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Jacobs retires from celebrated career at YSU

When Elaine Jacobs’ career in athletics began, female sports were more of an afterthought in the Mahoning Valley.

Now that she’s finishing up, the role of women in athletics is as strong as ever, and Jacobs is part of the reason why.

The longtime assistant athletic director at Youngstown State University retired on June 30, and she did so after blazing a trail of memories and accomplishments with the Penguins.

“She was clearly a great voice for the women’s programs,” said YSU Executive Director of Athletics Ron Strollo, who took over his position in 2001. “It helped that she was an alumna here, she played softball at YSU, and her passion for not only women’s athletics but Youngstown State University and our sports here was evident.”

Jacobs is a 1984 graduate of Liberty High School, where she starred in basketball and softball.

She continued her career at YSU, earning four letters as a member of the Penguins’ softball team. The education major quickly got involved in coaching back at her alma mater of Liberty after graduation, and she taught at Mineral Ridge Middle School, but something didn’t feel right.

Jacobs found herself enjoying coaching more than teaching, and started to realize she had a different calling.

“My mom said, ‘If you don’t like teaching now, you’re not going to like it 30 years from now,’ “ Jacobs recalled.

So, Jacobs went back to school and earned her master’s degree in sports administration. Soon after, she returned to YSU and became an assistant coach for the women’s basketball team.

Jacobs coached for one season, but “it ended up not being the box of chocolates I thought it was going to be.” Yet again, she was at a crossroads. This time, she made the right turn.

She spoke with the same person she did before deciding to coach, Jim Tressel, the YSU athletics director at the time. She informed him that the late nights and countless hours dedicated to coaching had her second-guessing the long-term enjoyment of the profession.

“He said, ‘You know what, we’re starting three new women’s sports: golf, soccer and we’re going to bring back swimming, and we’re going to hire a new administrator to do that. So, would you be willing to leave coaching and take part in that?,’ “ Jacobs remembered. “I jumped at that opportunity, so that was my first step here to get into administration.”

This is when Jacobs’ career began to really take shape.

One of her roles was with the compliance department and being part of the governing body that sets rules and regulations for the university and NCAA. As Jacobs noted, the current changes within the NCAA that allows athletes to be paid for their name, image and likeness is the type of legislation she would normally be entrenched in at YSU and on a national scale.

“I always kind of say, ‘When we took over…,” Strollo said. “When coach Tressel left for Ohio State, I always used the word ‘we’ when I’m talking to her. I might’ve become the athletic director, but it was a team that took over, and she obviously gave a voice to that.”

Jacobs is well versed in making changes for the best.

She was part of the rule-making body that opened the door for college athletes to be able to work while competing in sports, which was mostly prohibited until 2007. Her greatest impact came in Youngstown though.

Jacobs, who recalls playing softball for YSU on a small patch of grass behind MVR with no dugouts, worked together with Strollo to make monumental changes.

“It is night and day from when I started,” said Jacobs of the facilities at the university. “The (Watson and Tressel Training Site) wasn’t there. The tennis facility wasn’t there. The soccer and softball fields weren’t there. The number of sports we have — and Ron has been an amazing leader in ensuring women’s sports are as equitable as the men. If you were to take a tour of the locker rooms, scholarships, coaching full-time equivalencies — all of those have been enhanced — and it’s really been awesome to see that change, even from when I was an athlete.”

As Jacobs steps away from one passion, she’s returning to another: coaching.

It’s on a smaller scale than the college basketball level she once took part in, but coaching middle-school basketball at Liberty keeps her involved with today’s youth as well as athletics.

“I thought, ‘You know, that’ll be a fresh start for me,’ “ she said of coaching. “The reason I’m retiring as soon as I can is, I was still functioning and stuff, (but) I feel like my time had passed with a passion or it.

“… The one thing I didn’t want to get away from is mentoring. I feel I have some experiences that could be helpful to young people. I can help the schools, and it doesn’t cost them anything to have an extra set of hands around, so I can be a service to them in whatever way they want.”

Jacobs also is a member of a levy campaign committee in Liberty as well as heading up the Liberty alumni association.

Strollo is confident she will again be successful at whatever she chooses because of her passion for doing what’s right. He enjoyed her zest for fighting for what she believes in for 20 years.

“The other benefit with Elaine that was priceless for me was that she cared about the place but was also willing to speak her mind,” he said. “If she disagreed with you, she let you know that, and her ability to do that and not just say ‘yes’ to everything allowed us to come to better decisions if we faced difficult and challenging times.

“She’s obviously very bright and intelligent, and you never had to worry ethically or anything. Her decisions were the right decisions for the university and for our student athletes.”

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