Remembering Jinny Parker

Jinny Parker — legendary Staples High School field hockey, volleyball, track coach and physical education teacher; national champion (women’s track team); fierce and outspoken girls’ sports advocate; state leader, and all-around great woman — died July 9 in New Hampshire. She was 90 years old.

(And yes, it’s spelled with a “J.” Throughout her 26 years at Staples, people wrote her name as “Ginny.” They still do, when referring to the school’s field hockey field, named in 2002 for her. But around that time, she signed a letter to me “Jinny.” I asked her about it. “All my life they’ve been writing it wrong,” she said. “I never bothered to correct them.”)

Sue Windrick —  one of the many former athletes who revered her, and stayed in touch for decades after graduation — says: “I loved that woman! I learned what it meant to work hard, to work as a team, because of Miss Parker. I would do anything to make her proud of me. I thank her for taking a chance on a mediocre field hockey lover, and saying, ‘You can always do more than you think you can.'”

Deb Holliday Kintigh adds: “She was a gem in my treasure box.”

In 2004, as I was writing my history of Staples — 120+ Years Of A+ Education — I asked “The Old Gray Mare” (her field hockey athletes sang the song on bus rides home, and her license plate read “TOGM”) for an interview. She responded to my questions by email. Here’s what she said:

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After 8 years of teaching, I gave it up for a year at Boston University to get my master’s. Not entirely a good move, for while I was well qualified, I was not affordable. So when I got wind of an opening at Staples I applied, went down and was interviewed by [principal] Stan Lorenzen and [athletic director] Frank Dornfeld. I was offered a job, and I took it. I never regretted my hasty choice.

Jinny Parker

Jinny Parker

I was very nervous about following Karen Sniffen, a legend. The p.e. program had all the usual stuff – team sports, tennis and badminton – about which I knew nothing. I changed it to stunts and tumbling, and got away with it. Interscholastic sports were field hockey, basketball and softball. I was paid an extra $150 a year to coach field hockey, basketball, softball, tennis, cheerleading and intramurals. Our girls ran the gamut from jocks to duds but we had fun, and we did pretty well with what we had.

In those days the “official” view of girls’ sports was very apprehensive. They focused on play days and sports days – nothing too strenuous. I attended various area and state meetings, and didn’t know whether to laugh, cry or get mad. I had coached in Maine and New Hampshire and never lost a kid, so that attitude drove me nuts.

The period from 1955 to 1981 saw tremendous changes in both p.e. and sports for girls. The “wise ones” finally discovered that girls were tougher than they thought, and had the same desires for activities that boys did.

We had a well-rounded program, and I think some of the gym-haters actually learned something and even enjoyed it. Some kids were horrified, though, when they were given written tests on sports rules. They said, “I thought you were a gym teacher, not an English teacher.” Yeah, spelling and penmanship counted.

Jinny Parker, during her Staples High School days.

Jinny Parker, during her Staples High School days.

Interscholastic sports were something else. I was privileged to become a state committee member. We met monthly, and quietly tried to move girls’ sports to an equal plane with boys’. It worked, but there were quite a few bumps in the road.

Our first “breakthrough” came when we wanted to have a state volleyball tournament, as most schools could scrape up a team. Only the referees knew the rules, and they whistled like mad. At noon we had a conference and sort of got things straight. It was one heck of a learning experience.

There was a real nice bunch of young coaches in Connecticut, and we all had the same idea: good girls’ sports. All the hard work was done long before anyone even thought of Title IX. Most of us had the good fortune to work for good athletic directors, who let us move ahead. Budgets were always a problem, so progress was slow.

But the programs you see today in Connecticut were well underway in the ‘60s. My national champs in track were in 1966! I look back fondly on those building years, even though most of us are now retired, and most people think it took the feds to give girls the great athletic opportunities they enjoy today. But Connecticut was way out ahead, and the CIAC [state organization], FCIAC [Fairfield County league] and DGWS [Division for Girls’ and Women’s Sports] were responsible.

I was also fortunate to work with Frank Dornfeld and Albie Loeffler. They let me and my colleagues do what we thought best for our programs. They were gentlemen in all the interactions I ever had with them. Men and women often had different ideas about the p.e. program, as can be expected, but there were few conflicts – mostly who gets which gym or field space, and for how long.

