From the court to the classroom to the crib

Janelle Sterling juggles wearing many hats in and out of work


Photo by Nicholas Alumkal '23

PUT ME IN, COACH Janelle Sterling (in orange) gives instructions during a huddle at basketball practice. Greenhills is Sterling’s first varsity head coaching position. She has coached at almost all levels including recreational basketball, middle school, junior varsity, and has been a varsity assistant coach.

Nicholas Alumkal '23, Sports Editor

Math and science teacher. Grade dean. Basketball coach. Foster mother. Wife. Sounds like a social media bio. Or a full plate, depending on one’s point of view. For Janelle Sterling, a busy schedule allows her to stay on task and not procrastinate.

Sterling started working at Greenhills last school year when Coronavirus forced a switch to virtual learning, changing the experience of teachers and students alike. 

“Some of the things that I was encouraged by or what drew me here when I walked through the school for my interview, I did not get to see,” said Sterling. “There are things that I lost being online the first year, like not being able to see how the school actually operates,” said Sterling.

When Sterling was first hired by Greenhills as a teacher and the girls varsity basketball coach, it was in the middle of the 2019-20 school year, right before the Coronavirus pandemic shook the entire world. When looking for a new sports team coach, there is a set of boxes the Athletic Department looks to check.

 “At Greenhills we make faculty coaches a priority. We definitely are looking for people who enjoy students and have a good rapport with students,” said Greenhills Athletic Director Meg Seng. “We want to make sure that kids are in a friendly and safe environment, that is first and foremost,” said Seng.

Throughout Sterling’s life, basketball has played a pivotal role. She played from ages 7 to 18. First she participated in recreational leagues. Then, she played in AAU competitive basketball leagues from ages 10 to 18. Next, she participated in her high school’s team, playing junior varsity her freshman year then, varsity from sophomore through senior year. While attending the University of Michigan studying Industrial and Operations Engineering, Sterling also played intramural basketball, cementing a lifelong love of the game.

On top of Sterling’s basketball expertise, she also brings Greenhills knowledge beyond the basketball court. She is a math and physics teacher, and this year she embraced the opportunity to be the 11th-grade dean. 

Outside of school, Sterling adds another responsibility to her plate. She has become a licensed foster parent.

“I have been licensed to foster since November 2020,” said Sterling. “In January 2021, my wife and I got our first placement. Our daughter was nine months old when we met her and now she is almost 20 months old,” said Sterling.

Sterling acknowledges the chaos and the time commitment that come with raising a baby.

Somehow she has managed to balance all of these duties. Now that the season is up and running, she has to juggle more things. Sterling said other faculty coaches and colleagues have been a big help and have made her transition easier.

When recruiting Sterling to Greenhills, Seng and other administrators saw her as a perfect fit. “We knew she was a coach, a math teacher and a science teacher. Those happened to be three things we were looking for at that time. We call her our unicorn hire. She definitely is one of a kind,” said Seng.

Though she thought the move would be more seamless, her first year at the helm of the girls basketball team was an adjustment for Sterling.

“It was a little rough at first, but once they got to know me it seemed like we got comfortable with each other pretty quickly,”said Sterling. 

Once the players got familiar with Sterling and the season progressed, they built a strong bond with her and had an enjoyable time during the basketball season. 

“She took the time to get to know us on a more personal level,” said varsity girls basketball player Georgie Branch ‘22. “We do a lot of interesting things during practice that are different from what a lot of [other] coaches do. She also adds a bit of fun into the practice that makes us all want to come back and stay for longer,” said Branch.

Sterling defines her coaching philosophy as helping her athletes improve everyday. However, she also reminds athletes to enjoy what they are doing while playing. She is not a “yeller” by nature, but still hopes to challenge her players, push them out of their comfort zone while maintaining a sense of fun and cohesiveness moving through the season.

Now that she has a year under her belt, Sterling sees this upcoming season as an opportunity to succeed. Last year, the team was able to win their first district game. During that game, everyone on the roster played and scored. Throughout her first season, the team was also able to be competitive in almost every game they played. Heading into this season, Sterling has a better sense of what to expect from the competition and what her players are capable of achieving.

“We do not have to start over from scratch this year,” said Sterling. “We’ve got players that know me, know how I operate, and know what we are trying to do. We can expand our playbook a little more. We are an upperclassmen driven team—with eight seniors and four juniors—and with that comes a sense of responsibility and maturity,” said Sterling

The pandemic continues to touch this season. The first scheduled game for the girls basketball team had to be moved because their opponents had a COVID-related issue. However, the team is set to open their season on December 3rd.

Her passion for coaching and teaching comes through when Sterling speaks about her various roles at Greenhills. 

“I just love being on a team,” said Sterling. “I love the idea that everybody plays a role, no matter how small that role is. The impact you have on your team and your teammates is significant.”

Throughout Sterling’s life basketball has been a stress reliever. She credits basketball for taking her mind off the pandemic over the past year and continuously being able to focus on an activity she enjoys.