Gayle Hughes, a 43-year classroom veteran, is retiring from Jennings County School Corp.
Many people will remember Hughes as a high school physical education and health teacher, but she also was notable for coaching the volleyball team for 25 years. Hughes’ teams logged more than 500 victories, won eight sectional titles, six regional tiles and two Hoosier Hills Conference championships. Hughes guided five teams to the Final Eight and placed one team in the Final Four. Also, 10 of her players earned All-State honors.
“I was raised in Ripley County, so I grew up with the ‘Milan Miracle’ basketball team, so I was inspired to be involved with sports,” Hughes said. “We wanted to build our schedule up and get our girls competing with strong teams and we wanted to expose them to statewide competition.”
The good things the program was doing resulted in a trip to the state finals — the Final Four — in 1980.
“I had a great group of students and parents that supported us for that team. We got beat by Mishawaka, the eventual state champion. But, our fans all wore farm hats, and that gym was full of farm hats. It was a wonderful experience seeing all those farm hats that made the trip to Indianapolis to support us,” Hughes said.
Hughes was hired by former Jennings County High School Principal Charles Hurley as the PE and health teacher in 1973, and became the volleyball coach. It was at a time when Title IX was being implemented to school districts. Volleyball was one of those sports mandated by Title IX.
Title IX is a law passed in 1972 that requires gender equity for boys and girls in every educational program that receives federal funding, according to titleix.info.
Hughes’ contributions went beyond sports.
In 1980, 59 Americans were taken hostage in Iran. Hughes organized a patriotic trip for 150 residents to Washington, D.C., where they saw the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Capitol and the White House.
In 1988, Hughes accepted a half-day position as the county coordinator for the drug education program for the school corporation. Her annual “Drug Free Walks” targeted all sixth-graders to educate them in the dangers of drug use. Her program evolved into the Hero Program and combined high school students with anti-drug messages.
The program was so popular that it developed into the Project Blue Code Program and involved inspirational speakers and counselors from southern Indiana professional agencies.
Many students were made better by Hughes’ decision to become an educator.
“I tried to always teach my subject matter different. I didn’t rely on the same yellow page notebook each year, so that it was fresh. Certainly, it has gotten harder for teachers the last couple of years,” Hughes said.
“It has been a great experience, but coaching was the icing on my cake. I had at least 15 students who went on to play at the college level, and I’m proud of that. I taught my kids ‘If you work hard enough, you can achieve it, but you have to put in the time,’ and I was blessed with talented and a great group of kids,” she added.
Megan Hockersmith is a 2016 graduate of Jennings County High School.