and down excitedly during the team’s first game. One of the other coaches told her she needed to keep a poker face.
“I’m not very good at hiding my emotions,” Sanders said.
Team members also have been helpful whenever possible.
“The boys have been real sweet,” she said.
But it’s not all about the game, and Sanders recognizes special days for her players.
“I bring cupcakes for all their birthdays,” she said.
One of the challenges of coaching the Fort Knox baseball team, as opposed to other area high school teams, is the transient nature of the students, Sanders said. Because Fort Knox players are from military families that might not be stationed on post long, the lineup can change quite a bit year-to-year, unlike most high schools that might have players for four years.
“This is a whole different ball of wax,” Sanders said.
Already she feels as though she has succeeded in getting the players to do a better job of communicating and working together. That teamwork is important, not just for the sport, she said.
“That shows you how to deal with difficult situations,” Sanders said. “You can always use that throughout life.”
While she strives to do what’s best for the team, Sanders says she always wishes she knew more. And she doesn’t discount her learning curve.
“I’m human; I make mistakes,” she said.
So far the highlight of her experience was the first win of the season back in March, Sanders said.
“I was so proud of them,” she said.
Robert Villanueva can be reached at (270) 505-1743.