Angela Jackson has been involved with Virginia Peninsula Community College for 44 years, beginning in 1979. She started out as a student, then became a fulltime employee, but made her mark in athletics. She played one season on the men’s basketball team before a women’s team was formed, coached the men’s and women’s teams (coaching both for several years), and has been an adviser, the coordinator of athletics, and a member of athletics operations.
She has touched hundreds, if not thousands, of lives. Close to 300 people turned out at Warwick High School on Oct. 21 as the College honored her at “Gator Madness,” a celebration of the past and present that kicked off the 2023-24 basketball preseason.
Chris Moore, the College’s director of athletics since July 2022 and its men’s basketball coach since fall 2018, said the honor was long overdue.
“When you do 44 years in anything … that’s amazing, especially when it comes with the type of commitment and time that’s put into this,” Moore said. “It was important to honor her. She’s been in every facet of this program as a player, a coach, operations, administration and as the coordinator of athletics. I think that’s something that deserves to be recognized.”
To understand how much she has meant to the College and its athletics programs, six players from Jackson’s first championship team in 1991 were on hand for the ceremony: Spencer Askew, David Brown, Howard Knight, Shaun Lynch, Kevin Owens and Kenny Stokes.
“She’s a legend, a classic, old-school, a goodhearted lady,” Lynch said.
Brown’s first words to describe her were “great heart.”
A female coaching a male sport on the collegiate level in the mid-1980s and early 1990s was unusual but she had no issues from her players because they lobbied for her to be the coach. She had been helping and often took over when the head coach was late or couldn’t attend practice.
“The only real issue was we had to get dressed before she came into the locker room,” Brown said with a laugh. “And we could roughhouse a little more in the locker room because she wasn’t in there.
“Other than that, it was like a normal situation.”
The same attitude didn’t come from opponents or officials, many of whom didn’t respect her or the team since it was led by a woman.
“But we always defended her,” Lynch said, adding opponents often made snide comments or laughed about their female coach. “And we would absolutely annihilate every single team we played.”
Jackson still bristles when recalling the time a tournament organizer didn’t hand her the championship trophy. Instead, he placed it on the gym floor and left.
Brown said Jackson always had their backs.
“She cared about us so much,” he said. “She did whatever she could to help us.”
As an adviser, that also came off the court.
Brown has been as surprised as anyone that Jackson has been at the College for so long.
“Who does this for that long?” he said. “Nobody wants to do anything for 40-something years.”
The success and growth of VCCS sports started with Jackson.
“It just goes to show when you put good people around a good situation …,” Brown said. “Look what it’s turned into. I was shocked when I pulled in and saw all these cars.”
There was a simple reason so many people were in attendance.
“We don’t actually think she’s ever been properly recognized for all the hard work she’s done,” Lynch said.
Jackson admits serving as men’s basketball coach was her favorite role at the College. In addition to coaching, she worked full time at the College from 1982-2001, first in the bookstore, but also in Workforce Development, Student Services, and Allied Health.
“But I never left (the College),” she said, always finding a way to stay involved in athletics on a part-time basis.
She stopped coaching the men’s team in 2005 after relinquishing her role with the women’s team about a decade earlier. Since then, she has served in a variety of roles, including overseeing all the athletic teams until 2013 before becoming part of athletics operations.
Chad Smith, the athletics director at Warwick High School, joined the College in 2005 as an adviser and often worked with Jackson, who was in student services at the time. Smith was an assistant and head baseball coach while Jackson oversaw athletics.
How Jackson showed no bias toward her beloved basketball programs still impresses Smith.
“Whenever she was around me for baseball, I couldn't tell she preferred basketball,” he said, emphasizing Jackson’s role overseeing athletics called for an unbiased approach to all sports programs. “She never showed, in my years there, a preference for what her real sport is. There was never a point where you could say that she preferred basketball over any of the sports because she was so assertive of giving kids a well-rounded experience.”
Smith was athletics coordinator from 2013 until leaving the College in 2018, when Jackson followed as the interim athletics coordinator until Moore took the position.
Jackson, said Smith, was committed to the College and the athlete, not the sport.
“Anything that was related to promoting Thomas Nelson and opportunities, she was down with,” Smith said.
That relationship started when she stepped on campus as a student in 1979.
As a working single mom to three daughters, including twins, she was looking for a local college to further her education. She graduated from Kecoughtan High School in 1972 and wanted to be a physical education teacher. Instead, she went into word processing.
Jackson had played basketball in high school and started playing with an early iteration of the VPCC men’s team, then helped start the women’s program, first as a player, then as a player-coach, and finally as the head coach. She led the women’s team from 1983-94, and the men’s from 1986-2005, but there were a few years when only one of the teams had a season.
