On Oct. 1, the Tunkhannock athletic department lost one of its most beloved coaches, Jane Helman.
She was the girls track and field coach from 1979 to 2011, and had a substantial impact on just about everyone she encountered.
Jeanele Ransom ‘06 recalled, “I was the only one to make it to states for javelin and I just remember the look on her face and knowing how proud she was of me and so happy to be able to experience that moment with me, she never left my side and was my biggest fan. She was very supportive and embodied what every coach should strive to be like.”
Jennifer Alexander Langan said, “I still remember Coach Helman’s reaction to my first State Championship competition. Coach focused mostly on the track events, but I was competing in a field event. While track events tend to be over quickly, field events take forever- multiple flights, multiple tries per athlete, and that’s just the preliminaries. There are still the final rounds to go before the competition is over. While Coach Helman was usually pretty laid back, she was completely stressed out by the time it was over. We laughed afterwards about how nerve-wracking the experience was for both of us.”
Former TA athletic director Stew Casterline called Helman “A great motivator who had a great rapport with her athletes.”
He said, “It was not unusual for her to go against the traditional ‘training rules’ and often rewarded her winning teams with donuts. Jane was very dedicated to her sport and had a knack for putting the girls in the line-up, where they had the best chances for success.”
Alice Edwards, who coached along side her in the early years, called Helman “the most remarkable strategist I’ve ever seen.”
Several former athletes, said that some of their most cherished memories of Helman did indeed include donuts.
Carrie Macijowsky Laboski ‘89, was a member of the track team the first year it won Districts.
She recalled, “Coach Helman’s motivational phrase for us was ‘Do it for donuts!’ I smile every time I think of it.
Sondra Greaves Cusano, who ran for and coached alongside Helman, distinctly remembers the Gable’s Bakery donuts.
“I loved running for her. I will never forget those four years,” Cusano said “From the Gable’s donuts she bought us after a big win, to the fun we had at the state meet, she left a lasting impression.”
“As a coach, she struck a good balance between urging us to do our best, but never in an intimidating or in your face manner,” Langan said. “She was fun to be around and we would jokingly give her a hard time and she would give it right back to us. I had forgotten until recently about our ‘Do It For Donuts!’ slogan. At some point, we somehow convinced Coach Helman to buy donuts when we won a track meet. After a while, ‘Do It For Donuts!’ became our rallying cry.”
Cusano also recalled, “She took the time to get to know each of us, and made our team feel like a family. She pushed us because she believed in us, and wanted us to succeed. I loved running for her. I will never forget those four years. I can not say enough about the lasting impression she made on me as a person, and especially as an educator. She dedicated so much of her life to helping young people reach their potential and achieve their dreams. I hope she knew just how many lives she touched, and how much she meant to all of us.”
Jen Lupinski Schreckengaust ‘92, reflected, “She came up with “Do it for Donuts” as our team cheer and encouragement. The next practice day after we won a meet, we would all run together to Gables bakery, pick out dozens of donuts and run back to the locker room for a meet recap. What other coach would encourage her athletes with donuts? Only Coach Helman.”
Schreckengaust also said, “Not only did she train me on the track, she trained me in the kitchen, too. Caring for my whole body, she gave me a book about nutrition for peak performance and counseled me in ways to be the best athlete that I could be. I am grateful for her passion and love for the sport and her athletes.”
She continued, “Coach Helman was always positive, cheering with all her heart at the meet. I could always hear her voice as I rounded the last curve in the 400 to kick in. Win or lose, she was always there with an encouraging word at the finish line.
Heather Philmeck ‘92, who is currently training for the Boston Marathon, added, “Coach Helman was not only a coach but a mentor. She was tough, but fair and fun. Her positive reinforcement inspired me to push not myself but also my teammates and celebrate their victories as if they were my own.”
Philmeck said she keeps a copy of ‘The Optimist’s Creed’ at her desk.
“Coach passed the wise words out to the girls one day at practice. I have cherished it ever since. She lived it and her example instilled character in all her athletes. Winning meant being accountable, dedicated, brave, and above all humble. As a middle aged marathon runner today, I am grateful for the life lessons coach has taught me. She was truly a class act.”
Jennifer Elick ‘89 said that Coach Helman’s success was that she cared about them as people, not just athletes.
“I was having a difficult time coming back to sports after a volleyball injury,” Elick recalled. “I wasn’t able to perform as well as I had in the past, and seeing my frustration, Coach Helman handed me a piece of paper with a quote on it. She told me to memorize the quote, but more importantly, understand the meaning.”
“It was: ‘Never say you can’t, say you’ll try, then give it your best,’” Elick said. “It’s come to me whenever I’ve faced a challenge in life, and I think it’s been incredibly impactful; has helped me be successful in life. I’m not one to remember quotes, but this stuck. It’s really helped me develop courage to try to do things I never thought I could do. It was meant to help me realize that instead of doing what I had always been good at, I should try new track events and explore new abilities I wasn’t aware I had.”
Chrissy Naro Bland ‘89 remembers Coach Helman being on the quieter side, but always having a commanding presence about her.
She said that her team knew she cared and knew what she expected: “to do your best, and you knew where you stood with Coach without her saying a word.”
“She made a huge impact on so many peoples lives,” Molly O’Malley Watts ‘95 said.
“Running on her team for four years prepared me to play Division One field hockey at Princeton and beyond with the USA teams,” Watts said. “No field hockey conditioning was harder than a Coach Helman track workout. She taught me the value of training hard and setting goals.”
More than just being an athlete, Christy Alexander Lee ‘93 said Helman inspired her to join the coaching ranks, where she has been the throws coach for the Prince William County Panther Club in Virginia.
The club has around 110 athletes ranging from age six to 18, and she is known for handing out Skittles for great effort, attitude or performance.
“It wasn’t quite donuts but it still worked,” Lee said. “You can have fun and work hard at the same time. Silly is good, especially when you can back it up on the track or field”
Lee also remembered the entire track team one day had volunteered at a Special Olympics track meet at the high school.
“We had been on our feet all day, and we also had a track meet that afternoon. Coach was apparently unaware that we had volunteered until she walked into the team room and noticed that we were all kind of dragging and tired. Instead of yelling at us that we were putting this huge winning streak at risk, she did something silly. She made us all lay on our backs with our feet raised on the bench or wall or basically anywhere we could put them. I’m sure we looked crazy. She then proceeded to commend us on our volunteering for such a good cause. We were starting to fuss because it was about the time we normally would head down to the track and she made us lay there with our feet in the air and said ‘are you afraid they are going to start without us?’ We all just laughed and laid there until she let us up, we were full of energy both mentally and physically. And yes we still won.”
Another important lesson, Lee remembered was Coach saying, “We win meets with all of those second and third place finishes.” That meant that, yes, you have your stars that take first, but that doesn’t give you enough points to win the meet. It takes everyone on the team picking up those seconds and thirds to win. Even if you don’t score often, when you do is probably when we need it the most.”
Lee said she has used that philosophy across her 20-year military career in building teams and getting people to work better together. “We all have a role, you might not be in the spotlight, but without your successful contribution, the team, or mission, fails.”
“I’ll always remember her saying, ‘Know when to work hard and when to have fun and when to mix the two together’ and ‘Keep smiling even when it is raining.’ Her smile and laughter were contagious,” added Schreckengaust.
1992 Pennsylvania State Javelin Champion Gretchen Grimaud Moore concluded, “Out of all the sports I played, I enjoyed Track & Field the most.”
She recalled, “Coach Helman always encouraged us to do our best and to cheer each other on as a team. She led by example. I remember her always running to the jumping, throwing, and running competitions to give encouraging words and to find out how we were doing. My college coach mentioned how nice it was to see me cheer on my fellow teammates. My response back to her was this is what we did on our high school team. “
Moore added, “Coach Helman was one of my role models. I wanted to be a good coach just like her.”
She remembered that after Helman retired from being a head coach, “I used to tell her she can relax now, but I need her to coach my kids when they are older. She would laugh. She always took it as a joke, but I was serious.”
Watts said she remembered a newspaper headline from around 1992 which said, “Helman brings out the best,” an obvious reference to Hellman’s Mayonaise, that appeared during her unbeaten streak, which went to something like 69-0.
“She knew how to bring out the best in all her athletes. She was a gift to our school and community,” Watts said.