Jill Ellis, W&M Class of 1988
Jill Ellis arrived at William & Mary in 1984. During her time at William & Mary, she played women’s soccer, wrote for the Flat Hat, and participated in the College Reading Program. She was the first in her family to attend university.
After graduating in 1988 with a Bachelor of Arts in English, she was offered a coaching job at NC State and simultaneously pursued her Master of Arts in Technical Writing. After a brief stint in the business world, she set her sights on coaching, serving as head coach of the UCLA women’s soccer team before moving into her current position as head coach of the Women’s National Team of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
In her interview, Ellis calls William & Mary "the complete package" having offered her both an opportunity to play soccer and an excellent academic experience. Though she recalls the campus as being very open in terms of rules and regulations compared to the 1960s and prior, in terms of discussion of sexuality, "it was certainly not an environment where it was open...back then it was still very much a taboo topic." Though this resulted in some isolating experiences for Ellis, she maintains that, "in terms of friendships, and lessons I've learned, and growing and becoming the person I am, it just gave me a great platform...I know it shaped me in so many ways it's probably hard to articulate."
William & Mary
Interviewee: Jill Ellis
Interviewer: Jake Perez
Interview Date: September 30, 2016 Duration: 01:06:46
Jake: My name is Jake Perez, and I’m the chief marketing officer at the College of William & Mary. I’m interviewing Jill Ellis, a member of the William & Mary class of…
Jill: ’88. [Laughs.]
Jake: Today is September 30, 2016 and this interview is being recorded in the J.W. Marriott Essex House Hotel in New York City. Jill Ellis—
Jake: —thank you for your time.
Jill: You’re welcome.
Jake: Tell us, if you would, please, when and where you were born.
Jill: I was born in England, a town called Folkestone on the South Coast in 1966, September.
Jake: Where did you grow up?
Jill: I grew up in England, in Portsmouth, which is a navy town on the South Coast, a small suburb of that, and spent from the age of six till about 15 in the same place. Prior to that I lived in Singapore a little bit.
Jake: I think it would be nice to do a little bit there. Can you give us a little bit of…tell us a little bit about your childhood and your early years.
Jill: Well, I was…at the age of, I think I was, about three, my father and mom moved to Singapore for a couple years, so I lived there. I don’t remember, obviously, much about it because I was young. And then we moved back to England, and from the age of about six to 15 we lived just outside of Portsmouth, Pompey, as it’s known. My father was in the military, the Royal Marine Commandos, so he traveled extensively. He wasn’t home a whole lot. So it was mom and my brother and I, my older brother.
Jake: Wow. Awesome. When did you attend William & Mary?
Jill: I enrolled in William & Mary in the fall of 1984. My family hadn’t, you know, hadn’t been in the country that long to know extensively about colleges and choices, and so I was the first in my family to go to a university. But my dad did some research and some homework, and I fell in love with the campus, and it was a pretty easy decision for me.
Jake: And why did you decide to attend William & Mary?
Jill: I think William & Mary was…it was the complete package. I’m not going to lie, I love my sport, and soccer, and I was recruited for soccer. But it was that perfect balance. I knew at the time I wasn’t going to be, you know, a professional soccer player, so the educational piece was critical. And it just, it matched perfectly in terms of knowing that I’d be prepared post soccer career to have a solid education behind me.
Jake: And you had a friend, was it, that was part of the initial…?
Jill: Yeah. Two of my club teammates, Julie Cunningham, Megan McCarthy, class of ’88, they were on my club team. And I literally said to them one day, I’m like where are you guys going to school? And they threw out William & Mary. Megan’s older sister was already enrolled.
And, you know, again I was pretty naïve to the whole process, so I thought, hm, okay, that’s where I’m going to go. Went to visit campus, loved it, it was beautiful. And my dad, like I said, did some research on the academic piece, so… I was a pretty shy kid, so going somewhere where two of my friends were going to be was a nice feeling, and yeah, it was perfect.
Jake: And what was your major, and why did you choose it?
Jill: I was English lit major, literature and composition. I think I was one of those many students that didn’t know what I was going to do or be, and I think it was one of those situations where my major actually chose me. I had an English professor my freshman year. I loved it, loved him, and so it was going to be either English or psych, and chose English. No regrets. I think, you know, it’s served me well in terms of being able to, you know, express myself in words. I love reading, so it was a good fit. But yeah, basically when I chose my English major I still didn’t know what I was going to do post graduation.
Jake: Was it as much…knowing you a little bit now I have a sense that…I can absolutely see applied psychology in your work as a coach and all the layers of your job. And the stronger rooting in English, obviously a clear grasp of the language and a communicator, again, both in your official role as coach and in managing the team, but also in media and a communications capacity, there’s so much that’s needed there.
00:05:04 In those early years, was it as much, you know, I’m really drawn to this faculty member and this is helping to shape me, in part perhaps, your roots and wanting English literature to deepen and enrich your background and heritage?
Jill: I think I was drawn to English. I was a voracious reader. I loved words and how they were put together. And I think certainly my professor my freshman year, he was a romantic lit professor and I just really enjoyed, you know, exploring poetry and prose. And so that was definitely a piece of it. Was it practical for me in terms of a career path? I wasn’t, at that point, sure. But I always figured that at some point you had to be able to write, you know, regardless of what you did. I think I was thinking about law school as a potential, or journalism.
00:05:57 And then psychology was, you know, I think that being a part of a team, it’s always intriguing to me to see how things come together and work, and obviously being an athlete, how you approach things, and so the psychology was always intriguing. But I think English won out because I think I could always defend my point, and I think that that was probably why the grades were a little better, perhaps, in that realm.
Jake: A good choice.
Jill: Thanks. [Laughs.]
Jake: What are your memories of your first day as a student, or those early days?
Jill: We came in early, before the freshman class, because we had preseason for soccer, so initially it was a quiet campus. But I do remember moving in day. It was chaotic. But it was kind of cool. I met, you know, obviously met my roommate. What was unique about William & Mary, which doesn’t, I think, happen at other schools, is as an athlete, sometimes at other schools you’re paired with another athlete, but we were actually paired with, you know, other students not related to athletics.
