Venturing to the end of the science wing at George Mason High School, tucked neatly up a short flight of stairs, one comes across a classroom plastered with stoichiometry equipment, glass beakers and periodic tables. Sitting towards the rear at her computer is a teacher, mindfully glancing at an e-mail and deliberately pondering the outcome of a recent soccer match played by her varsity girls soccer team.
This teacher and coach, however, leads a mysterious and often unrecognized life, as her contributions to the academia and athletic fields at Mason have left a lasting imprint on the Mustang community. This is the story of Jennifer Parsons.
A typical day for Parsons begins early in the morning, when she departs from her home, making the short journey to George Mason to preside over her Honors Chemistry and Chemistry I classes. Once the final bell rings at 3 p.m., she then walks out to the turf at Moore Cadillac Stadium, where she stands at the helm of the varsity girls soccer team. After a quick workout session with the Lady Mustangs, Parsons hops into her car, scurries onto the Beltway, and transforms into a professional soccer player.
This is Jen Parsons, the player who began her career on the fields of Canada, in Portgual Cove, Newfoundland. There, Parsons honed her skills to such an extent that she became a member of the Canadian U-19 National Team pool in 2001. Shortly before, Parsons came into contact with a coach from Virginia Commonwealth University based in Toronto, and the young forward decided to become a member of the Rams.
At VCU, Parsons became the most prolific soccer player in Rams history, making an immediate impact on the Richmond campus. Once her storied collegiate career was over, Parsons was first in career goals (58), career points (131) and sixth in assists (15). She also scored more than 10 goals per season for her four years at VCU.
After graduating, Parsons latched on to the Richmond Kickers Destiny out of the W-League, the highest level of American women’s soccer following the folding of the WUSA. There, Parsons helped guide the Kickers Destiny to the playoffs for two straight seasons. In 2007, she racked up 11 goals and three assists in 11 games and was a finalist for the league MVP award.
“It’s still really exciting for me to go play my own games,” Parsons said. “As much as I love teaching and coaching, I still get that adrenaline rush of playing myself.”
But there is also Ms. Parsons, the teacher. After graduating from college, Parsons went to a job fair, and there she discovered how “great’ and “unique” Falls Church was. Having spent five years in a college town, Parsons felt as though she was ready for something new, to move on and experience a new adventure.
Shortly after, she accepted a position as a chemistry teacher, bringing with her a wealth of knowledge from her tenure at VCU after writing such papers as “Predicting In Vivo Drug Interactions from In Vitro Data by use of Fluorometric Assays.” Whether her current students know the meaning of this is questionable, but her enthusiasm in the classroom is unmatched, according to her students.
“Coach P is one of the best teachers and coaches I’ve ever had,” said sophomore Karen Hamill, a forward on the varsity team and a student in Parsons’ Chemistry I class. “She’s just really good at making us understand the subject and the game. She brings that same personality from the field into the classroom.”
“I don’t think my students like me anymore, because it takes me so long to get them their papers back,” said Parsons with a chuckle, referencing her hectic schedule. “But everyone at Mason has been so helpful, allowing me to do the playing, the coaching and the teaching.”
Finally, there is Coach Parsons, the soft-spoken director of the George Mason girls varsity soccer team, fresh off their first Bull Run District title in five years and in the middle of a streak of 12-games without a loss.
Under Parsons’ guidance last year, the Mustangs reached the state semifinal, only to fall to eventual champion Radford. This year however, with a core of young freshman as well as experienced upperclassmen, Mason looks primed for another run to the tournament. Recently, Parsons was named the Bull Run Coach of the Year for her efforts on the Mustangs’ 9-0-1 district campaign.
With her background, Parsons has brought a certain degree of professionalism to the head coaching job, recounting numerous stories of her playing days to her wide-eyed pupils.
“I always tell them about things that have happened to me on the field, just to keep them mentally tough,” Parsons commented. “With fans always yelling on the sidelines or players trying to throw you off, I try to put that into practice to get the girls focused.
“I think they really like that I can relate to what they’re going through. They’ve been really responsive.”
“She’s just a role model on and off the field,” said senior captain Olivia Scott who, like Parsons, came to the United States from Canada and entered the Mason school system at the same time last year. “She’s really gotten the team together, given us someone to connect with.”
With a laugh, Scott added “She’s young like us; she’s not some old geezer. I see her every day, and she really understands how to balance school and sports, how to be supportive as a coach.”
“I still tell people that I don’t know what I want to be when I’m grown up,” says Parsons. “Coaching and teaching kind of come naturally to me. When I was a senior in college I coached a high school soccer team and I was studying forensics, so both really sparked my interest in coaching and teaching.”
For now, Parsons’ schedule has her vaulting across the country, perfectly balancing her three professions. Last month, she promptly boarded a plane with the Freedom after school, flew out to Colorado, and played two games against the Fort Collins Force.
In the first contest, she was named the Player of the Game in a 2-0 victory, racking up two assists. Most impressively, though, was the fact that Parsons returned to work the following Monday, melding inconspicuously back among the crowded halls of Mason High.
“It’s an endless cycle, a busy cycle,” she said. “But I love every minute of it.”
With so many accomplishments under her belt already, the incredibly humble Parsons still finds time to manage her true passions in life. When asked what the best part about being “Jen,” “Ms.” or even “Coach” Parsons is, she simply responded, “Being able to do three things that I absolutely love.”