She much preferred coaching the men.
“The challenge with the ladies is they were most stubborn,” she said.
Some of that she attributed to her being a player-coach the first year, which is tough.
“I had a few that thought they could do better than me or they wanted to tell me how to coach,” she said. “But with the guys, it's like they want to play so bad that they’re going to listen and do what you tell them to do or they’re going to sit the bench, and they don't want to sit the bench. I just had more fun with the guys.”
Her love of basketball has been passed down to her youngest daughter (Antoinette Hunt), but her twins (Alicia Gaston and Anita Foster) played other sports throughout high school.
Jackson’s daughters have fond memories of time spent at VPCC, then known as Thomas Nelson Community College, but not just with sports. Jackson was involved in other student activities as well.
“I just remember, as a child, always being at the fall festivals, always being a part of some sort of community service, being able to walk the halls and say hello to her colleagues,” Gaston said. “Just so many wonderful memories.”
Hunt, who is five years younger than her sisters, played basketball in high school as well as at The Apprentice School. She is a math teacher at Phoebus and has been the girls’ basketball coach for the Phantoms for five years.
“I was the baby, so I was always the one that was with my mom,” said Hunt, who remembers falling asleep on the bleachers on many occasions. “My sisters are twins so they were always together.”
The sport has always been a big part of her life, and one of her daughters was a standout college player and is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Swarthmore College.
“My mom always had us around basketball,” Hunt said. “We just continued on with the generations.”
One of Hunt’s grandsons has taken a shine to basketball, too.
“He’s in the gym all the time like I was with my mom,” she said. “It’s a rite of passage to be in the gym.”
However, knowing how hard it is to coach your children, Jackson never coached her daughters, not officially anyway.
“I remember her telling me something one time from the stands. It didn’t go well,” Hunt said.
Still, a lot of basketball knowledge was passed down from mother to daughter.
“A lot of things I learned just watching my mom coach, her strategizing during the games,” she said. “I never really saw her sitting at the (kitchen) table saying, ‘This is what we need to do.’ But being there all the time with her, I saw the things she would do.”
One thing Hunt did not get from her mother was the latter’s propensity for technical fouls. (Hunt said she has had just one, which wasn’t deserved.) Former players said Jackson could be demonstrative on the bench, especially when she thought she and her team weren’t being respected by the opposition or the officials. One memorable incident involved an item being thrown, there is some dispute whether it was a shoe or pen, but Jackson acknowledged writing a letter of apology.
“I admitted what I did was wrong,” she said.
Her daughters caught some of that ire growing up, but said they are better for it.
“She can be feisty,” Gaston said. “She brings her own personality to the table.”
“My mom was no-nonsense,” she said. “I thank God she was that firm, that strong.”
That strength resonated with Hunt.
“I made sure to be strong for my children, to be a symbol of strength because that’s what my mom was to us,” Hunt said.
That extended to Jackson’s players.
“She was like an extension of our mother to us,” Brown said. “She cared about us so much. She did whatever she could to help us. If we had issues at school … and then when we traveled, it was like driving with your mom because she was going to make sure she took care of us no matter what we did.”
Her daughters said the College has given her a sense of purpose, although Jackson didn’t expect to be here this long.
“Never thought that,” she said. “It’s almost like I couldn’t give it up.”
Jackson’s motivation for staying, said Gaston, stemmed from her wanting to see the College’s athletics programs grow.
“My mom has always said, ‘I don’t want to give it up. I want to remain a part of this because I don’t want to see this program die. I want to see it go further,’” Gaston said.
Thanks in large part to Jackson, that is coming into focus.
What started with two sports so many years ago soon will be nine. Most of the teams have found conference homes and are part of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA), giving the Gators exposure far beyond the College’s campuses in Hampton and Williamsburg.
“I am really proud that it is growing,” she said. “And I know it can be even more.”
Jackson, who will turn 70 in December, stays busy with her eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. She remains humble about her contributions. At the “Gator Madness” ceremony, she spoke for just two minutes and immediately thanked her family.
“They were very supportive of me from Day 1,” she said before also thanking her mentors, former players and predecessors.
The late Dave Grant, former student activities coordinator and a counselor, hired her as coach. Robert Chapman, who was in the Veterans Affairs office, allowed her to play basketball with the guys on the Veterans’ team, and he started the athletics program.
“I always want to recognize it was because of him and Robert Chapman that I’m here,” she told the crowd. “I thank them and the whole community. I thank you so, so much.”
It’s because of all those people she has been at the College so long.
“I have always wanted to give back to the students because someone was there for me,” she said.
For more on VPCC, visit www.vpcc.edu.