LORETTO - Former Altoona standout Anita (Moore) Jennings never thought about becoming a college coach, until she got a phone call from a good friend two years ago.
Jennings, a 1991 AAHS graduate, earned a Division I scholarship to St. Joseph's and played for coach Stephanie Gaitley from 1991-95. She then spent most of the past decade as a youth coach in the area with her daughter, Morgan, whom she proudly calls a Division I prospect.
Jennings, who stayed in touch with Gaitley over the years, was working as an assistant with the Hollidaysburg girls when her former college coach came calling.
Mirror photo by J.D.?Cavrich
Anita Jennings (right) sits on the Monmouth bench with assistant coach Sami Allison, a former St. Francis player.
"Coach Gaitley said she was leaving [Long Island] and had a position at Monmouth and would I like to come," Jennings said. "And I jumped right on it."
Gaitley had an opening for the director of basketball operations job and immediately thought of Jennings.
"I couldn't have a better person in that position," Gaitley said Saturday following Monmouth's loss to St. Francis in the Northeast Conference Tournament.
Gaitley noticed something special about Jennings during her playing career and longtime friendship that makes her a perfect fit for her role with Monmouth.
"Her heart," Gaitley said. "She's one of the sweetest, kindest people you'll ever meet in your life. That stems from her grandmom, her mom and her family.
"That's a big reason I brought her back is because I believe in her as a person. And I thought her ability to communicate with the young student-athletes was a big, big need that we had, especially from the academic end."
Jennings holds the director of basketball operations title, but she's basically an assistant coach - with one limitation. She cannot go onto the floor during practice, as per NCAA rules.
"Coach Gaitley is great," Jennings said. "She respects me and lets me coach just as any other coach."
The respect factor is definitely clear.
"What Anita gives is really something you obviously won't see in the stat sheet and won't pick up, but it's immeasurable," Gaitley said. "She just adds such a calmness, and she's like another mom for this group."
Jennings also oversees the players' academics, and Gaitley noted her integrity makes her a perfect fit for that role.
"Her kind ways and her ability to show how important it is to be someone of character" serve as inspiration to the players, Gaitley said.
Jennings was a versatile three-year starter at Altoona from 1988-91, scoring 757 points, grabbing 447 rebounds and dishing out 222 assists.
"She was a great athlete for my program," said former Altoona coach Art Taneyhill, who visited with Jennings at DeGol Arena.
"She came in as a sophomore, had great speed. At that time wasn't a great shooter from outside, but she worked on it tremendously over the three-year period and had an opportunity to gain a scholarship."
Jennings was part of one District 6 championship team, though she noted she played during "the three years after the big era" of national prominence for the Lady Lions.
"We were a young team, a small team," Jennings said, "but I learned so much from Coach Taneyhill, and he just built up my passion for basketball. Coach Taneyhill was definitely a great mentor."
Taneyhill recalled Jennings' "blinding speed," noting she and Kristi Little were the two fastest players he's seen play for Altoona over the years.
Jennings was part of two NCAA Tournament squads at St. Joe's and was named the team's "Unsung Hero" as a senior captain in 1995.
"You get Division I players and they get a chance to go and play and are successful, you've got to be very proud of that, and we certainly are," Taneyhill said. "Anything that Anita has put her mind to do, she's been able to do wholeheartedly and do it well."
Jennings, who's working on her master's degree in education, isn't sure what her next career move might be and said merely that she loves working with Gaitley. She enjoys spending time with her three daughters, and her current job and Monmouth's family environment allow her to do just that.
"I love being around the game," Jennings said. "I definitely want to be a part of it. I love to coach with Coach Gaitley and love the staff that I'm with."
Cory Giger can be reached at 949-7031 and firstname.lastname@example.org.