00:07:05 So you got that full scope of who you’d interact with. It wasn’t just that you were just with athletes. But I remember moving in day. I remember people lugging all their stuff up to DuPont. That was my dorm. It was just a hive of activity. It was exciting. I remember the first meeting in the pit, as we called it, in the bottom of DuPont. And, you know, just it was kind of great because then it was more than just the team. It became that I was a part of this community.
And so I made some wonderful friends on my freshman hall and just, yeah, I just loved it. And it was…things that I remember vividly about the fall would be just, you know, traipsing across campus to Tucker to take classes and, you know, going at night to the delis after, you know, after a big win or something, and having friends.
00:07:55 And then, you know, the studying was a massive part of it in terms of Julie and I would hole up in Swem and get our studying done. But yeah, it was just very good, vibrant memories.
Jake: You took us right back. What was dorm life like?
Jill: I loved my freshman year in a dorm. I think you just, immediately that whole row of people become a community. And I remember our TA—was it TA?
Jill: RA, okay. I remember my freshman hallway. It was, you know, someone would get a phone call, and you’d knock on the door, and you just got to really know all these people, and where they were from. And I remember our RA. She was fantastic. Friends with her on Facebook now, so still in touch with her. But it was great because you were all in the same boat. You were all a little intimidated, and you just really clung together as a hall.
00:08:59 And yeah, I mean, my best friend Julie was downstairs, so I’d go down and see her. And yeah, it was just, it was fun. I really enjoyed the whole life, and, you know, became close to some of those people.
Jake: And was it on campus just the first year or how did…?
Jill: No, I stayed…I was off campus my sophomore year, but actually realized that I liked being on campus. I think, you know, when you have soccer, and you…it’s just easier to get to training and to be there, and I think just getting around was easier. And, you know, I think William & Mary does have a great sense of community actually physically on the campus, and so it was great. I just hung out with my friends and would visit people. So I stayed on campus three out of the four years.
Jake: How much social freedom did you have on campus? What were some of the rules about dress, behavior, curfews?
Jill: [Laughs.] There weren’t any rules.
Jake: Did they differ from rules established for men? And why do you think women were socially restricted?
Jill: I think because I had an instant group of friends in a team I never felt…I didn’t see any differences in terms of expectations for females or males. It was…you know, we were friends with the guys on the soccer team. And so I don’t think there was any parameters of behavior that was set forth. I think we kind of had this general have each other’s back type scenario. You know, if we went out with a team or our freshman hall or whatever, I think that people were always very welcome to do things. So I can’t say that there was parameters of behavior at all, I think. So what was campus life like?
00:10:59 It was…you know, it’s that extreme from very intense because the, you know, the academics and the deadlines you had to hit, and, you know, the preparation you had to do for classes, and so everybody was always in full academic mode. But then the flip to that was socially it was…it was fun. I had a great time.
You know, I was pretty shy my freshman year. But gradually, in social settings, you know, with my team or with my hall mates, that’s when, you know, I got to come out of my shell a little bit, and get to know people. I loved the social scene at William & Mary. I mean, it was…
And it wasn’t just a partying type thing. It was, you know, you’d do study hall groups, or you would have class meetings or individual meetings with people in your class to go over notes or help study or review groups and such. So I just think it was, socially it was a massive spider web of network of friendships and relationships.
Jake: I think in part the question is looking back generationally to see how different the campus was. Obviously this is part of a—
Jill: Wilder. [Laughs.]
Jake: Looking at the hundred years of women—
Jill: Okay, sorry.
Jake: —and what that experience was on campus. You can imagine in the early ‘40s, 1950s, segregated—
Jill: Oh, yeah. Got it.
Jake: —areas, and curfews, a whole host of things that might have come into play. And, you know, 1984, vastly different campus, different community feel, and arguably, I would hope, less restrictive than some of those earlier generations. But did you experience any of that from your time?
Jill: No. I think when I got on campus it was, you know, it was a very open campus in terms of there was nothing that was imposed. I think, you know, women were respected.
00:13:00 You know, we were athletes, we were students, we were leaders. I think that there really was a sense of equity on the campus. So yeah, I never…I don’t think there was different rules for male or female. I think it really became you were a student, period. And I think that’s, you know, how most of my teammates and my peers would feel as well. It was a very open and, I guess at the time, progressive campus.
Jake: And appropriately so. Good. The student athlete version of the same, I mean, in terms of the men’s and women’s soccer, you felt like it was an equitable experience and you guys were treated the same, equal opportunity in terms of…?
Jill: I think…yes. I think for the athletes, in terms of access to facilities it was equal. In terms of, you know, probably everything from your travel per diem to, you know, staying in hotels, you know, I don’t see…I never thought of it as the men were treated better than the women. You know, looking now to what they have today compared to what we had back then, sure, I mean, we had to, you know, buy everything, you know, our cleats.
And I remember we used to get $5 a day for per diem, and if we ate at Wendy’s it was awesome, you know. So I think obviously that’s come a long way, as it should. But I think the athletes themselves would not say that there was any difference in terms of how we were treated. And even expectations of behavior or, you know, that we had to… You know, even on our team I don’t think we had…we didn’t have set study hall. You didn’t have to.
00:14:57 The students understood why they were there. And, you know, I know, as a college coach, former college coach, I would impose study hall, set hours. But back then it was like you knew that if you didn’t get it done in the classroom it wasn’t going to happen for you, period, so we were very diligent, I think, in our studies.
Jake: I was actually going to head a little bit in that direction. So it was 1984, I believe, was the first year—I forget the gentleman’s name who wrote the book—but he coined the term “public Ivy,” and he named eight schools, including William & Mary. And in my mind, that seems like that was the sort of year it was officially branded. But that academic rigor was well in place by the time you got there, and you felt that, it sounds like, as a student athlete.
