Over her 38 years of service to the Brownfield Independent School District, Jo Willis has been the head volleyball coach at Brownfield High School as well as the school counselor at Oak Grove Elementary.
And both of those positions came with their own unique challenges and blessings.
And now she is retired.
As a coach, Willis spent a lot of her time on the hardwood as well as on the blacktop coaching the girls to victories both at home and on the road. She’s also eaten a few defeats.
Click the link below to listen to Jo Willis and her interview with Town Talk Radio’s Eric Martinez.
“Coaching takes a lot of hours, if you are going to do it right,” said Willis. “You are going to do it all year long and it always follows with a new set of challenges. Probably some of the biggest highlights of my career came with coaching and I had the opportunity to coach my two daughters as well.”
And as a counselor, she’s taken her work home with her and dwelled on the issues and successes facing the kiddos roaming the halls of her school.
“I just love the little bitties and loved the opportunity to have lots of visits with kids and tried to help the kids when they experienced life problems,” she said. “The challenging part of being a counselor is that you want to bring that home and you want to help everybody.
Our society has changed so much and there are unique problems, and they happen sooner in life than later,” she added.
With 24 years in coaching and another 15 years as a school counselor, Willis has seen families change and she’s seen the problems they face evolve. And that has kept her up a few nights. But, what she remembers most are the good times in her career and she’s proud to say she never counted the days or minutes until she could retire.
And when you ask her questions about her years spent as an educator, there’s never a dull moment as she’s quick and witty and she’s full of interesting stories about her experiences.
She has stories about coaching Brownfield legend Sheryl Swoopes and coaching other girls who went on to careers outside of sports. Fact is, she loves them all and looks forward to seeing them around town and finding out what those girls turned out to be.
What’s interesting about Willis is how she got into coaching in the first place. The Plains native actually graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in Park Administration and Recreation.
But, opportunity didn’t knock on her door for a career in the outdoors. Instead, it was her uncle who gave her the first chance at a full-time job as a teacher. That was in 1976, and she hasn’t looked back.
“I wanted to go to work in the field and the outdoors, but obviously there’s not a lot of that happening around here,” she said and laughed. “I realized I would have to make a big move.”
She did eventually go back to get a teaching certificate and then got her master’s degree in counseling.
So, now that you are retired, what are your plans?
“Holy smokes,” she said and laughed. “I’ve only been retired a day and a half so I don’t know.”
But, after thinking about it, Willis said she would like to spend more time with her husband Ricky and she wants to visit her two daughters who live in the Dallas area. She has five grandchildren under the age of five who also need a little attention from their grandmother as well.
Willis also has plans to spend more time with her mother who still lives in Plains.
“My husband is still working so we are going to take it kind of slow,” said Willis. “I’ll probably-I don’t think I’ll sit very long before I go on for another adventure.”
Does she have any advice for the person who is going to take her place at Oak Grove Elementary?
“Oh goodness no, I really don’t,” she said. “I guess what I would have to say to them is to have fun and enjoy it. Go to work with a smile on your face.”