BISMARCK, No. Dak. – It takes her a good pause to recall every single accomplishment garnered throughout her 39 years in sports and education.
Almost too many to name.
A well-studied announcer at a ceremony on June 25 in Bismarck, No. Dak., however, listed them off with expert ease.
As to why?
Sitting among a crowd of highly respected high school coaches from all over the United States, Sandy Jebens, former varsity volleyball coach, physical education teacher and newly retired athletic director from Rawlins High School, would be inducted into the National High School Athletic Coaches Association’s National Hall of Fame Class of 2019.
“It’s pretty humbling, actually,” Jebens told the Rawlins Times on Wednesday. “You just don’t think about that happening.”
But around the small city of Rawlins, the densely-populated state of Wyoming, and perhaps throughout the national volleyball community, Jebens is a rather household name.
As an Outlaws varsity coach, Jebens helped secure 10 Class 3A Wyoming State Volleyball Championship appearances. Of the lot, she guided Rawlins to three state championships, in 1992, 1996 and 2001.
By the end of her illustrious career, the former coach notched 500 wins, a feat less than 120 high volleyball coaches around the U.S. have accomplished, according to National Federation of State High School Associations records.
Befittingly so, Jebens would be named National High School Volleyball Coach of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, in 2011.
“That was an honor,” Jebens said.
Amid the accolades, however, Jebens is more concerned about the success of her former athletes. She points out that, at the end of her tenure on the court, more than 40 Rawlins High School athletes under her tutelage had gained either partial or full-ride scholarships to play volleyball in college.
She’s even more fond of the fact that she instilled in her athletes an unbreakable chain of life lessons, or what she so adamantly regards as “the responsibility, the discipline, the commitment.”
“I think there’s things other than the game itself,” Jebens said. “This should be fun for (athletes), teaching them life skills.”
Some of them have gone on to be lawyers, to this day showing up to meetings five minutes early because coach Jebens made them do the same thing before practice. Others, unsurprisingly, have followed in her footsteps, becoming coaches.
Lots of times, in fact, has Jebens’ former players invited her to their weddings and bridal showers.
“You really know you’ve impacted them because they still want you to be a part of their lives,” Jebens said.
So where did this all come from? How did Jebens’ well-proven coaching prowess lead to championships and longstanding relationships with her players?
According to Jebens, it all starts with trust.
As coach, there are ups and there are downs, especially in Class 3A Wyoming volleyball.
Each year, Rawlins vies for victory against 15 other teams. And even if Jebens’ tallest attacker was 5’7”, she said this level of trust induced finer performances from her athletes, which helped outdo class foes.
And when a major loss ensued, Jebens kept her composure, giving her players some positive reinforcement.
“‘If this is the worst thing that’s happened to you in life, you’re going to have a great life,’” she’d tell her team. “I was never disappointed in my kids when they didn’t win it, because I know they gave me everything they could out on the court.”
Keep in mind, Jebens possibly derived this demeanor from her humble beginnings, which definitely shaped her life and her career.
Growing up in northeast South Dakota, Sandy Jebens graduated high school in 1975 in the small, rural town of Groton, So. Dak., an otherwise unnoticeable blip on the radar. It was then and there that Jebens took up track and field because that’s all there was available for girls.
Because of that, Jebens stuck with a career in sports.
“I just really enjoyed it,” she said. “I grew up in a time when there weren’t sports for women.”
Jebens would later attend Black Hills State University, in Spearfish, So. Dak. There, she’d met her future husband, Larry, a Rawlins native.
Who knew this would lead to her accolade-winning coaching career at Rawlins High School, which also turned into her being RHS athletic director for the past five years.
Of course, Jebens’ last day was officially June 21. Now in her retirement, Jebens said her future entails more time with her family, especially her grandchildren.
Asked what she’ll miss the most, she had mixed emotions.
“I’m going to miss the kids. I’m going to miss the people I work with,” Jebens said. “I think there’s a lot of good things happening with our district right now, with our superintendent all the way down to our principals. I think we’re definitely headed in the right direction, so to leave was kind of hard.”
As for a final summary of her career?
“I have no regrets,” Jebens said. “The last 39 years have been wonderful for me and my family… Rawlins has been good to us.”