During the week, Jean Bell serves as an administrative law judge for the New York State Workers Compensation Board. But on the weekends, you will find her cheering along the sidelines of track meets all over the sad area.
“I spend my Sunday sitting out in the elements with other people’s children, watching them run, coaching and encouraging them and enjoying myself,” she said.
Ms. Bell is the head coach of the Brooklyn-based Jeuness Track Club, an all-girls team she founded in 1985 with 10 members. It now has more than twice that number and a coaching and administrative staff of eight, including Ms. Bell’s sister and a niece, the team manager.
The club gained attention last year with the release of the documentary “Sisters on Track.” Jeuness is based in Bedford-Stuyvesant, in and around the Brevoort Houses, where Ms. Bell grew up.
“We were very poor,” she said, and sports offered her and her four siblings a place to channel their energy. In sixth grade, Ms. Bell started running for her school team, the experience of which inspired her to start Jeuness decades later.
“We focus on education,” said Ms. Bell, who works with her runners to keep their grades up and pursue track scholarships for college. “I want the girls to see, ‘I was you, and I’ve bettered myself.’ Track gave me the determination to do what I wanted to do despite the odds.”
Ms. Bell, 65, lives in Freeport, Long Island.
PACK AND GO Every week from April through the end of July, I get up early to get to meet. Between 6 and 6:30. I shower. I pick out what Jeuness T-shirt and gear I want to wear. I usually make myself coffee and put it in a thermos. I’ll put all of the stuff that I need in my Jeuness bag — extra pins, spike keys, batons, first aid kits — anything I think I’ll need. I throw it all in my face along with a foldable chair. I’ll also put canopies in my car for us to sit under. Usually I go with my sister, and the rest of the coaches and all the girls and their parents meet us. Sometimes I’ll stop at a bagel store, at Starbucks, and get myself and my sister something to eat on the way.
PITCH THE TENT I like to get there before any other girls and parents to set up. I bring a large camping tent. We have two, one for the 10 and unders and one for the other girls. The older girls get in there and play music and cards and sing and dance while they’re waiting for their events. They get loud and crazy. The little kids like to color and talk. We bring little games for them, and especially in the beginning of the season, where it’s cool, they sit in the tent and have their own time.
DRILL TEAM I pick up the meet packet, send my sister to the coaches meeting because I don’t have to do that anymore. I have help. I look at my list of who was supposed to be here, and then I start giving the girls their numbers. Once most of them are there, they go out and do drills, their run-out. I never go out on the field. If I’m coming out there, it’s because somebody’s doing something wrong and I’m not happy. I am the disciplinary of the team. The girls know that I am their biggest supporter; I am their biggest critic. They know that it comes from a place of love and care.
PEP TALKS We’ll have a little meeting about what everybody should be trying to accomplish that day. ‘These are our goals.’ You know, ‘you want to run this time. This is what we’re here for. I want to see you really focus and struggling down that last straight away to get to the line, and running your best.’ If girls have had a problem at the previous meet or at practice, I’ll say, ‘Listen, this is your chance to redo. This is a new day, let’s try again.’ Being head coach — it’s more than just setting up meets and practices and finding venues. I’ve become like a social worker and a counselor and so much more. I did it when I was in my 30s and I’m still doing it in my 60s. It’s a full-time job that I don’t get paid for.
THE FINISH LINE I’m there until the very last race that one of my girls runs in. Forever. It goes on until all hours. Then, I have the fathers help me take down the tent, pack up everything and drag it back to my car. I say goodbye, drive back to my sister’s house. On the way, we’re talking about the meet — who ran what. Sometimes we’re conference calling with the other coaches chiming in. I drop my sister off and drive home. I drag everything out of my car and into my garage. It’s a very late night, depending on whether the meet is out in Jersey and lasts till 6 or 7 o’clock.
DINNER AND A SHOW I love to cook. I always cook. Right now I have ribs in the oven. Things like pork chops. Sometimes I’ll have something in the crockpot. I always have a meat, a starch, a green vegetable. I usually call my sons and let them know how the meet went. And I watch TV until I can’t keep my eyes open anymore. The only new show I’ll watch is “Top Chef.” I’ll watch cop shows like “Columbo” and “Murder, She Wrote.” I like the old stuff, there’s not a lot of sex and violence. I get in bed around 11 or 12, and I leave by 6:30 the next morning to get to work. I get very little sleep.
Sunday Routine readers can follow Jean Bell’s work with Jeuness Track Club on Instagram @jeunesstrackclub.