Jill: I did. I think you don’t know anything different, in a way, because the expectation was already set that, you know, you’re going into an academic environment.
00:16:00 But, you know, I remember on road trips, if we traveled in two vans, one van would be the study van that people had stuff to do. And you’d see us at night with our flashlight and our books. You had to make it work and manage it. But yeah, I think the reason why most of us were drawn to William & Mary was because of the academics. And so you knew that you just had to deliver. And yeah, many late nights.
I was probably not the best role model in terms of how I approach my organizational skills. I was very last minute, a bit of a procrastinator. But personally, that’s how I actually felt I delivered my best. If a paper was due, I would wait to the last minute to get it done because I knew then I didn’t have any choice, so, you know. But I think the…I don’t think back then we had academic advisors or tutoring available, many of the things that today’s student athlete has.
00:17:00 So you really had to rely on your own wits and the advice of probably people who had gone before you in terms of your older teammates.
Jake: We have a couple different directions that the next series go in, and they’ll often look at Flat Hat issues and articles of the time. And there’s a lot that this project is looking at to really understand what an alumna’s experience was like at the time, and getting a sense for sort of the campus climate. Like the gender equity related question, I don’t know that we’re fishing for, oh, gee, we were—
Jill: Yeah, no, no, you can…I mean—
Jake: —discriminated against or something was different. One of the examples they cite here from an earlier generation, the early ‘60s, unfortunately, it talks about…it alludes to a sexual assault that had occurred on campus at the time involving a sorority.
00:18:08 And they’re asking about sort of memories of that time. Do you recall any incidents occurring during that time that may have marked your time on campus?
Jill: I don’t. I don’t recall that. I mean, I know we did have…I think we had a suicide on campus. And, you know, that was…obviously affected everybody. And I know that there were, you know, psychologists set up, you know, people to go and speak to to deal with that. I remember that. You know, I think—and I don’t know how personal I want to go here, so I’ll just talk about it, and we can talk about it.
00:18:55 But I think, you know, at the time on campus I think it was very much you do what you do and you don’t…you probably didn’t really think a lot about…you just felt like a community, so you didn’t, you know. But, you know, as a woman that was going through, you know, my personal growth in terms of, you know, sexuality, I think that it was certainly not an environment where it was open. It was something that you, you know, that you wouldn’t even talk about with your own teammates, who were the closest of people, because back then it was still very much a taboo topic.
And I think that was part of a, you know, a personal struggle for me, and, you know, at times it was challenging because you felt isolated. I think had I had the courage back then to probably share that, I think it would have been very different. I think it was probably my own personal reservations.
00:20:02 Because I don’t think, ultimately, it was something that I was going to get judged by. But I just never went there. And I think now it’s such a different time. It’s fantastic, you know, in terms of people can openly express and be who they are, and I think that’s… I think William & Mary was as progressive and liberal as a school there was back then. But certainly, like everything, it’s probably been influenced by this change in our society in terms of acceptance.
Jake: Absolutely. And I think I wouldn’t expect anything different as a clear sign of the times, and particularly the mid ‘80s, you know, for what, you know, I’ll head in a little more that direction, sort of qualifying, you know, growing up in that time and what it was like to go to college in the ‘80s. The next question is describe the experience of dating at William & Mary.
Jill: I…yeah, I mean, I remember, actually, in the opening meeting of my freshman year in the pit, you know, I remember there was this fun guy, and I’m like oh, you know, and so we ended up dating for a while. And I did. I think on my personal journey I, you know, I wasn’t…you know, I wasn’t locked in to one side or the other.
So yeah, I think it was…it ran the gamut, I think, at William & Mary, between, you know, people that had very, very serious boyfriend-girlfriend, and probably ended up marrying them. Actually, a few of my teammates ended up marrying the person that they dated in college. And then, you know, the other extreme, where you probably still had a very active social life, and hookups were part of it, I’m sure.
00:21:57 But yeah, I think that, you know, William & Mary is probably like most campuses. I think the, you know, the attraction and where you are in your life in terms of your age made it a very active campus. [Laughs.]
Jake: You’re good. A disclaimer.
Jill: Tippy-toeing around it.
Jake: Well, it’s just tough. I mean, a lot of people…I think anybody can relate to the sense of self-discovery that happens in college.
Jake: You know, it’s the first taste of potential real freedom you get, depending on what your parenting was like, and your family dynamic coming to college. And you’re taking classes that you want. You’re sort of hopefully picking a path for yourself, or trying different pathways that might fit, and you’re finding who you are.
Jake: And that’s true in the dating realm and every other aspect of life.
Jill: Yeah, yeah. I think when you had… You know, I was…I considered joining a sorority.
00:22:59 But what I realized—well, two things. I didn’t come from a very wealthy family. When I realized you had to pay dues, I was like, I can’t do that. But I think when you’re instantly part of a team, you have that sorority, essentially. I felt very fortunate to have that because I knew that there were people around me that would support me. And, you know, you pick up a lot just listening. I was, like I said, I wasn’t…I was pretty shy, and so I would listen a lot.
But yeah, I think having a team or having sisters around you was massive in terms of, you know, you got exposed to everything. And I just truly valued that, because I did, I think I grew up with them, but it was fun to, you know, sometimes learn from their actions, mistakes, and hear about it, and talk about it.
00:23:53 But, you know, I think at the time I…probably soccer was so consuming to me that I wasn’t readily, you know, discussing politics or policy. It was probably just the things that naïvely just affected me and my teammates, you know. It wasn’t…we didn’t look at bigger thing. I think at times you, you know, you were forced to kind of reflect and look at things, but…
You know, I—and I don’t know if we go there—you know, if I think back to my team, we were not a diverse team at all. And, you know, I think that’s… We were diverse in terms of economics. We were diverse in terms of, you know, probably religious beliefs. But in terms of racial diversity, it was very limited on campus, and then certainly on our team. There was no ethnicity on our team. So, you know, I think, again now, as a former college coach, that is such an important part of the fabric of who we are. But it’s just where we were in time, unfortunately.