Lowlights followed shortly after the birth of Title IX, though I don’t think there was any valid connection. I’m talking about the advent of coed p.e. classes. Our giant computer spit out 25-30 kids’ cards per class. It made little difference what a kid wanted, or where he or she really belonged. I felt worst for the little immature sophomore boys who got stuck in a class with me – by then old enough to be their grandmother – and who could be flattened by some of the girl varsity basketball players who were in that class too. Those little guys could have profited from a male role model, not an old goat like me.

Jinny Parker coaching field hockey in 1970. The Staples High School field is now named for her.

Jinny Parker coaching field hockey in 1970. The Staples High School field is now named for her.

But Staples certainly was a special place, or I wouldn’t have stayed for 26 years. I never aspired to college work or administration, so I couldn’t ever think why I should leave. No one ever threatened to fire me, though one chap might have liked to try.

Westport sure grew while I was there, but along the way I met some very nice people – parents mostly, as well as Tip Schaefer, Lou Nistico, Joe Cuseo, Jim Calkins and a host of others.

I probably would be a failure today, as discipline was a prime component in my dealings with kids. I hear from a lot of them from time to time, and I haven’t found they suffered much. I made mistakes, but not bad ones, I guess.

I spent 3 years teaching in a paper mill town – kids with green teeth, and 2 sisters who liked p.e. because they could shower. They lived in a tarpaper shack in the woods. They taught me a lot.

Westport was a shock after that, for the kids had everything and didn’t know it. I think Westport parents want only what is best for their kids, but as a child of the Great Depression, I am convinced that a batch of diversity is an excellent learning tool.

(For Jinny Parker’s full obituary, click here. A graveside committal service is scheduled for Thursday, August 6, 2 p.m. at the North Newport Cemetery in New Hampshire. Memorial contributions may be made to the Senior Citizens’ Outreach Program: Sullivan County Nutrition Services, c/o Wendy Callum, P.O. Box 387, Newport, NH 03773. 

22 responses to “Remembering Jinny Parker

  1. Fran Taylor

    Thanks Dan (and Martha Kirchhof) for letting us know about Miss Parker. She had a tremendous influence on my life and I wrote a letter to her 20 years ago to let her know. Honored to have known her. She was one of a kind.

    • Fran, didn’t your track & field team win consecutive state titles during our years in high school?

      • Fran Taylor

        Hi Fred — yes, I think we were state champs in Girl’s Track and Field all three years (’69, ’70, ’71). I am sure we were in ’70 and ’71 but not as positive about’69 — I want to say we were state champs for many more years than just those …

  2. Close to 15 years ago one of Jinny’s former players reached out to me because I had been part of the group that had come together to get the soccer field named in honor of Albie Loeffler.

    I didn’t know Jinny all that well back in the day other than thst she had a reputation for being tough. But, as I listened to the stories from the former player, I realized that the reverence she and her teammates had for Jinny was similar to that which Staples soccer alumni had for Albie Loeffler–and that Coach Parker was the girls teams’ equivalent to Coach Loeffler–except that Jinny (and her teams) didn’t get nearly the same level of public recognition back in the day.

    Naturally I was happy to help out the former player however I could and I was very glad to see Coach Parker get some form of belated recognition with the naming of the field in her honor. She was a true pioneer.

  3. Gerry Kuroghlian

    As a new teacher at Staples in the mid 1960’s, one of the first people who reached out to me was Ginny Parker. Her combination of care, courage and concentration about changing the role of women’s sports was living proof that one very determined woman could affect change by being an excellent teacher as well as an outspoken proponent of a cause. She was on the cutting edge of women’s empowerment long before it became a national movement. Most importantly Ginny did everything with style and grace. I was privileged to know her.

  4. Bonnie Connolly

    I knew this day would come, even though I haven’t seen Miss Parker in years. She was a big influence on me and guided my decision to go into teaching Phys Ed. I can even remember playing golf with her at Longshore. A real thrill. The funny thing is that we called her TOGM and when I had her in the mid 60’s she was only in her 40’s. Thank you Dan for sharing this interview and tribute.

  5. Deb Holliday Kintigh, Staples '64

    Dan, you nailed it and “did it right”…………and then some! What a privilege to have been one of Miss Parker’s “hockey jocks” and to have learned some leadership techniques from her. I adored her and will be forever grateful for the guidance she bestowed upon us! My heart is heavy ~

  6. I idolized her back then (1955-56) and as captain of the girl’s basketball team (we weren’t very successful, alas) was often in her peppery presence. Corresponded with her a bit about twenty years ago. ONe of the teachers I am glad I didn’t miss.

    Jane Yolen

  7. Susan Woodmere

    Thanks for the great tribute for Jinny!
    45 years later I still remember her as a great teacher, coach and friend.

