The Women of Prairie View: Barbara Jacket

July 24, 2017

In  our ongoing series highlighting the women who helped build and shape PVAMU, this week, we spotlight Legendary Track Coach Barbara Jacket. 

Barbara Jacket set the pace for women in university sports. From a young high school and college athlete, she evolved into a highly competent and widely celebrated coach taking the height of her accomplishments came when she became a women’s track and field coach in the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona Spain. Most notable has been Coach Jacket’s unstinting resolve to show gratitude to her mentors by investing in her student- athletes what her mentors invested in her—namely, hard work, respect, and self-discipline.

Barbara Jacket was born on December 26, 1934 in Port Arthur, Texas. She, her sister, and brother were raised by a single mother in a one room home.  Jacket recounts not realizing that her family was poor because they always had food.  However, she   grows somber when recalling being made fun of because her shoes had holes in the soles. In high school, athletics saved her.  She realized she was talented in many sports but especially basketball and track. Her track coach, Ms. Guidry, bought her a pair of shoes and seemingly poured encouragement into her. Jacket graduated from Lincoln High School in 1954 and advanced to Tuskegee University which was known in those days as Tuskegee Institute on a basketball scholarship. She also ran track. After graduating from Tuskegee University in 1958 with a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, she went to coach in Eufaula, Alabama and, following that assignment, Port Arthur, Texas. In 1964, she became the swim teacher and later swim coach at Prairie View A&M University known then as Prairie View A&M College of Texas.  Not only did she teach university students how to swim, but she taught adults and children in the community as well.  Ms. Jacket managed to earn her Master  of Education degree  1968 while continuing to teach and coach.

Turning to one of her true loves, women’s track, Coach Jacket formed the women’s track team at Prairie View A&M University in 1965. Funding was severely limited but even with meager financial resources, the team demonstrated remarkable achievement leading to notable recognition of Ms. Jacket as a coach. Among her most prominent awards were SWAC Coach of the Year 21 times, the Outdoor Track Coach Award, National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Coach of the Year, and the Yellow Rose of Texas Award twice during the tenure of Governor Ann Richards. Coach Jacket was especially humbled by selection for induction into the Tuskegee Institute Athletic Hall of Fame, the Texas Women’s Hall of Fame, the Prairie View A&M University Sports Hall of Fame, and the SWAC Hall of Fame. In 1990, she became the only woman Director of Athletics in the SWAC.  Her hometown of Port Arthur, Texas dedicated a park in her honor. Jacket’s accomplishments show not only through her awards, but through the product of her tough-love coaching ethic. During her 25 years of coaching at the University, Coach Jacket’s women’s track team won 23 SWAC championships, 5 athletes from Prairie View qualified for the Olympics, and 57 of her athletes received the “All-American” title.

Upon retirement from coaching the Prairie View A&M University women’s track team in 1991, Jacket turned her focus to Olympic coaching. As noted previously, Ms. Jacket would follow in the footsteps of her college coach and mentor, Dr. Nell Jackson, and become the second African American female to coach in the Olympics. That 1992 team included such greats as Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Gwen Torrance, Gail Devers, and Evelyn Ashford.  Winnings included  4 gold medals, 3 silver medals, and 3 bronze medals which, at that time, meant that the s Women’s Olympic Track Team had won more medals ever since 1956.  Following her time as an Olympics coach, Jacket returned to Prairie View to continue teaching. She retired from her career as an educator in 2010.

Coach Barbara Jacket’s story is one of triumph over challenges. Setting a goal and pursuing it with passion and dogged determination are behaviors student – athletes who were coached by Ms. Jacket exemplify. She paid forward the   investment made in her by mentoring, coaching, and teaching scores of student athletes. Ms. Jacket now resides in Richmond, Texas but her legacy will live on at Prairie View A&M University.