During her long career at Booneville High School, Janice West has coached just about all there is to coach. In some cases, twice.
West, who is retiring at the end of this year after 36 years as a coach and teacher, says being with the students has been the highlight of her career.
“There is nothing more gratifying than for a student and/or athlete to have enough trust in me to ask advice, need support, or discuss personal problems,” she said. “If I have made a difference in a life through these years, that spells success for me.”
West was born and raised in Star City where she played in a long running successful girls’ program. While basketball was the only girls’ sport offered at that time, when West made her way to Ouachita Baptist University she played volleyball and in fact started as a freshman. “Volleyball was not the power sport that it is today,” she said, adding that it was more defense than offense.
Of the years she has taught, she has coached 25 of them. She has been at Booneville long enough to teach children and grandchildren of former players as well as teach with former players. “When I started teaching grandchildren, I realized I’ve had a long run,” she said.
She coached volleyball with Judith Davis when it was offered at Booneville for the first time in the late 70s. During that time, Judith Davis had a son, Wes. “I think I held him after birth before his dad did,” said West.
Wes Davis would go on to coach and teach at Booneville before moving on to Paris. In 2015, West, as an assistant coach for the present iteration of the Booneville volleyball program, was on the other side of the floor from Wes Davis when the LadyCats came back from a set down to defeat Paris on the Lady Eagles’ home floor. That Paris team went on to win their first of four state championships.
She counts that match as probably the biggest win in the present LadyCat program, along with a win against Mena in 2011 at the Paris tournament. The Paris win enabled the LadyCats to share the district championship.
That same year, West coached the Jr. LadyCats to a 28-3-1 season and a win over Paris in the district championship match at Booneville. They also won the round-robin that year.
Many were surprised that the LadyCat program went to the state tournament in just their third year after the program restarted in 2007. West attributes that to a combination of the girls being eager for something new and were willing to work for it. The combination of West and former LadyCat head coach Robert Dean was the perfect one. “Coach Dean had a way to push the girls to be their best and he and I worked well together,” said West.
Early on, the coaches started taking the team to Licking Summer Camp in Branson to further improve their game, and it immediately showed when in 2009 the LadyCats made the state tournament for the first time by beating Arkadelphia in an epic 5-set match.
During those Branson camps, trust between the coaches and players grew. Many of them were exposed to a college campus for the first time during those camps as many games were played at the College of the Ozarks in nearby Hollister.
“Volleyball has reached so many girls here who otherwise would have not played a sport in their high school careers,” said West. “(It has) even been a launching pad for many as they entered adult life. It has been so gratifying for me and them to have been a part of the program.” She cited as an example Christina Chanthivong (now Williams) who she feels was inspired to go to college by her experiences at camp.
There were trying times as well, perhaps none more so than in 2015 when two BHS students passed away under tragic circumstances, including volleyball player Ashlee Slavey. “That was the most difficult time,” said West. She said that the coaching staff had to be there for them and show support.
West also highlighted the relationships she has with fellow coaches, which became evident when West was selected by her peers to coach in the 2020 All-Star game. Unfortunately, she will not get to coach in it because the game, as with all the All-Star festivities, was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns.
However, her selection completes a trio of recent major accomplishments in the last three years for the LadyCat program, starting with Haley Carter’s selection to play in the 2018 All-Star game and Aleeah Blansett becoming the first Booneville volleyball player to play college ball when she signed with Seminole State College.
In addition to volleyball, West has also coached basketball, tennis and track while at Booneville. She is also a fixture keeping the book at the scorer’s table at basketball games and keeping tabs on the points scored at the various Bearcat Relays through the years.
With her retirement, West turns over the reins of the volleyball program to new head coach McKenzie Morris and assistant Bailey Bunch. One piece of advice that West would give is to be sure that the girls know you care for them as a person, not just as a player.
“If the girls are given a feeling of support through the structure of the program, the result should be success. Winning will be the icing on the cake.”