Bouncing between doctoral work and coaching

Author: Rusty Barnes
James Hunter and Jamal Ratchford have spent the majority of their lives in two places: inside a school and on the soccer field.

James HunterHunter, a New Jersey native, received a doctorate in civil engineering from Purdue in 2006 and in fall 2009 was completing postdoctoral work in agricultural and biological engineering. As an environmental engineer, his focus is on developing tools and promoting technology that will help communities deal will the harmful impacts of land use change.

Ratchford, who hails from San Jose, California, is a PhD candidate in African American history. His work focuses on the intersection of race, sports and student activism in the 1950s and ’60s. He was recently selected as one of five students, from a national pool, to be a Keto fellow. One responsibility, among others, will be a two-year commitment to serve on the National Council for Black Studies board of trustees.

Until three years ago, Hunter and Ratchford had never met. Now, after as many years together as the head and assistant coaches of the West Lafayette High School girls’ soccer team, the two have become best friends.

Hunter, who was named 2009 Indiana Small Schools Girls Coach of the Year by the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association, began his coaching career as a volunteer with the Tippecanoe Soccer Club after he arrived at Purdue in 2000. He was named head coach of the West Lafayette team in 2006. He then asked Ratchford — whom he had met only once at a Black Graduate Association cookout — to join him as assistant coach.

Jamal Ratchford“We hooked up together a couple of years ago and had some of the same goals and expectations,” says Ratchford. “We came from two different places. He was already experienced as a coach. I was just starting. It was two different paths.”

Hunter and Ratchford devoted up to 30 hours a week to the Red Devils’ soccer team during the fall season, then often stayed up late to complete research and prep for classes. In the past three seasons, the Red Devils earned a 49-12-1 record and won the 2009 IHSAA Sectionals and Regional Championship. Of the graduating players, one will play for Emory University and another will join the Illinois State University team.

When the 2009 soccer season concluded, so did the coaching career of the Red Devils’ head coach — at least for the time being. He left Indiana in November to return to Morgan State University — his alma mater — as an assistant professor in the department of civil engineering. Ratchford will rejoin the team next season as assistant coach.

“Seeing the players develop, watching them succeed and just getting to see all the hard work they’ve put in over the years pay off has made every challenge worth it,” says Hunter.