To be sure, Jasmine Whitehurst has nothing against playing basketball at Elizabeth City State.
In fact, the 5-foot-9 forward said the recently concluded season — when the Lady Vikings went 24-4 and won the CIAA Northern Division title — was the highlight of her athletic career.
“I love the coaches, I love my teammates and I think they feel the same way about me,” said Whitehurst, who started for the past two seasons after sitting out her freshman and sophomore years. “We bonded and we all combined our talents and got the job done. It was a great experience.”
If that is the case, why has Whitehurst, who was listed as a junior on the ECSU roster, decided to call it a career?
“It’s time to move on,” said the former Pasquotank High star, who has another year of eligibility remaining. “I’m going to graduate in May, and I want to get started in my career teaching physical education.
“There’s nothing to come from me playing another year. It’s not like I am going to the WNBA or going overseas to play. I love the game, but basketball is just basketball. I’m ready to teach.”
ECSU coach Alico Dunk said the Lady Vikings will miss Whitehurst. And not just because of the 9.1 points and 4.3 rebounds she has averaged in her two-year career.
“Jasmine is the heart and soul of our team, everyone respects her,” he said. “She never takes a play off. She is also a true example of a student-athlete. She does it all in the classroom and leaves it all on the court.”
Despite the sterling example Whitehurst sets, Dunk is totally supportive of her decision to give up college basketball.
“This is what she wants and she is going to be a great teacher,” he said. “You have to have patience and the ability to understand people to teach. Jasmine has a great deal of that. She also finds a way to motivate people to have confidence in
“Whenever Jazz spoke, the team listened because they knew whatever she said was going to be said in the right way and a positive manner.”
Since January, Whitehurst has been demonstrating those traits as a student teacher at P.W. Moore Elementary School.
Lacoyia Eure, an adaptive education teacher at the school, has been impressed by Whitehurst. She’s seen her in action teaching physical education to students with disabilities.
“Jasmine has such great enthusiasm and compassion,” Eure said. “She is wonderful with kids at every level. She’s so caring and spends time with all of them.
“I would love to see her go into teaching kids with special needs.”
Whitehurst, who will be certified to teach physical education in kindergarten through 12th grade when she graduates from ECSU, treasures the memory of Eure saying essentially the same things to her one day after a class.
“That made me feel great,” she said. “When I went there to teach PE, I never thought I would have to work with adaptive students.
“But I knew each child has a different need, and you have to be patient with them. You can’t act overwhelmed or they will act the same way and they will not have confidence in you.
“It’s all about making them feel they are in a safe environment.”
While the average sports fan might see physical education as an easy path that athletes take through college, Whitehurst, who has a 3.8 grade-point-average, can tell you there are plenty of challenges.
Anatomy, physiology, kinesiology and exercise prescription testing and their accompanying labs are a lot more difficult than rebounding or shooting 3-pointers.
And to Whitehurst, the course of study and the career it leads to isn’t about “just being a gym teacher.”
She is a true believer in the value of physical education.
“A lot of people don’t view PE as they should,” Whitehurst said. “A lot of schools don’t, either. They just put it on the back burner because of standardized test scores.
“There’s more to it than just physical activity. There are health concepts, how to be social, how to treat others, how to take care of your body.
“Obesity is such a big concern today. I want to help kids and their parents and even the community learn how to be more active and have a healthy lifestyle.”
Whitehurst said her athletic background can be an asset when trying to reach children.
“With my past, I can be a role model for them,” she said.
Her experience at P.W. Moore speaks to that. None of the kids at the school knew Whitehurst was a basketball player until they started seeing her name and picture in the paper.
“Then they were so enthused when they saw that, they’d come in and ask what we were doing that day and ask me to participate with them,” Whitehurst said. “By them doing things with me, they thought they were being like me.
“But I would tell them, ‘Don’t do this to be like me, do it because you want to do it.’
“I know I can have a positive impact on their lives.”
It is unlikely that Whitehurst will be doing it at P.W. Moore, however. As in many fields, the job market for teachers is tight. Especially physical education teachers.
“I’m currently applying for jobs, but it looks like it is going to be really tough,” she said. “There are just not a lot of job opportunities.
“I have to weigh my options and look beyond this area.”
Whitehurst is also looking beyond that first teaching job.
“After I do it for a year or so, I want to go back to grad school and maybe go in a different direction, like cardiac pulmonary rehabilitation or physical therapy,” she said. “It would be a different concentration, but PE is still the foundation and I can build from there.”
In a best-case scenario, Whitehurst’s first teaching job will come with a basketball coaching position.
She has some coaching experience.
When Dunk wanted to red-shirt Whitehurst as a freshman, she instead decided not to play (“I was young, trying to find my way, and I didn’t want to put in all that time if I wasn’t going to play”) and wound up coaching the junior varsity at Pasquotank while attending classes at ECSU.
“I still love the game and want to stay around it if I can,” Whitehurst said.
But she doesn’t love it enough to pull on the No. 30 Lady Vikings jersey for another season.
“I know I have that extra year, but playing basketball is just not an option for me now,” she said.
“My brothers (Richard and Terrell Jr.) think I should give it another shot, of course, and my mom (Wilhelmenia Bogue) wants me to do what’s in my heart, but they all support me.
“Teaching is something I have a passion for and I think I’m going to be good at.”