Jenny McCullough is coming home. The former MDCC assistant girls’ basketball coach and former head coach of Cleveland High School has been named the North Sunflower Academy Girls basketball head coach. McCullough is also coaching track this spring. She will coach but not teach classes at NSA.
“We currently have Coach McCullough on staff now working with our track team to get acclimated with our girls and build a relationship with them,” said Athletic Director Todd Kitchings. “She will officially begin her role as head basketball coach June 1.”
The Sumner native has worked in both public and private schools with much success. It seems the “prodigal child” has returned to her roots somewhat.
“Yes, indeed. I retired but I’m glad to be back at it,” Coach McCullough said. “I’m excited.”
The successful coach was at Cleveland High School (now Cleveland Central) for 18 years and then took on the coaching reins at West Union Attendance Center in Myrtle for two years before landing at MDCC as an assistant. McCullough had been invited to NSA this season to take in a few games. She was convinced she could help if asked.
“They are some hard-working kids. They need some practice and get more work in,” she said.
Coach McCullough takes over a young NSA team.
“There will be a couple of seniors but a large majority are seventh, eighth and ninth grade,” she said. “We’re working right now. No matter where I’ve coached you have to have the mindset to work really hard. People will always tell you that you can do anything you want to do in life but they leave out the part, ‘if you’re willing to work at it.’ You can’t just say hey, I want to and not put in the work and effort that’s required.”
She noted her players are excited and many of them are on her track team. The enthusiasm that is brewing has caught the attention of several girls who want to join the team next season, according to McCullough.
“They are out for track and they want to come out for basketball and they will really help us. They are some really athletic kids. I’m coming in and all I’m doing is coaching. I’m not teaching any classes,” she said.
Coach McCullough is happy to join the NSA family and help continue to build the small private school on and off the court.
“I’m excited about working with Todd Kitchings, the Athletic Director. I’ve known him for years and he is an honorable man, a hard worker himself and very supported. I’m excited to work for him and do all I can for girls’ athletics,” she said.
When the Rebels hit the practice floor, Coach McCullough has her basketball sermon ready for them.
“The number one thing first and foremost is our effort. We have to give a maximum effort and that will go a long way. And then we’ve got to guard people. We are not going to allow people to shoot layups on us. We’re going to contest every shot and play man defense,” she said. “Once you play man defense you can learn a zone fairly easy. It will take some work to do that. We’ll run a read and react offense and play up and down. We’re not going to walk the ball up. The girls have to learn the game and understand the game and the ins and outs of good solid basketball.”
She’s also looking to make a difference with the girls off the court.
“It’s more important to me that they learn to be strong, confident, independent, Christ-like, young ladies. We’re going to work on that and be good citizens and great teammates,” she said. “We can all do that. We can all be kind to one another and care about the other person. When you care about your teammates more than yourself and throw in some fundamental skills, then you’ve got the makings for a decent team.”
Something different that McCullough will implement will be a summer practice schedule that will work around other sports.
“We will practice 3-4 days during the month of June and drop to 1-2 days during July. I have to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each player and they have to learn my system of coaching. By working together in the summer, this will give us a head start so when the season begins, we have some of the basic fundamentals under our belt and will be ready to review what we learned in the summer and begin preparing for game situations.”
“We also want to get our elementary students excited about the sport of basketball," she added. “To do that, you have to have a good fundamental program in your lower grades so that when they move up from sixth grade to junior high, they are ready to step on the court with confidence. We’re going to have an elementary camp this summer.”
Athletic Director Kitchings said the hiring of Coach McCullough was a no-brainer.
“I have known Coach McCullough for many years and know the caliber of coach that she is,” he said. “She has coached from the park commission level all the way to the junior college level. She has that personality and coaching skill that North Sunflower Academy needs to rebuild our girls’ basketball program.”
Headmaster Janet Ray added, “When you start looking for coaches, the first thing you look for is someone with a passion for the sport. Coach McCullough had all the qualities that Coach Kitchings and I were looking for. We are so proud that she is part of the NSA family and staff and can’t wait to see the success of our Lady Rebels program next season.”
McCullough is proud to be part of the NSA team.
“I think Mrs. Ray does a great job at North Sunflower. I don’t think a lot of people know a lot about North Sunflower. If they did, there would be more people coming to visit and choosing to send their kids there. There’s a benefit in attending a small school because students get so much individualized attention.”
Coach McCullough knows first-hand how small schools benefit kids and families as she attended Strider Academy - a school her late father, Maynard, helped begin.
“He was one of three men that founded Strider Academy,” she said. “We actually played North Sunflower. I still have my friends I made in high school.”
McCullough can’t wait to hit the hardwood again with her new team of Rebels.
“It’s just a blessing. I’m thankful the Lord has given me the opportunity,” she said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun and we’re going to work to get better every single day.”