Woog’s World: For her ‘girls,’ and everyone else, Jinny Parker was unforgettable
Published 7:07 am, Friday, July 24, 2015
For decades — during her 26 years as a legendary coach, as well as a physical education instructor at Staples High School; then long after she retired and moved back to her native New Hampshire — people wrote Virginia Parker’s name as “Ginny.” That’s the way they still identify the Wreckers’ field hockey field, which was named for her in 2002.
It’s wrong. Parker always called herself “Jinny.” She just never bothered to correct people, she said when I learned the right spelling — and asked her about it — during the scoreboard dedication.
Seen one way, that’s a rare case of the pioneering women’s sports advocate not speaking her mind. For most of her long life, she never hesitated to tell truth to power.
Viewed through a different lens though, it’s vintage Parker. Every day there were important things to do — and she set about doing them. Spending time worrying about “Jinny” or “Ginny” was not on that list. And of course, coaching and teaching was never about her. It was about her girls.
Parker died July 9 in her beloved New Hampshire. She was 90 years old. She left behind generations of grateful Westporters. All have many great memories — and plenty of stories.
Parker was the last of five children — and the only girl. She may have picked up her love for sports from those four brothers. She graduated from high school in 1942, lettering in spirit, skiing and field hockey. At the University of New Hampshire, Parker participated in field hockey, skiing, softball and the outing club.
She did graduate work in education at Boston University, Columbia University and the University of Bridgeport. Her coaching career in Maine, New Hampshire — and then, for more than a quarter of a century, Westport — included skiing, track and field, basketball, volleyball, softball, field hockey, intramurals and field hockey.
She blazed a trail for girls’ sports in this state. She insisted that females get opportunities: on the courts and fields, and in her physical education classes. She did not believe in the prevailing wisdom — that sports for girls was somehow “unladylike” — and with a group of like-minded women coaches (and a few men), she made sure that all the valuable lessons taught by athletics (goal-setting, sportsmanship, learning how to win and lose, camaraderie, dedication, persistence, fun) were available to everyone.
Parker did not want girls to take a back seat to boys. That meant setting high standards for her girls.
“I learned what it meant to work hard, to work as a team, because of Miss Parker,” recalls former athlete Sue Windrick. "’You can always do more than you think you can,’ she used to say. From charges up the oh-so-steep hill (at least it seemed steep back then) to yet another wind sprint, I would do anything to make Miss Parker proud of me.”
That toughness paid off. “How I loved that woman!” Windrick says. “God bless you, and thank you for taking a chance on a mediocre right inner field hockey lover."
Another woman says often that Parker’s admonition to her athletes — “be brave” — has inspired her throughout her career in the news media. She’s been in the profession now for 46 years.
Deb Holliday Kintight called her simply “a gem in my treasure box.”
Parker was also a gifted physical education teacher. It takes a true educator to elicit this tribute, on Facebook: “I was a big-time gym hater. I failed it until senior year, when I had to take three or four semesters of it. Miss Parker was so good to me! Great humor, and I started to like gym. She even wrote a letter of recommendation for me for college. She changed my life. I started to see myself as strong and capable. That has helped me through my adult life. I stay fit because of it as well. Thank you, Miss Parker. I have never forgotten you.”
Parker cherished her relationships with her athletes — “my girls” — long after they graduated. Many stayed in touch for decades. She always wrote back — by hand.
Some of those “girls” look back now in wonderment. Her nickname at Staples — as far back as the 1960s — was “The Old Gray Mare.” Teams sang the tune on the bus; her license plate read, “TOGM.” Yet she was just in her 40s then, they realize.
In one sense, Jinny Parker was timeless. In another, she was way ahead of her time.
That’s right: “Jinny.” Not “Ginny.” But no matter how you spell it, you still pronounce it the same: “a marvelous, wonderful woman.”