By Maurice Patton
MT. PLEASANT — For a majority of high school teams, a uniformed police officer walking into the middle of practice might be alarming.
For Mt. Pleasant’s volleyball squad, it’s just their coach arriving a bit late.
Melina Jaime, the Lady Tigers’ second-year leader, took over the program two years into her primary career as a member of the local police department – returning to her alma mater where she had starred on the same court before graduating in 2012.
“I’ve walked in the gym after school and she’s just gotten off a shift and still suited up and on the court, calling shots, calling plays,” principal Ryan Jackson said. “Imagine the mind of a kid: Your coach is still in uniform, up, calling plays, with her flak jacket on.
“It does set an interesting tone, but also casts a vision – ‘if Coach Melina’s out here doing it, I can do it’.”
The 26-year-old Jaime hasn’t set out to be a role model, but she is, in so many ways for so many people.
Being visible as a single mother – Jaqueline, 9, was born during Jaime’s senior year at Mt. Pleasant – in a law enforcement career and as a coach puts her in a position to impact lives on and off the court.
“It means a lot to us, that she comes over here … especially when she’s on duty. She also has a kid,” Mt. Pleasant senior Lexi McKennon said. “She takes time out of her life. You can tell she definitely puts so much into it. Whenever you’re talking to someone and learning from someone, you want to feel that they feel the same way, like you’re so excited and they’re so excited.
“You want to win together. You don’t want someone who’s going to tell you what to do and let you figure it out. She helps us every step of the way, with every question. When we lose, she feels the losing; when we win, she feels the winning.”
Imparting that passion, and feeding off of it, is a reflection of her own playing career.
“When I was in high school, … I know how it felt to be in love with the game and not have the help or the support of somebody that was deeply in love with the game,” Jaime said. “Growing up, most people don’t take women’s sports that seriously and they throw ‘Joe Schmo’ to be your coach.
“I’ve seen some of (these players) grow up, seen them play, and I thought, what a great time to try to make not just the program better, but the district better.”
Hovering around the .500 mark heading into Thursday’s matchup with cross-county rival Culleoka, Jaime – who played collegiately under former U.S. Olympian Rose Powell at Martin Methodist College — has helped elevate the team’s confidence level as well as its degree of competition.
“Everything she tells us, she tells us from her heart and you can tell she knows what she’s talking about,” McKennon said. “As soon as we make a mistake or we have a question, it’s like she always has the perfect solution. It just comes natural for her.
“In practice and in games, she just smiles all the time. It really makes it so much fun.”
Getting that feedback makes all the hecticness – “sometimes I’m literally rushing go get out of work and ripping my uniform off to come here,” Jaime said – worth it.
“Outside of being a police officer, I really do love giving back and being able to help the younger crowd,” said Jaime, who in February was named her department’s Officer of the Year. “I was in their shoes before. I wanted somebody to be passionate just like me.
“Growing up as a female athlete, especially in smaller towns, you know people don’t take the girls sports seriously. It’s all about football and boys and basketball. I’ve seen it, I went through it, they’ve went through it, I’m sure their mothers went through it. … I really want to win. I’m very, very competitive. I hate to lose.
“I know there’s a lot of girls that were intimidated by me initially. We had a few girls drop out. That was OK to me. I tell (assistant) Natasha (McFall), I don’t want anybody that’s not going to put it all on the floor. During training, I pushed then. If they can’t handle that, they can’t handle the game.”
That edge is what Jackson says will make Jaime “an absolute gamechanger” for Mt. Pleasant.
“From the alumni standpoint, the passion as a former player and current player in her own right, from the approach to the game to the intensity of the program – it’s palpable,” he said. “She’s got spunk, she’s got spirit, tenacity. She understands the idea of building a program. She gets the vision, the championship mindset.
“She’s the future of the program.”