Jake: Absolutely. As you’ve seen, it’s a wonderfully vibrant community today, with over 34% of the student population is of some minority descent, and even within the athletic programs the teams are wonderfully diverse.
Jill: Yeah, it’s so great.
Jake: It enriches that experience for everybody. But even the socioeconomic version of it in your day I’m sure enriched your experience in that sphere.
Jill: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, if a kid had a car on our team it was like, whoa, you know. It was a really big deal. So yeah, I mean, it was…I think that was probably more of the differences that you saw. You know, there wasn’t any scholarships, and so there wasn’t a…it wasn’t a have and a have not in terms of on our team. But certainly, you know, obviously some people were better off than others.
Jake: Did you have a favorite professor?
Jill: God, I can’t remember the dude’s name. My history professor. What was his name? I think certainly in the English Department Nathaniel Elliott was probably my favorite professor. I think I ended up taking him for three or four classes. I think it was a combination of I very much liked the topics and the content, and I just thought how he presented it was, you know, he was genuinely passionate about it, and that spilled over, and, you know, I think it was…so it was a combination of his delivery and the content probably made him my favorite professor.
But I was fortunate. I had quite a few… I was a history minor. I had, you know, a history professor. I kind of focused in Russian studies. And I remember the gentleman who took me through that was great.
Jake: Was your interest in Russian studies in part a reflection of the times? I mean, obviously the Cold War and everything else going on.
Jill: Yeah. I… Yeah, I think I was… I think just at the most base level why I was drawn to Russian history was they had some unbelievable characters. It made it kind of an interesting subject material. And so I wanted to…yeah, I wanted to learn more about these massive personalities in history. And then yes, so it started with, you know, obviously, you know, much, much earlier Russian history all the way up through the Cold War.
And so yeah, it was very interesting. I loved that. I loved to learn about how a country evolves. And obviously coming from England, even seeing how England influenced the U.S. And so history is just something that’s always been of interest to me. I think one of the most interesting classes I took was one that actually my coach taught, John Charles. It was a philosophy of sport class.
00:28:01 And I remember taking it, and he was tough. You know, he didn’t cut any breaks to the athletes, that’s for sure. But I remember that class because again, I hadn’t grown up in this country. And I remember the topic came up about affirmative action, because that was becoming a hot topic. And I grew up with regardless of who you were or what you were, it doesn’t matter, there was a standard to be met.
And he really helped me understand that…again, I didn’t know American history a lot, but he really helped me understand that because of this oppression for so long, you had to empower a generation, and by doing that sometimes you did have a different level of perhaps an entrance to a university, because you had to almost make up for everything that had happened, and you owed it to this group of people to help them get on their feet.
00:29:03 And so, you know, that was really enlightening to me because I was like that makes sense, you know. So yeah, he was good. I mean, we would debate ethics in sports. So it was a very provoking class and a memorable one. And hard. He made it hard.
Jake: It sounds fascinating and fun.
Jill: Yeah, it was good.
Jake: Do you think that some of the interest in Russian history was a reflection—I can’t help but draw a parallel—you seem to be someone who dissects the enemy when it comes to every game and every opponent, and so understanding them psychologically, you have a better advantage on the field.
Jill: Yeah, it’s true.
Jake: And so, you know, it was such a polarizing time. You know, take us to the ‘80s, if you would, and give us a sense of what it was like for you.
Jill: Well, I had just come to the States the year the American contingent had boycotted the ’80 Olympics, so, you know, which… What was unique for me is you’d come from one side of the pond, and you come all the way over, and then you start to appreciate just a different culture and historical perspective, and even a different role internationally, you know, where England was in terms of where America was globally. And so I know that was a really big deal.
But the ‘80s, yeah. It was, you know, it was very much Gorbachev, Reagan. You heard about it all the time in the news. And they were certainly portrayed. You know, I remember seeing the cycle and the hammer, and you think, you know, the Soviet Union. And so yeah, it was…they were portrayed as, you know, an enemy, essentially.
00:30:52 And I think the…yeah, the interesting thing about the Russian history was to really understand what had gotten it to that point, you know, in terms of the revolution, and the czar, and the assassination. So getting to that point was interesting because yeah, our professor brought us all the way up to the current day. But I think you had a better understanding of what it was like. But yeah, I mean, the ‘80s were…obviously Reagan was a big deal in the ‘80s, and just the attempt to… I remember, you know, the wall coming down. I don’t know if that was like in the ‘80s or not, but…was it?
Jake: You would have had…
Jill: I’m trying to think.
Jake: Reagan gets shot.
Jake: I’m curious to know—
Jill: Lennon gets shot.
Jake: John Lennon gets shot. You’ve got…
Jill: I’m trying to think. God, it was a long time ago.
Jake: The Challenger explosion is ’86.
Jill: Yeah, yeah.
Jake: MTV. Was there TV on campus?
Jill: [Laughs.] That’s a good one. Yeah, I mean, it was…I mean, I love music, and when…yeah, I think on the social aspect I think MTV was everywhere.
00:32:02 People were like this is… You know, Michael Jackson was massive. Tina Turner. I had posters all over my wall, Tina Turner. So, you know, REM. I mean, the music. I think for a while there the ‘80s got slammed as not—but I think the music was fantastic. So there was a lot of, I think, cultural change. I think, you know, the influence of the video was massive. So it was a very interesting time.
I don’t think there were, you know, set… For me I didn’t feel like there were set trends, but then I go back and you look at all the haircuts back then, and you look at the padded shoulders, and you’re like, bleh. So I think style-wise the ‘80s had a lot to be desired. But I think the music was fantastic. And it was definitely an active time in history with, you know, assassination attempts and, you know, the exploration into space was, you know, with the Challenger disaster.
00:33:04 So I think there was a lot of newsworthy events. But, you know, overall, I mean, I think I…yeah, I was… I think I remember most vividly the music of the times. It was everywhere. You were so cool if you had an MTV shirt. And the disc jockeys were like the massive celebrities. It seems kind of funny. But the MTV Music Awards have survived, so it still had some significance.
