Breaking the Boys Club is a series of profiles and Q&As with local women and girls involved in sports at all levels, from athletes to administrators. Each story in the series is written and photographed by women in the Missourian newsroom.
FULTON — After a long day of meetings, scheduling and play practice, Jamie Danuser was ready to go home late Monday evening as she walked out of her office at the Missouri School for the Deaf. Something stopped her, though. She noticed a group of students playing soccer, and she just couldn’t resist joining them.
Home would have to wait a bit longer.
Danuser is going on her 13th year at MSD. She’s held her current position as the activities director for the last three years; but ask her what her day-to-day life looks like, and she can’t give an exact answer. Each day is different.
Being in charge of sports and activities at the elementary, middle, and high school, Danuser has many duties. She organizes the sports for each season, is in charge of the activities for the dormitory students and even helps take pictures and video for the school’s social media pages. Danuser is also MSD’s personal trainer and head lifeguard. Sometimes, she even drives the school’s bus.
The mother of three did not originally see herself in the position she is in today. Danuser graduated from William Woods University with a major in political science and legal studies with a minor in equestrian studies, and hoped to go into equine law someday. In fact, when she took her original position at MSD, the only thing she knew about sign language was how to fingerspell.
Nowadays, Danuser splits her time between work and home. With an active career and family life, her color-coded planner is her best friend. And with each interaction she has with people, she hopes to make a difference in their lives.
How did you end up being in charge of so many different tasks under your single position?
“I started as a residential advisor, which is like a house parent, with the high school girls. I worked there for a year and then I was with the elementary (school) for a year, then I was with the middle school for a year. After all that, I started doing the dorm activities and I took over that part. About three years ago, I took over the athletics side and so they decided just to make it all-encompassing so I just do it all. And I was like, ‘Well, okay, sounds good. We can do that.’ I don’t teach any classes. I mean, it takes up all my time to work on those things.”
What is your favorite part about your job?
“Anytime I get to interact with the students, really. We do experiential education where they get to learn things outside the classroom. We take them to art museums. We take them rock-climbing, camping, canoeing, different things like that.
“We’ve been doing a Katy Trail bike ride. Quite a few years ago, we started this and our goal is to finish the entire Katy Trail from one side of the state to the other. We started in Jefferson City and we rode in one weekend all the way to St. Charles. It was 107 miles in a weekend, but we had places to stay along the way. We stayed in a hostel and then we went further to Marthasville and slept on their baseball field in tents. You get to learn a lot about the kids and they get to learn a lot about spatial issues, because everyone likes to ride within an inch of each other.”
What is the biggest difference between working with elementary, middle and high school students?
“Elementary kids are still fascinated at the world around them, and they’re fascinated at what you can show them and what you can teach them and what they get to interact with. Whereas once you get to middle school and high school, that I’m-too-cool-for-this attitude kind of sets in, which I think is across the board whether they’re deaf or they’re hearing. It makes no difference. Then it’s like, ‘Uhh I don’t want to play four square.’ But once they start playing, they have a good time. It’s a little bit more challenging. I do have to coax them along a little bit more to get them involved, but once they’re involved they have just such a great time. And then the next day, I have to do the same thing all over again.”
How did you begin coaching?
“I started actually coaching cheerleading here. The athletic director at the time just asked me if I ever considered it and if that would be of interest, and I said, ‘Sure. I’ve never been a cheerleader but as long as you’re okay with that.’ I did a lot of research and took classes for stunting. The safety aspect is definitely important in cheerleading, in doing stunts and tumbling. We have a fall squad and a winter squad, so you’re coaching two-thirds of the year. I did that for about seven years, and within that I also coached YMCA basketball for our elementary every once in a while. I did middle school basketball, too. One year I was the high school cheerleading coach, the middle school cheerleading coach and the middle school basketball coach all in the same year, and that was a little crazy.
“This year is the only year I have not coached anything besides my own personal children. I was able to fill all of my school coaching positions on campus, which was a big difference for me. It was nice. I still fill in, especially when my head coaches can’t be there for something. I’m on our roster as an assistant coach for every one of our teams, so if it ever pops up I can step in.”
Is it challenging to suddenly step in and be a coach?
“Not necessarily. All my coaches are really great about having written-out practice plans, so everything is very set up and organized so it’s pretty easy to walk in, just take their plans and run with it. I did the first three days of football practice this year. The coach wasn’t able to be there, so I was like, ‘Alright I got this.’ The first three days are nothing but conditioning, anyways. I’m also our personal trainer on campus, so I run our fitness center. So I’m like, ‘Conditioning, I got this.’ The students come back from the summer from not doing anything, so it was challenging for them. I greatly enjoyed it. Usually, every time I step in for a coach, kids are very eager for their coach to come back.”
What are the biggest differences when working with students who are deaf or hard of hearing?
“I think the biggest thing that sticks out in my mind is anytime I tell someone I work at Missouri School for the Deaf, they’re like, ‘Oh, it must be so quiet where you work.’ And I’m like, ‘No, because the students can’t hear themselves.’ I mean, our fully-deaf students cannot hear themselves. When we talk, we can feel it. So when they yell or they’re loud, they can feel it, which is kind of a cool thing. So it is not quiet.
“As far as in sports, one of the biggest things I’ve noticed is you can’t shout plays out, especially on a basketball court. Or, you know, in volleyball, saying, ‘I got it’ doesn’t work. Trying to figure out other ways to communicate with their peers around them because they’re focused on the ball that’s coming. They’re not paying attention necessarily to the other students on the court to be able to have that communication.”
So how does the team communicate during games?
“For basketball, everything is fed to the point guard, which makes it a little bit easier. The point guard as he is coming down the court just looks to our coach and (the coach) signs a play and the point guard signs it out, so all the players know what they’re doing. Volleyball is mostly practice, know your area and stay in your area, that type of thing. Sometimes we do a wave, like a, ‘I got it’ or ‘Go for it’ type of thing.”
What do you want students to take away when they interact with you?
“As far as students, just that they can do anything. The sky is the limit and there’s no cap on anything. That if they put their mind to it and work hard, they can do anything they want to do. We show it through exposure to different things. I think a big thing with the world that we’re living in today, especially with technology and everybody isolating themselves, is to expose them to all these different things and hands-on things, because otherwise, all they really know is this small little world they have. Trying to expand their world and what they get to interact with.
“Even taking them to different restaurants, that type of thing. Things that they’ve never experienced before. I think a lot of our students get to experience things that students in the public school will never get to experience, unfortunately, just because of how much we do. We’ve done an introduction to scuba classes, rock climbing, roller skating, ice skating and all these different things our students get exposed to. Not to mention mental stuff, like we do robotics, crafts and all kinds of things to broaden their horizons.”