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Thursday
Apr252019

Jennifer Weber Named Youth Coach of the Year

Article by Claudia Kittock 

The 6th Annual Women Coaches Symposium took place on April 19, and it included the first ever Youth Coach of the Year award. We are thrilled to announce that our very own Coach Jennifer Weber was the recipient. Jennifer is a board member of the Friends of the Mill City, and an integral member of our community. I was honored to nominate her, and am even more honored to share some of her story.

Dr. Nicole M. LaVoi, Brian Klempke of Jostens, Coach Weber, Gretchen Hunt, Cheryl Reeve. Submitted photo

Three years ago, I felt the need to connect with our neighbors in the Cedar Riverside community. Building a community involves many coffees, many meetings, and a willingness to talk with everyone. After an initial meeting with Bihi Abdirizak, he urged me to meet with “Coach.” As he explained, everyone in the community knew her, respected her, and she would be the best person to guide me in my work. As she told one of the kids we were working with, “If you find yourself in Cedar Riverside and aren’t sure if you are safe, just say, ‘I’m with Coach Jennifer’ and you will be fine.” She was right.

When we met we immediately ‘recognized’ each other as we share many interests and passions. Coach Jennifer began as a volunteer in the Cedar Riverside Community School while finishing her teaching degree at Augsburg. She has worked in the community for 25 years. Upon graduation she was hired as a behavior specialist and founded the Cedar Riverside Community Traveling Basketball program five years ago.

Jennifer is indomitable. There are no problems she cannot and will not tackle and solve. Her entire approach to athletics is to use them to teach young people responsibility, hard work, command of their bodies, and doing things the right way. Her teams are consistently good. They play up-tempo, intelligent basketball. As a long-time aficionado of the game, I love to watch Cedar Riverside basketball. At one game I attended, her team was up by 10-15 points throughout the game, then got sloppy and lost. She let them lose, and used the game as an excellent lesson in intensity, hard work, and respect for their opponent. It was an amazing sports moment.

Her Muslim athletes have experienced poor sportsmanship from other adults and other teams. She uses each and every instance to show her players how to respond, and her athletes do as they are taught. They respond with dignity, calmness, never answering with anything other than calmness and respect, even when they are not shown the respect they deserve.

Coach Jennifer works equally with the girls of Cedar Riverside, and in predominately Muslim community, that has been anything but easy. She started with the elders of the community, explaining what she wanted to do and asking them what she needed to do to be able to teach these young women the game of basketball. One strenuous objection was modesty. Coach Jennifer worked with a fashion designer to design a sport hijab that was acceptable to the elders of the community. I don’t know any other coach who would do that.

Jennifer helped me start the Mill City Players, a theater program for young people from the Cedar Riverside neighborhood and for teens experiencing homelessness. For ease we refer to ‘her kids’ and ‘my kids’.  Jennifer loves to say that even though we refer to them that way, they are all ‘our kids’, and they are. One of ‘my kids’ is, once again, living on the street. Jennifer is working with him to help him qualify as a basketball referee. He is a devoted basketball player, works two jobs, and, with her help, will be able to work three.

Jennifer holds a multi-day garage sale every spring to fund her programs. Her athletes solicit the contributions, price them, and work the sale. It is hard work, and her student/athletes do all of the work.

I know I have missed many, many things Jennifer has accomplished, because it is impossible to list everything she has done as a teacher and as a coach. As an educator, I am incredibly critical of other educators, and very picky about who should work with children. Jennifer passes all tests with flying colors. I would put ‘my’ children on her teams and be thrilled by what they are learning.

She is extraordinary in every way. I am honored to know Jennifer. I am even more honored to work with her. I am even more honored to be able to watch what she does. She is my friend and a woman I admire with all my heart.

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About Claudia Kittock

Claudia is a resident of the Mill District. In addition to writing for Mill City Times, she is a founding Board Member of Friends of the Mill District. Claudia is the author of Health Through Chaos, mentors young adults at YouthLink, and has served on the Downtown Minneapolis Neighborhood Association (DMNA).
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Contact: claudia@millcitymedia.org

 

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