Jake: And again, just a little bit in that direction. So culturally, well, TVs are ubiquitous now, but in that time, and naïvely, perhaps, did you all have a TV in the dorm? Was there a main hall space with it?
Jill: I don’t…I don’t remember TV. I think if someone had a TV in their dorm room it was like oh my god, you know, you were a big deal. But I think—remember we had the rabbit ears, you know, it was the old school. I think there may have been TVs in the dorms, like in one common area, but I don’t recall that.
00:34:01 You know, if you got a phone call—nobody had a cell phone—if you got a phone call you’d, you know, it was on the hall and you’d have to go knock on the person’s door. We had message boards, so, you know, your mom called, and so it was, I think, you know, I think there was probably more communication because we weren’t all stuck here.
But yeah, you look at it now, I mean, even computers. Nobody had a computer. Nobody. I remember I thought I was the deal when I had this frickin’ massive, my junior year, because I was an English major. I wrote 20 odd papers, you know, 28 papers one year in one semester, and I had this big, massive word processor, you know, thing that was portable, but it was like krrr. And yeah, I was like oh, this is awesome. I mean, what I laugh about now is the hours and hours we would spend in the library looking up books, and hunting for books, and going through the slides and looking for newspaper articles. I mean, now it’s just bing, touch of a button.
00:34:58 So yeah, I probably could have been more productive had I been a student now than I was back then. But just hours upon hours of research looking things up, and didn’t have the web.
Jake: It was a fairly conservative time. You had a really fascinating stretch from ’84 to ’88, in that realm, and clearly the influence of what was going on your early years heading into college. You had Nancy Reagan was sort of a conservative, not quite repressive, but, you know, just say no campaign, and Williamsburg, Virginia, 1984, I’m seeing more Nancy Reagans on campus than Cyndi Laupers, perhaps.
Jake: And so curious, you know, was—
Jill: That’s a great way of putting it.
Jake: Did you have big hair, zippered pants, or was it the full Michael Jackson Thriller? You know, by ’88 you’re seeing…
Jill: The old bomber jackets, you know, with the…
Jill: I think the…like I, you know, I remember this. I remember my freshman roommate coming into the dorm room, and I was a little under the weather. I think it was the night after our team had gone out. And I remember her walking in, and, you know, it was the pinafore dress, and the whales, the turtleneck with the whales on it and, you know, just this epitome of, you know, yes, Nancy Reagan-ish type thing, and I’m like oh my god, are we really going to get along, you know, because we’re so different. But we hit it off like a house on fire.
So I think yeah, there was…I don’t think the… I think everybody would probably even have labeled themselves a Republican because I don’t think the Democrat and the liberal movement was as vibrant or as known back then.
00:36:54 And, you know, I think to myself, I’m like, yeah, I would have identified as a conservative, as a Republican. But I also think that, yeah, I think when you’re part of a team there’s…you get to see everybody’s… And I think when you’re in a team environment, people are…they’re less like this and more open about their thoughts and opinions, and so yeah, you get to kind of see everything.
But no, there was definitely, I mean, I think I was drawn to the Cyndi Lauper type rather than the Nancy Reagan, to use your analogy. But yeah, I think everybody got to be who they were. I don’t think it was… But I don’t think there was as extremes in terms of falling outside of a specific type.
Jake: And you are the MTV generation. You came up with music…it was this fascinating time where you’ve got sort of music, technology, and culture infusing the culture in a way that it perhaps hadn’t, and TV became a bigger presence.
Jill: Yeah, Madonna was huge.
Jake: With everything you are doing today and have done in your career to enable young women’s empowerment—Madonna, exactly, was where I was headed with that. She bursts onto the scene in, I think, 1985, and what did that mean to you? Clearly, again, that self-discovery, you’re sort of finding yourself. And having someone who’s embodying that and personifying independence, a strong woman, challenging social norms.
Jill: I think when you… You know, and again, I’m not a music buff, but I don’t think there were global superstars that were single females, you know, in terms of an individual, not part of a group. And so yeah, when Madonna or Cyndi Lauper came on. And their expression, their personal expression, you know, back then it was kind of like Lady Gaga in the ‘90s. You know, they were…they dressed differently, they acted differently. They shunned rules and regulations.
00:39:09 And so I think it was not one of those things where you completely ran that direction, but you kind were like huh, good for them, kind of. So I think it was definitely a time where you got to see people…you know, especially Madonna. She was so outspoken. It was like screw it, I don’t care what people think, and that’s…
Although I probably personally wasn’t there yet in terms of, you know, you think about what people might think about what you wear or what you do, I think that it gave you a picture outside of the box. You’re like huh, it’s interesting. Now, again, it’s so different. I think part of it is you… I think why life and why people are so more comfortable in their own skin now, I feel, is probably because you get access to everything.
00:40:02 We had MTV and we had these certain people that we were connected to because they were on TV or in these videos, but now there’s something for everybody, and the web gives you access to everything. So I think we were… While there’s always going to be personalities that are nonconformists, I think we were probably a pretty conservative group, in many ways.
Having said that, I think, you know, like I think about a little bit the opposite to that, is like if I look at, you know, having been a college coach now, the behavior and the things that you would tolerate, we got away with way more back then than we ever would allow now, you know, I mean, in terms of, you know, going out and being able to party. I mean, we partied, and, you know, our team partied.
00:40:57 And we were able to balance everything, but we had a good time. And it didn’t matter if you were 19 or 21, you could have access to everything. So I think that…I mean, I jokingly said this. I was asked at one time. I was talking to a bunch of students at UCLA, and they said, you know, Jill Ellis the coach, how would they have dealt with Jill Ellis the athlete.
And I said I probably would have cut myself in a week because, you know, I was…you know, it was a free time back then, and, you know, there wasn’t as many rules in terms of behavior. It was a different time. And you didn’t have social media where, if you screwed up, it was everywhere. You know, it was, you know, you dealt with the consequences with your coach or your team and that was about it.
