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Spotlight on Former Athlete: Jessica Clarke Leger - Softball 2000 & 01 & Ragin' Peppers 1999-03 +
Leger builds career of service
By Bruce Brown
It's hard to imagine Jessica Leger wasting a minute of time or an ounce of energy.
She's too focused and goal oriented for that.
Conversely, it's easy to imagine her as an athletic director someday, or another lofty perch of service to athletics and academics.
She currently serves UL as its Deputy Director of Athletics/Senior Women's Administrator, the result of a steady climb begun in graduate school.
But that's just the latest phase for the former Ragin' Cajun softball outfielder with roots at the school.
If there is a master plan, the focus is clear.
“I am trusted to do everything I can from an educational standpint to prepare athletes for their next opportunity to service, to make a difference,” Leger said. “I'll be wherever I need to be.
“With the cards I have been dealt, I've been very blessed, very fortunate. I trust in the process. The sky's the limit to what I can learn. I'm passionate about the university as a whole – not just athletics.”
Leger, a banner student who thrived in student government activities as an undergraduate, has always show an appreciation for the overall student experience.
“It's invigorating to see all that's being done on campus,” she said. “I will play any role that's needed. It's the best time possible to be a Ragin' Cajun.”
Daughter of Educators
The daughter of educators Jimmy and Sandra Clarke, Jessica arrived at UL fresh off a standout athletic career at Lafayette High.
She was an an All-State outfielder who batted .376 as a senior and three-time All-District pick who helped the Lady Lions to the state runner-up spot in 1998. She also played for former Cajun star Stefni Lotiief for three-time state ASA champion Louisiana Image squad.
Her active athletic life was paired with student achievement for a well-rounded young woman.
“Nothing ever came easily,” Leger said. “I worked hard for everything. My parents were both educators, who stressed that education was the key to my future. It would unlock any door, and opportunities would be endless.”
So far, that has proved true.
“I really liked science, and I though about med,cal school but couldn't deal with blood,” said Leger, whose athletic pursuits covered “everything, except maybe soccer” and who trimmed the list to volleyball and softball by high school.
Now married (Lance Leger) with daughter Estelle, 6, son Landon, 4, and stepson Brennan, 19 and a UL freshman, Leger has found that her two young offspring are following her lead.
“My daughter, a first grader, definitely takes after me,” Leger said. “She's high octane, self motivated and puts a lot of pressure on herself. She wants to be the best and is into every sport.”
When homework is done, the kids take to the yard, with Estelle wearing her T-Ball mandated helmet with a mask and Landon with a helmet and glasses.
“Landon is playing flag football now, and can't wait to play tackle,” Leger said.
Student over Softball
The high school ride was exciting for Leger, but she found there was much to do beyond the diamond.
“When I got to college, I found I was a bit burned-out,” she said. “The last thing I wanted was to play select ball again. My mom was driving me to a practice, and said, 'You don't have to play softball,' and her words were profound. It opened my eyes.”
The next move was to tell UL coach (and program founder) Yvette Girouard.
“I told her 'I'm not loving the game. I just want to attend school,' ” Leger said. “And she said, 'I completely understand.' which I never expected.”
Girouard left for LSU after that season, Lotief took over, Leger began thinking about softball again was thankful for the chance to try out.
“I had practiced very day since I was 10 years old,” Leger said. “But after a year off, things change. My body wasn't the same.”
Speedy Jeri Alexnder was set in centerfield. So Leger pinch ran, played outfield and focused on being a leader who called it a “wonderful experience.”
Still, she needed to do more.
The next season, she felt the need to run for student government and live a normal college life.
“But,”she said, “I got a marketing internship that allowed me to stay connected with the softball program. So, I was part of it. It's not like I went away completely. I still had that connection.
“It was a good fit for me.”
So was student life.
Leger was SGA president in 2002-03, was deeply involved in progress on campus, was elected homecoming queen in 2002 and eventualy was named Outstanding Graduate in 2003 with a degree in business administration.
“I wanted to be an advocate for student athletes,” she said. “I had the best of both worlds. The SGA president race was very competitive. It went to a runoff and we became the first female trio to hold the top three positions (president, vice president, treasurer).
“It was like athletics. You put a team together, develop a strategy and program and work together. We helped approve the initial fee for the new student union, were involed with the Hilliard Art Museum, the first parking garage on campus and got spring break.”
Breakfasts with Dr. Ray Authement helped give voice to student needs for the future as Leger kept filling her time with focused energy.
After pouring so much time and energy into college, Leger found she was hooked on service.
“I wanted to go to law school,” she said. “Had everything ready. But I found I could not do it.”
She taught third grade at New Iberia's Sugarland Elementary for two years but discovered that was not her calling. Instead, she earned a masters degree at UL in education supervision, followed in 2010 by a PhD in educational research and counseling from LSU.
During that period, she had a graduate assistantship in compliance with the UL athletic department that would prove fateful.
“I decided higher education administration was my true calling,” Leger said. “The timing was perfect, definitely the right time in my life. I was able to slow down my course work (at LSU) and merge two worlds.
“It was a challenge, but I felt I had support all along the way.”
Athletic director David Walker asked Leger to handle compliance when that assistant left, and she has even served as interim A.D. She now makes UL's position clear at the NCAA and Sun Belt Conference levels, always aware of individual student athletes' needs.
“I help see things through a different lens, a new perspective,” Leger said. “I have many different hats to wear. Sherry LeBas was SWA before me, and she mentored me.
“I'm passionate about what I do. I want our student athletes, male and female, to be involved in community service.”
Happily, there is still time for family – not surprisingly including rabid fan support from her children for UL softball and other sports.
“My role is as a mother, wife and to give support to others,” she said. “I have to get up pretty early to have 'me' time. I want to be there for my kids. I work out. I'm in a Bible study group.
“I want to continue to grow spiritually and physically.”
In short, she wants it all.
Could that include being an athletic director?
“Absolutely,” she said.
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Jessica (#8) with her 2001 Softball teammates.
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Click here for Jessica's Athletic Network profile.
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Click here for a 2015 family photo and story in GEAUX the game day football program.
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Click here for the chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.
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