By Robert Wilson
The world is very impressed with Jan Sojourner’s résumé as a high school girls basketball coach:
Sojourner is ranked fifth in victories among high school girls’ basketball coaches in Mississippi history. She has 656 wins—102 in her first five years at Canton Academy and 554 in her last 28 years at Jackson Academy—entering the MAIS Class AAA State Tournament. Sojourner has won nine South or Division championships, six state titles and four Overall championships entering this year’s playoffs. She has won numerous awards and is a member of the MAIS Hall of Fame.
But God sees even bigger and more important attributes from Sojourner. He sees the thousands of lives touched by her Christian example. He will tell Sojourner who and how many girls’ hearts she led to Christ through her teams and camps when she gets to Heaven. Those Heavenly victories are the ones that count the most to Sojourner.
“I am a Christian and I do my best to live it,” Sojourner said. “I’m so passionate about some things. People only see that I want to be successful because I want to win. For me, being successful is winning because God gives me the tools to be successful. I think He tells you to be the best you can be. God is saying to me, ‘I’ve given you things Jan, now how are you going to be successful with that? And how are you going to honor that?’ I can’t back down and say, ‘OK, I’m not going to push this person because she’s not quite as talented and she’s not as good.’ I think that if we push a little harder, we even get better. And gosh, isn’t that what He wants from us? God gave His best, His very best. So let’s see if we can get our very best out. And to do that, sometimes it hurts. It’s not fun. I have to sit down at the end of the day and say, ‘Did I do everything that I could that He wanted me to do?’ “
Sojourner grew up in Crystal Springs and has been a member of Harmony Baptist Church there since she was young. The daughter of Charlie and Bobbye Sojourner, Jan grew up going to church on Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, and going to church camps in the summer.
“I remember my mother talking to me about accepting Christ when I was 12 years old,” Sojourner said. “I went through junior high and high school assuming that I was a Christian, but not sure I was. I believed I was because I walked the aisle. I went down and accepted Christ. I was your typical high school student and a good kid. I had great friends. I did what I was supposed to do. I knew that I was a Christian. When I got to college (at Mississippi College) I began understanding what my Christian faith was all about. I could really feel the presence of God talking to me to make sure I was a Christian. I doubted whether or not I was and wanted to make sure. I can truly say at the age of 21 when I was at a revival I committed to Him then. I turned it over to Him and wanted Him to be in control of my life. I know throughout my life I have blown it a thousand times, but I know that I am going to Heaven. And that’s a wonderful feeling.”
Sojourner played point guard and helped the Lady Choctaws to a national runner-up finish in 1974.
“I tried to use coaching as a ministry and be a Christian example to others. I wanted to be pleasing to the Lord. Jan has the same approach to coaching as I did,” said Ed Nixon, who coached Sojourner at Mississippi College. “She teaches the fundamentals and will not be overworked. Jan also teaches her players to lead their lives to glorify the Lord.”
Sojourner believes God put people around her so she would be successful. People who have been around her for several decades such as JA president Peter Jernberg, JA athletic director Bobby West, JA seventh grade girls basketball coach Ray Higgins and former JA assistant coach Sharon Clark.
“Jan is a fantastic coach and person and a wonderful leader of young ladies,” Jernberg said. “Her character is impeccable. She expects her girls to have positive character traits and it is evident her influence by the way her girls act in a positive fashion. Jan believes faith is a very important ingredient and has daily devotionals and prayer time with her players.”
“Jan is committed to her school, family, church, and God,” West said. “She is an excellent teacher of basketball and from the spiritual aspect. Jan has the respect of her current players, ex-players, opposing coaches, parents, and patrons.”
“Jan has a passion for competing and getting her girls to do the very best they can,” Higgins said. “She has been called to be a Christian coach and it is very evident her strong faith is reflected in the way she loves her players.”
“The keys to Jan’s success are her integrity, her high standards for herself and her players,” said Clark, who not only coached with Sojourner but her three daughters, Stacie, Stephanie and Sarah, all played for her at JA. “She challenges them to strive for excellence. Jan builds qualities of self-discipline, prioritizing, loyalty, the ability to listen and obey and teamwork. Since Day One, she has said the Lord’s Prayer and prays with her team.”
JA point guard Mollie Blair has learned a lot from Sojourner and knows her influence will help her throughout her college and adult life.
“Coach Sojourner has helped me develop many characteristics that will benefit me as I continue with my life,” Blair said. “By always pushing me to my limit, she has taught me that life is never easy and lacks any kind of shortcuts. Because she has taught me to never take the easy way out, I always strive to take challenging courses and succeed in them. This work ethic will continue to benefit me throughout my college and the rest of my future. Coach Sojourner also has had an influence on me on how I carry and feel about myself. Being a Christian lady, she shows us the right way to live on and off the court. Becoming a collegiate student-athlete is going to be an adjustment, but I feel that I can be very successful due to the influence of my coach.”
Robert Wilson is Business Developer for BFAC. He is a freelance writer, author, and the publisher of Victories in Metro Jackson magazine. He is a member of Broadmoor Baptist Church. Contact him at Robert@bfac.com.