Jake: So the MTV lens is a helpful one just looking at technology as well. So you had the advent of the mixed tape and, you know, Sony Walkman.
Jill: Oh, massive. [Laughs.] Oh, god, here we go. I didn’t think about these things. I was a mixed tape machine.
00:42:00 I would make tapes all the time. I mean, I just loved music. I had…and I had such extremes. I would study to George Winston, and then I would have my pump up tapes for matches and games. And yeah, the Sony Walkman was…wow, it was revolutionary back then. [Laughs.] You know, people walk around with their headphones and you’d have your little box.
Jake: So Apple computer is out around this time. It was ’84. And so, you know, prohibitively expensive, I’m assuming, for the average college student.
Jill: Correct, yeah.
Jake: But did you know anyone that had a personal computer?
Jill: I didn’t at the time, no. I didn’t. I remember seeing the commercial for Apple, the 1984 ad, this big ad. I remember saying oh, okay, this thing, what is this, you know, kind of. You knew it was coming, but no, most of us were still… I mean, typewriters. We had typewriters. So it wasn’t…yeah, computers were not…not accessible financially or readily viewed because nobody had them.
Jake: Were there much…you know, a lens of looking at technology for the time and what you were doing. You talked a little bit about Swem library and spending a lot of time researching between microfilm and other things. Were you using personal tape recorders for things and leveraging that for term papers?
Jill: No. It was very much the legal pad and a piece of paper and, you know, or a notebook and your pencil. No. I mean, I think the… I think part of, you know, the note taking nowadays is so much easier, but, you know, we would struggle. And that’s why, you know, in certain, in bigger classes you would form these study groups, because sometimes you couldn’t get it all down, or someone was better at note taking, and you would kind of review the information. But yeah, it was all manual. And I think even the test taking, I think it was, you know, it was nothing on computers.
00:44:02 I think there were probably more not digitally graded tests back then, or however they grade them, but no, it was professors had to read it and grade it. I think the technology is probably the greatest development since I was in college.
I do, I say this, and kind of jokingly, I mean, as much as we took advantage of our learning environment, I think the accessibility now for a student is phenomenal. I mean, I look at my own daughter. She’s 11 and she’s learning stuff that, respectfully, we learned probably in, you know, sophomore year in high school we were learning it. And so I think everything has been accelerated because of this access to information, which is marvelous.
Jake: No question. Lily has left us.
Jill: Yes, she has.
Jake: That’s a really good way to describe that. You were very active as an undergraduate. What motivated you to be so engaged?
Jill: in what sense? [Laughs.] Active just on campus and…like my partying? [Laughs.]
Jake: You talked about the team really being your sorority.
Jill: Yes, okay. Yes.
Jake: And the sisterhood there. Was a lot of what you—it sounds like a lot of what you did was—I’m trying to work with the question here.
Jill: Yeah, yeah, no worries.
Jake: A lot of what you did was motivated by sort of a team approach to what you were doing, and socially outgoing person, and so you had this sort of intellectual curiosity to play and tinker and explore different things, so academically you pursued English, psychology and history, and athletically you were either tuning up for a game, playing at your peak or coming down from that, and there was enough there.
00:46:00 But looking at campus today—and I know you’ve had an opportunity to interact with a lot of students—they seem as active as any of your generation in taking on the world every day with all the activities and things they do. Do you feel that was as true in your class and in your time?
Jill: I do. I think the type of student that’s attracted to William & Mary kind of transcends history. It’s the person that is motivated and doesn’t want to be stationary. I think that’s the type of person that’s attracted to an environment that’s going to push you. So I think that, yeah, I think we probably had different access to things, but in terms of embracing the full student life, I think that that was something that people did. I don’t think there was probably as many clubs or things that people could do, but I think the pursuit of knowledge was probably at the base.
00:46:57 And whether it was, you know, in the classroom or just in terms of engagement with other students, you know, I think it was very vibrant. People were active. And, you know, I think, I think for me personally, I don’t like to sit still. I love to, you know, be around people or, you know, really personally develop. And I think having a team, yes, we had that.
I mean, you know, to this day I still have, you know, teammates that we try and get together every year. And those bonds that you build are just so special. So yeah, I think the willingness of anyone who attends William & Mary to get the most out of it, I think it’s part of in your DNA that that’s the school that you’re attracted to because I think you’re intellectually curious if you choose to attend William & Mary. So yeah, I took it all in.
00:47:54 I was, you know, we trained hard. We practiced every day. We had to balance travel, and it wasn’t travel like it is today, where you get on a plane. It was friggin’, you know, six hours on a bus, or whatever it was, or in vans, even. We drove everywhere in vans. So you had to balance that. But I think…I don’t think…me personally couldn’t have just been a student. But I also think most people that go there aren’t just students. They are seeking some other extracurricular activity to stimulate or to grow or learn from.
So yeah, I think it’s, you know, whether you’re an athlete or not an athlete, I think everybody tries to maximize. I don’t think you can go to William & Mary and just try and get through it, you know. You can’t. You have to connect with other things to, you know, to make it kind of an enjoyable time and process.
Jake: Looking back at your time—this is funny, given last night. Paul Verkuil was your president at the time.
Jill: He was.
Jake: What are your memories of him?
Jill: He was, the word I would say is regal, which I still think today. He was, you know, an imposing figure. Obviously very articulate. He had a presence about him. So yeah, you remember him, you know, at graduations and, you know, my graduation speaking. But actually, I don’t know if he was at my graduation. Maybe he’d stepped down by then. I don’t know.
I think President Verkuil was…I don’t know. And after having engaged with President Reveley, it’s almost this…you have to have a certain aura that they both have about them. But yeah, I think Verkuil, I think he was a president that was open to engagement with. I do remember that, you know, in terms of with the student body. And, you know, I think he was a wonderful figurehead for our university.