    I’ve lived in Florida for decades but happily stay connected to Westport through ur blog.
    Thank you for that too!

  8. Thanks for sharing this interview, Dan. I ran track for ‘The Old Gray Mare’ in the late 70s, and the song was also a standard on the track trips…it was sung on every bus ride. I haven’t thought of Jinny Parker in many years, but I have remained active in sports throughout college and my adult life to this point. I hope that continues, and I am sure that love and enjoyment of athletic activity came, in part, from my experiences with the energetic Jinny Parker!

  9. Sue Sweetnam AsettA

    Although I stopped playing field hockey at Long Lots and decided Volleyball was going to be my sport in high school, I can still hear Miss Parkers voice in my head from the locker room or maybe gym class. She was dedicated and one of those teachers I won’t forget from Staples.

    • Deb Holliday Kintigh, Staples '64

      Sue, I can still hear her calling into the locker room (referring to the ‘gang’ showers): “If you’re not going to wash it off, AT LEAST use deodorant and cover it up!!”

  10. Joy Wassell Twelves (Tiger)

    I still remember Miss Parker sitting us down before field hockey practice at the start of the season and saying “These are your priorities, and in this order: family, school, field hockey”. Yes, she was tough but she turned out some very successful teams and influenced us as young women. What a role model she was! She taught us so much more about life than just athletics.

  11. Dot Giannone

    Such sad news but what a great life she had. She was the alltime best.

  12. Jinny Parker was the reason I loved sports in high school.
    She was one of a kind! A true treasure.

  13. Joan McCarthy Ketley

    My PE teachers and coaches in high school (1969-72) were a huge influence in my decision to become a Phys Ed teacher and none more than Miss Parker. I couldn’t play field hockey so I became one her “flunkies” (managers) for 4 years. I can still hear her yelling “FLUNKIE!” across the field when she needed something. I also remember she wouldn’t let me take gymnastics in PE class because I was a gymnast and she wanted me to try something more challenging. She was a great teacher and coach (even though I was often scared to death of her)

  14. When I went back to Staples last summer for our 50th reunion, (class 1964) the first thing I did was walk back to the fields and check whether the hill we used to have to run up and down on for hockey practice was still there. Not only was it still there but it was filled with kids were running up. I welled up with emotion remembering Jinny Parker and my teammates. I found a home in sports at Staples and thank Jinny and that hill for my present good heart rate. She taught me to give my all and I have never stopped. Thank you Jinny, forgive me for not sending a card or letting you know how much you meant, but then I think you knew you made a difference for many of us.
    Lidy Engel

  15. Maura Eagen Ripson '79

    Coach Parker (TOGM) was a true legend! I remember singing “The Old Gray Mare” at the top of our lungs while driving up the long driveway to the school after winning a field hockey game. Trust me when I say “We won a lot of them!” She coached many FCIAC championship teams and I was lucky to be a part of some of them. She was honestly the best coach I ever had….strict, but fair and full of wisdom that went beyond the hockey field! I am so glad that she lived a very long and fulfilling life after retirement! RIP TOGM!

  16. Britt Anderson

    Miss Parker was definitely one of the best to roam the corridors of SHS. I always had great respect for her [even after she cut me : ) ]

  17. Katherine (Cappie) Campbell Perras

    What a woman. It was a privilege to have been coached by Jinny Parker. The autumn afternoons spent on the Staples field hockey field under her keen eye are some of my most treasured memories. Miss Parker legitimized us as female athletes and taught us to value our strengths and push past our weaknesses. Jinny Parker was a rare blend of toughness and caring. She loved us and we loved her. We wanted to give her our absolute best. She was a life changer for me. Peace to you, Miss Parker and a heartfelt thank you for believing in us and creating a team that was a family and a sanctuary where we could be strong women without cultural restraints. You were on in a million. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Katherine (Cappie) Campbell Perras -Staples ’76

  18. Connie Brandt Bentley

    I didn’t make the hockey team back in the day.Many of my dearest friends did and when Miss Parker declared that I could be manager, I jumped at the chance. Even in that role, she helped me develop my potential in many ways. We didn’t realize back in the mid-60’s that she was making history for us and for future generations of young women. RIP TOGM.

  19. Sally Palmer

    I was in one of the first classes Miss Parker taught at Staples. She was a no no nonsense lady but fair and immediately accepted. Respect is what she got from us, and enthusiastic hard work in the gym and on the hockey field, even then I think we understood she was special.