Editor’s note: Watchdog reporters invited new Towson coaches to the classroom for group interviews. Here are their stories.
By Aaron Lighter
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
When E.A. Jackson finished her field hockey playing career at the University of Mary Washington, she figured she was done with the sport. But little did she know that 18 years later, she’d be in the midst of her first season as a Division I head coach.
After coaching field hockey for just seven years, including two at the Division III level, Jackson was named Towson University’s head coach in February.
If it weren’t for the persuasion skills of an assistant athletic director at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia, Jackson may never have been in this position. And if it weren’t for years spent in the classroom, she may never have been prepared to be coach.
After finishing her career at Mary Washington, Jackson wanted a clean break.
“Once I graduated, I really didn’t want to have anything to do with field hockey,” Jackson said. “I didn’t play club, I didn’t play in adult leagues. I just kind of felt like I needed some time to sort of establish who I was as a person with an identity outside of sports.”
She established that identity at Albemarle for more than a decade as a transition specialist for the special education department. Jackson wasn’t thinking about getting back into coaching, but the school’s assistant athletic director, Deb Tyson, thought of Jackson when a last-minute coaching search commenced.
“[Tyson] called me up and said, ‘We’re in a little bit of a pickle. Season starts in two weeks and we don’t have a coach,’” Jackson recalled. “She kind of guilted in me into it, and I did it and I loved it.”
Jackson realized that her classroom experience helped her teach the sport.
“I kind of got to blend my love of education, teaching and mentoring with my love of field hockey,” Jackson said.
Jackson transformed Albemarle into a respectable program in short order and was named District Coach of the Year after her first season. She slowly lost her passion for teaching as she dealt with increased class sizes, making it difficult to pay personal attention to students.
“I kind of lost that feeling of joy because I had so much to do and so many kids coming in the classroom,” Jackson said. “I really had that joy when I walked on the field hockey pitch because I got to really get to know those young women.”
When the opportunity arose to get into coaching full time, Jackson took it. She spent two years coaching at Division III Eastern Mennonite University. After going 3-14 in her first season, Jackson led the Royals to a 7-10 record in 2016. The Royals also scored 28 more goals and allowed 34 fewer goals in the second year under Jackson.
“They just hadn’t been focusing on the basics and they hadn’t been actively recruiting young women that were good fits for that school,” Jackson said. “We just broke it down on day one with here’s a stick, here’s a ball, here’s how you pass and here’s how to receive.”
After her second season at EMU, Jackson saw the job opening at Towson — and another chance to turn around a struggling program.
“It just seemed like a great place to start, and [Towson was] kind of where EMU had been,” she said.
Towson Director of Athletics Tim Leonard said in a statement that he viewed Jackson’s classroom experience as a positive. “She has an extensive teaching background, which is very important to us and we believe will enhance her ability to lead the field hockey program.”
At Towson, Jackson inherits a program that hasn’t won more than two games in a season since 2011.
“No one likes losing,” Jackson said. “Yeah, we’re not necessarily going to win a bunch of games right now, we’re not poised to. But how can we take what we have and make it the best we can be?
“Focusing on the details, looking at are we improving shots on goal? Are we creating more attack situations? Focusing on those little details instead of getting them to focus on the win-loss record kind of will incrementally give them that hope they need to keep going and keep working on more wins.”
While her route to Towson certainly wasn’t conventional, Jackson is glad she was able to have experiences that few other coaches have. Seeing the growth of athletes — much like the growth of students in her previous job — is what motivates Jackson.
“That moment where you see a young adult know what they want to do when they grow up or they actually don’t hate school or they master a skill they never thought they would do before, I realized that those relationships and moments were happening more and more in afternoons when I was on the field hockey field,” she said. “This is what I really want to and this is what I feel like what I’m well prepared to do.”
By Alexa Limbach
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
E.A. Jackson, head coach of Towson University’s field hockey team, never imagined having a career as a Division I coach – or any type of coach at all.
Jackson was captain of the field hockey team at the University of Mary Washington, where she graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of science in psychology. But after her playing career was over, she took a break from the sport.
“Once I graduated I really didn’t want anything to do with field hockey,” Jackson said. “I just felt like I kind of needed some time to establish who I was as a person with an identity outside of sports because that had sort of defined me from the seventh or eighth grade.”
Growing up in Richmond, Virginia, Jackson fell in love with field hockey after playing it during a middle school physical education class. She spent countless hours practicing and playing the sport.
She spent the years after leaving college pursuing a different career: teaching. Jackson received a master’s of education in transitional special education from George Washington University in 2001. She worked as a transition specialist at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
When a last-minute position as field hockey coach opened up at the school, assistant athletic director Deb Tyson came calling. Jackson hesitated as first, but realized Tyson wasn’t going to take no for an answer.
“She kind of guilted me into it,” Jackson said. “But I did it and I loved it…I got to blend my love of education, teaching and mentoring with my love of field hockey, and I kind of tapped back into that sort of in my late twenties.”
The Albermarle field hockey team had struggled prior to Jackson arriving, but she had success right away and was named District Coach of the Year following her first season.
For five years, Jackson worked long hours on and off the field with her students and players. Her passion for teaching waned, however, as classroom sizes continued to increase.
“I kind of lost that feeling of joy because I just had so much to do and had so many kids coming in and out of the classroom,” she said. “But I really had that joy when I walked onto the field hockey [field] because I got to really know those young women and that really ultimately kind of helped me make the decision to leave the classroom.”
Jackson had taught at Albemarle High School for 15 years and had coached for five years before deciding to leave.
“I felt like my effectiveness as a mentor and as an instructor were better tapped into with a smaller environment being on the field with an intimate group of young women that I would get to know,” Jackson said. “I thought those relationships just seemed more meaningful than dealing with 180 kids in and out of the classroom.”
Jackson accepted a job as head field hockey coach at Eastern Mennonite University in 2015. She helped the team win the most games it had since 2011. After two years at EMU, Jackson left for Towson.
What began as a favor to an administrator now has become a passion for Jackson.
“I got into Division I coaching through a very sort of unconventional path,” Jackson said. “But I think it kind of well prepared me to be here.”