Jake: What were your memories of the dean of students at the time, if you recall?
Jill: I don’t know who that was. I have no idea. Unless you were in trouble, you didn’t care.
Jake: These are specific to this early ‘60s generation, where the dean of students seemed to have a bigger role. And it sounds like culturally, too, on campus, that the sort of restrictive policies for women of the day versus today, and even in the mid ‘80s, just didn’t apply. There was a dean of women at the time. I’m assuming that wasn’t—
Jill: I do remember that. I think it was… We did have an all girls dorm. I think Barrett was an all girls dorm, which we teased… I remember, was it…now what was the dorm that was all…? God, it was…what was the name of it? So I knew there was an all girls—I remember where it was. I can’t remember what the name of it was. But we did have an all girls dorm on campus.
00:51:01 And I remember when we found out our housing assignments, I remember one of my teammates, Holly Barrett, we were like, we gave her a hard time because oh, man, you’re in the nunnery. [Laughs.] I think we called it that. So yeah, I mean, I think that that was… I knew I didn’t want to be in there. You know, you’re having fun and laughing with the guys… [Break]
00:51:21 So I remember one of my freshmen teammates, Holly Barrett, she was assigned to the all girls dorm, which was in the corner of campus, and I remember us giving her a hard time. We’re like ooh, wow, that sucks. You know, I think we called it the nunnery or, you know, whatever it was. But, you know, it was a little bit, looking back now, I’m like oh my god, I can’t believe they had an all girls dorm, you know, on campus. I don’t know if there still is. Probably not. But, you know, we certainly enjoyed just the fellowship with the male students, so she missed out on that her freshman year.
Jake: They’re coed dorms now.
Jill: Oh, coed, yeah.
Jake: And President Verkuil came in…his presidency started July 1st of 1985 and ran through July 7th of ’92.
Jill: Oh, yeah, so he was there. He did speak at my graduation. I think the actual content of the information, you know, at times you kind of think it’s probably standard in what [other] universities, the messaging. But I think the competitiveness and the, just the…what I’m trying to say is like a lot of smart people around you forced you to be better.
Jake: Yeah, sure. How challenging were your studies at William & Mary and how did you manage that workload along with your extracurricular activities?
Jill: I think it was certainly a challenge as a student athlete because we would travel a lot. And, you know, it was fitting in time, and we had to make sure our classes were done at a certain time so we could get to practice. So I even remember, gosh, putting our schedules together. I mean, it was… You know, you used to sit and wait in line and go over to William & Mary Hall and try and sign up for classes. There was nothing online, and it was a chore.
00:53:02 So picking the classes around your schedule, and making sure you could do everything was important. I think because everybody was in the same boat, so to speak, everyone on the road understood that if your roommate had to study, you just accepted that, and you didn’t have to have certain study rooms or study hours. Everyone just dug in and got it done.
But I think the unique thing about William & Mary is you’re surrounded by so many bright, articulate people that it’s not only are you learning from the material you’re studying, you’re learning from your students, and your fellow students. So that was always fun.
And yeah, was it competitive? Sure, yeah. I mean, I think that the natural academic level of people entering William & Mary was so high that it was a little bit of a pressure cooker at times to make sure you got things done. But I think you find a way to manage it.
00:53:58 I’m not a massively organized person, so I was very last minute with a lot of things. But, you know, I think you just…it actually made you better. It strengthened you in terms of dealing with the rigors of the academics.
Jake: I’ve been waiting for this question. What did you and your classmates do for fun?
Jill: I think the…with the team we did a lot of things socially together. So the delis, as far as a rally point, Paul’s College Deli, we were there quite a bit and enjoyed that. Hampton Roads was pretty close. Concerts would come. We’d go to that. William & Mary Hall they’d have concerts. I think I saw the Police and Billy Idol at William & Mary. But yeah, I think we would…you know, probably like typical college students, we would enjoy the social activities.
00:54:54 You know, I don’t think…there was a few of us on the team that were in sororities, but didn’t play heavily into our team or our social life. But I think we just enjoyed being around each other, and there was always… You know, a good friend of mine, Chip [Paskar], he was in a band, so we would go and see him play, [Naypa]. It was a good band. So yeah, it was a pretty good social life. But we enjoyed it. I mean, it was fun. I have a lot of good memories.
Jake: What were your aspirations upon graduating from William & Mary?
Jill: I think by the time I was the end of my junior year, I did an internship at a law firm in D.C.—actually, Alexandria, Virginia, because I really wasn’t sure what I was going to do with this English major. I was writing for the Flat Hat, and I was like yeah, journalism. So it was just trying to figure it out.
You know, at that time I didn’t want to be a coach. My dad was a coach. Well, I’m not going to be a coach. I didn’t see it as a viable profession. So I was still trying to figure it out, did the internship, and then realized it wasn’t for me. It was a lot of office paperwork and didn’t seem as exciting as the show “Law and Order” that I would watch or, you know, “L.A. Law,” which, it just seemed very dramatic. It wasn’t that dramatic.
00:56:09 So steered away from that. And my aspirations, I think I was definitely one of those on the organic path of it kind of figured its way out. I got offered a coaching position at NC State and thought, you know what, let’s continue this sport being a vehicle for my education. So I went down there and was an assistant coach and pursued my master’s in technical communication. Did that for about two years, went in the business world, and then ultimately left that and went into coaching.
So I think coming out of William & Mary I was a TBD. [Laughs.] Certainly had that label. But, you know, I didn’t worry. I think that… And I say this, I share this with students I talk to now who aren’t sure what their direction is.
00:56:54 It’s like gone are the days where someone locks into a career for 35 years. It’s people tend to change and do different things, because that’s how we’re wired nowadays. So I tell them, I’m like it’s not…you know, it isn’t the immediate. It’s going to find its way. So not to stress that. Because I think even though you’re in college, you’re very limited in terms of what you realize the job market is out there, you know. There’s nuanced jobs that you probably never heard of. So I think just finding your way. So I was definitely a TBD and it worked out.
