Stories from the Field: Coach Nancy

Nancy Lemus is ready to be heard. Her journey to this point was hard-fought, but it began with tennis.

At 10 years old Nancy picked up a racket and didn’t let it go for 5 years. “I loved it. It was something I looked forward to every week. It became my escape from my home problems, school troubles, and life stressors.”

For Nancy, tennis gave her the ability to focus on herself and her skills, plus it was a great way for her to channel her negative emotions in a positive way. When she played, any anger she felt melted away and was channeled, instead, into the racket and onto the ball. “Playing sports kept me on the right track, as life was pushing me to take the wrong path.” As a young immigrant from El Salvador, life was not easy. Nancy came to the United States at 7 years old, where she was finally able to reunite with her parents who were already living here in the States. Despite the reunion, her world felt turned upside down; nothing felt familiar or welcoming, not even her parents. School, usually a place of escape, added to the turmoil only because Nancy’s primary language was Spanish, which made it difficult for her to connect with others. Often, she was teased because she couldn’t speak like her classmates or understand them – even the teachers were impatient and did not hesitate to use a ruler against her hand. “I feared being at home and at school. I could have quit school or ran away or hung out with the wrong crowd, but luckily tennis came into my life.”

Growing up in Inglewood during the 1980’s, Nancy was part of the massive growth of girls who now had more access to playing sports. According to a report gathered by the U.S. Department of Education entitled, “Title IX: 25 Years of Progress”, before the passing of Title IX in 1972, only “300,000 women (7.5%) were high school athletes; in 1996, that figure increased to 2.4 million (39%).”

In large part to her being able to participate in school sports Nancy was able to continue to grow her game, channel her anger into something positive and focus on her future. She learned the rewards of dedication, which has allowed her to find success in her life. “I realized through tennis that when I dedicate myself to something and work hard for it that I’d succeed in that something. I applied those skills in my life, and it was like I was playing tennis with the world.” Nancy continued in school, earning grades that landed her in Honor Roll and propelling her into who she is now.

Today, many describe her as reliable, dedicated, and passionate. Upon meeting her, you immediately feel the warmth that radiates from her personality, and possibly from her remarkable fiery red hair. Despite this fire, there appears to be an overt tenderness in her actions and in her words – in short, Nancy cares. This care pours out of her and flows into those she encounters, particularly her players, and especially her sons Romeo (17) and Jesus (11), who she lovingly refers to as Chewy.

It was no surprise when Nancy told me she got into the Dodgers RBI program by volunteering as the Team Mom for her son’s baseball team. Nancy loves her sons and supports their interest in sports because she knows how much it did for her as a child. However, after 6 years and 12 different team, Nancy was done being frequently silenced, belittled, and pushed to the side by the coaches she worked alongside with. “They told me ‘You are just the team mom – you don’t know how to coach’…I felt helpless. I had no voice. I was supposed to be an advocate for my players, but I felt like I was only letting them down.”

That’s when she heard about the partnership between Up2Us Sports and the Dodgers Foundation and how we were looking to hire 15 Field Champions to coach in the Dodgers RBI program. “That’s when I decided to be a coach,” says Nancy. For 6 years she sat in the dugout, on the bleachers, and now Nancy is ready to be the one who shows her players how capable they are. “Now, I will be the one with the voice. This time allowing my players in my team to play the positions they work hard to play during practices. I will not be unheard anymore. Yes, I am a woman and yes, I can coach.”

Coach Nancy Lemus is currently serving as an Up2Us Coach at Dodgers’ RBI in Los Angeles, CA. Her position is generously funded by CaliforniaVolunteers and the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation.