WALWORTH — “She’s been the backbone of the athletic department,” Big Foot Athletic Director Tim Collins said.
Jan Berlin, the assistant athletic director, will retire at the end of the school year.
She’s leaving behind hundreds of students she’s called her own for 19 years.
“Being Mama B, that’s my job,” she said. “I spend my days with the kids. I’m with them on their worst days and their best days.”
Berlin is known as Mama B, a nickname given to her years ago by one or several of her students, depending on who’s telling the story.
She’s part Collins’ assistant, part disciplinarian, part counselor and part cheerleader.
“The plate is pretty full. My days all vary,” Berlin said. “I’ve had a kid with a broken finger come in, and then I was out searching for a splint.”
Besides the ministering to physical needs, Berlin sees students for their personal needs, as well.
“They’re all just kids and want someone to listen to them,” she said. “We have phenomenal kids here.”
Berlin said when her dad died, about 10 years ago, she went to the wake in Racine.
“While I was there, a dozen Big Foot kids came in,” she said, wiping tears from her eyes. “Some of them drove with parents, and some of them drove themselves out. Those are the kind of kids we have here.”
Big Foot senior Hannah Ripkey said she always leaves Berlin’s office feeling positive.
“She’s just the person you want to talk to before a game,” Ripkey said. “She’s so full of support for you.”
Ripkey plays basketball and runs track at Big Foot.
“I just love homecoming,” Berlin said. “I love it when the graduates come back. There’s about a three-week window when they’re all feeling homesick and come visit us here. I love that.”
Because of her connection to all the students, Berlin said leaving is emotional.
“My husband is retiring this year, too,” she said. “We’re going to start doing all those things we’ve always talked about doing. My kids are having babies. It’s time for me to be with my family.”
Berlin has a son and a daughter and three grandchildren.
While she said all her connections to students end on a positive note, they don’t always start that way.
“When I walk by those chairs (in the office) and see a student waiting to see (Vice Principal Brian) Lawton, I take a seat next to them,” Berlin said. “I ask, what are you doing here? What did you do? How are you going to fix it? Usually, they look at me and ask, ‘You’re going to make me apologize, aren’t you?’ I tell them, of course.”
Berlin said she tells students to act like school is a job.
“I don’t care what that teacher did,” she said. “If you were rude, you need to apologize.”
Her tough love is commonly known as the wrath of Mama B.
“They don’t want me to find out they’ve gotten into trouble,” she said. “But I find out.” Collins called Berlin a surrogate mother to the students.
“She made connections with them,” he said. “But it’s more than that. She’s a confidant for them when they need somebody.”
“We can’t replace her,” Collins said. “We’ll just have to find someone new.”
Collins said he has to meet with the staff to define Berlin’s position before the position can be advertised. It’s possible, Collins said, for the position to be split into multiple part-time jobs.