Jake: We talked a bit about this earlier, but being on William & Mary’s campus during this fascinating and tumultuous time of the ‘80s, do you have any particular memories that stand out about how the campus community reacted to any of those events?
Jill: Gosh. Reagan was early. It was ’81, right, when he was assassinated, or tried to assassinate?
00:58:00 I mean, I’m trying to think from ’84 to ’88. I can’t say that there was…you know, again, I wasn’t a political… So I can’t recall any rallying point in terms of a social event or a historical event that made us all come together. I think there were things within our campus that brought us together, but yeah, I don’t honestly remember that. I had my head up my ass, apparently. Didn’t know what was going on.
Jake: So earlier this year, in May, you received an honorary degree, an honorary doctorate from William & Mary.
Jill: Best thing ever.
Jake: Describe that experience and what it meant to you.
Jill: That was one of the most amazing things that’s ever happened to me. First of all, to be asked to be commencement speaker. You know, I was like shocked, but incredibly honored.
00:59:00 But getting that degree… You know, I love academics. I think I would have gone on. I didn’t finish my master’s degree. I did all the course work but didn’t finish. I didn’t defend my thesis because I suddenly went on this tangent of soccer and my passion. And I even thought about going back and finishing and this.
So I think for me, if I hadn’t have been a college coach, I think being an English professor is probably where I’d have headed. So the pursuit of another degree or the pursuit of academics was something I loved. I just, you know, got crazy caught up in soccer. So to get suddenly that degree bestowed on me was amazing. It was…you know, I know people work very, very hard to get those, and I feel like I kind of shelved that pursuit to do what I did. But it was a remarkable honor. Amazing.
Jake: How did attending William & Mary influence your life?
Jill: Attending William & Mary, it was, you know, in sport terms it was a game changer for me, it really was. It was a decision that… It was thought out. Probably not as vetted as today’s students do it in terms of their selection process. But it was a decision that, you know, it has benefited me in so many ways.
The educational piece unquestionably. You know, I came from a family that had never been to college. So that was, you know, understanding the value of a degree in this country was important to my family and for me. So I think the education piece.
But in terms of friendships, and lessons I’ve learned, and growing and becoming the person I am, it just gave me a great platform, you know, it really did. I know it shaped me in so many ways it’s probably hard to articulate.
01:00:58 Everything from being able to manage, navigate and deal with pressure, being able to, you know, through becoming an English major, articulate how I feel. It just gave me so many skills. I feel incredibly blessed to have had this as such a base for me and wouldn’t have changed a thing.
I mean, nowadays I, you know, I don’t think back then, when I was looking at schools, I don’t think I’d heard of UCLA. You know, I’d grown up in England, and I was on the East Coast. And even though I see all of these amazing universities out there, I still think for me it was the perfect fit.
Jake: We are commemorating 100 years of women at William & Mary. In 2018 we’re going to have a series of events and celebrations in commemoration of this wonderful milestone.
Jake: And I know, as I’ve said, you are a huge proponent of young women’s empowerment.
01:02:01 Looking back, what does it mean to you? What does this milestone mean and what do… I think the question is a little more general, and sort of what do women bring to the campus experience. The way it’s framed, it’s almost like what are we adding to campus by having women on campus. And that’s not about the women, and it’s really about the women. I think every student is honored on the William & Mary campus today.
I think clearly that was different in 1918 as the first women started to come on campus, and over time, you know, 2017 we’re commemorating 50 years of the African American experience on campus, the first three young African American women were the first to come in those days. And I think it is so much a part of the fabric of William & Mary today it’s hard to look back and appreciate what that journey has been.
Jake: But just getting a sense of that from you.
Jill: Okay. Yeah. Because you can’t imagine it not being that way, right?
Jill: I think so much of what William & Mary is today is because of that decision in 1918 to make it a coed campus. I think women bring so much to the table in terms of leadership and…
Jake: What are your thoughts about the value and contributions of women?
Jill: Okay. I think William & Mary today is where it is because it was a decision to make it a coed campus in 1918 that I think has influenced everything to this point. So I think the inclusion of women was…yeah, I don’t know if it was a bold decision back then, but it was the right decision back then. And, you know, the…what women are able to bring to, you know, to leadership, to the academic realm, to the athletic realm.
01:04:02 I think that, you know, it’s… If William & Mary is a representation of our society, it has to happen. So what’s been the benefit of that, having women on campus? I think it’s stated. I think it’s stated in who we are today. And some of the women that have come out, myself included, have been empowered by seeing female professors, have been empowered by having female studies there.
So I think the… I can’t imagine it any other way, but, you know, I think as a mom of a young daughter, the…what William & Mary would mean to her would be seeing women being able to achieve and accomplish anything they want, whether it’s a degree in, you know, biological engineering or it’s a literature degree. It’s opportunity. And I think that, you know, the benefits are tenfold.
Jake: I’d be negligent if I didn’t ask this question in light of your background and obviously where you are today. The same question looking at it through the lens of Title IX and what it has brought us. As a former student athlete yourself, former coach.
Jill: Yeah. I mean, Title IX was…it’s what affords me to be able to sit here today as the coach of the Women’s National Team. Again, at a base level, it’s just simple opportunity. But on so many levels it’s opportunity and it’s the right thing, right? What a young female—I was actually fortunate. I was at this organizational meeting with Chris Evert, and we were actually talking about Title IX and how both of us, it was such a blessing for us that we could never have imagined either a professional career in athletics, in sports.
01:06:00 So Title IX was obviously forward thinking at the time. But again, I think it would be hard to imagine our society without that. And I think what Title IX also did, it didn’t just allow women to play sport, it allowed women to dream, to stand on equal footing, to pursue education. It just…the benefits of sport have been well documented. But I think what Title IX did, it got a platform that women…it wasn’t just about playing on the field or playing on the court, it was about playing in life, in society.
Jake: Jill Ellis, class of ’88, thank you.
Jill: Thank you.
01:06:46 [End of recording.]
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