Courtesy of Joe Walljasper, the Columbia Daily Tribune
When Jill Nagel took her Rock Bridge girls basketball team to a tournament in South Carolina in December 2007, she had an unexpected tag-along — the school’s rookie athletic director. Jen Mast drove the team van, took the Bruins on a sight-seeing tour while Nagel scouted opponents and even videotaped games.
As the season wore on, Mast peppered Nagel with supportive emails and text messages after tough losses and hugged everyone in sight after the Bruins won the state title.
“As a former coach, she got it,” Nagel said.
Yesterday, Mast was named the 2013 winner of the Kiwanis Club of Columbia’s Don Faurot Sportsperson of the Year Award. The honor was well-deserved and well-timed, as Mast is switching from Rock Bridge’s athletic director to principal.
Her six years were a golden age for the Bruins. They won 57 district titles and 14 state championships. Last year, the MaxPreps.com website ranked Rock Bridge as the nation’s eighth-best high school athletic program. Once a revolving door for coaches, it has become a model of stability.
From the sounds of it, getting there was exhausting.
“Over the past six years, Jen has averaged driving 9,000 miles per year to watch and support Rock Bridge athletics,” Nagel said in her introductory speech at Columbia College’s Dorsey Hall. “This resulted in many late nights and early mornings to go again.
“During Years 3, 4 and 5 on the job, she also started and completed her doctorate degree. She was determined to complete it in the minimum years required and maintain the same travel and support calendar with Rock Bridge athletics. In fact, I know of times she left at 3 a.m. to travel to Springfield so she could read and write for her doctorate program for three hours before watching state tennis.”
Mast, a Rock Bridge graduate, said she developed her love of sports during frequent visits to her grandparents’ farm, where her uncle would take the kids outside to play baseball. Her playing days ended after high school, and after college she returned to her alma mater to teach math. She also served as an assistant girls basketball coach and spent seven years as head coach of the softball team, finishing with a 54-114 record.
Mast resigned as softball coach in 2005, figuring if the demands of teaching advanced-placement calculus and coaching two sports were too much, she should just be the best math teacher she could be. But when the third Rock Bridge athletic director in three years left in 2007, she got back in the game as athletic director.
“I thought a lot about, ‘Why am I taking this job?’ “ she said. “It was really just a love for Rock Bridge, a love for the people there, the kids and the coaches.”
When Nagel sought out thoughts about Mast from Rock Bridge coaches, she got this email reply from girls golf Coach Melissa Coil: “She organizes buses, sets up tournaments, does the calendar and travels to our tournaments, no matter how far away they are. Most other coaches in the state have said to me, ‘I would never get my athletic director here. They probably aren’t even aware we are at the state tournament.’ I look back at them and say, ‘I wouldn’t know it any differently.’ “
Mast said her role model is former Rock Bridge Principal Kathy Ritter. Now Mast will try her hand at Ritter’s old job. She has a new plaque for that office, the Faurot award. It’s an honor she shares with the biggest names in Columbia’s sports history, and it wraps up her career as an athletic administrator with a bow.
“It’s a nice, unexpected bow,” Mast said. “It’s really caused a lot of reflection for me in a time when I’ve had to be really busy doing more transition things between AD and principal. It’s been a great culmination and reflection of these last six years.”
Jennifer Mast is the daughter of David and Joyce Mast, formerly of Frankford. She is the granddaughter of Mrs. Joe (Frankie) Branstetter of Curryville and the late Joe and Yvonne Branstetter.