Twenty-three years after becoming a Royal, Winter Garden native and Windermere resident Jane Fulmer Knuth is leaving The First Academy behind to step into retirement.
Her last day as TFA’s assistant athletic director is July 29.
“It’s getting real,” she said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that I’ll miss, but there’s a lot of things that I’m looking forward to. It’s an exciting time.”
Before the school year started, Knuth was prepared to work for two more years to reach the 25-year mark. But her husband, Brad Knuth, presented her with an unexpected gift at the end of last year.
“For Christmas, Brad decided he was going to give me retirement,” Knuth said. “He gave me a box with a letter in it that said I could retire this year. It’s two years earlier, which I’m not going to complain. I told him he couldn’t take it back now.”
Knuth is looking forward to enjoying her four grandchildren.
“I’m anxious to spend time with them,” she said.
Traveling is in the horizon for her and her husband; they already are planning a trip to Hawaii come February. They hope to make travel plans to other destinations too.
“I don’t necessarily have a bucket list,” she said. “My husband has a bucket list, so I just kind of hang on to his. I’m just a content person. I don’t need a lot.”
Despite entering retirement, Knuth said, she will help at her husband’s family business for a while on a flexible schedule of up to three days a week.
“We have a farm; the family business is farming in Nebraska,” she said. “They do all of it pretty much from here. It’s crazy that they can do that.”
LIFE IN THE SPORTS WORLD
When she was little, Knuth enjoyed watching her late brother, Pete Fulmer, compete.
“I love sports,” she said. “I grew up in a predominantly boy-world sports. I used to watch my brother play baseball. I would hang on the fence, and I would wait to get in there and play.”
When she was 10 years old, Knuth was among the first group of girls who started the West Orange Girls Club.
“I started to play softball when I was really young,” she said. “I started to play at the West Orange Girls Club because that was all there was for girls to play in.”
A former Warrior, Knuth graduated from West Orange High School in 1980 with a scholarship to play slow-pitch softball at Valencia College. A few years later, she received a scholarship from the University of Florida to play softball with the Gators.
During her last year of college, however, “the governing body for slow-pitch softball folded,” she said, but the University of Florida allowed her and the other senior girls who were part of the team to keep their scholarships.
That’s when Knuth discovered her love for coaching. Initially, she began coaching at Santa Fe College in Gainesville in 1984 until her graduation.
“It paid my way through school,” she said.
1984 was a big year for Knuth, as she moved back to Winter Garden and got married to her husband, with whom she has two children — a daughter, Kori, and son, Bryce.
Prior to beginning her career at TFA, Knuth coached at West Orange High from 1989 to 1990 before becoming a stay at home mom from 1990 to 1999.
In 1999, her college friend Benna Cail, who played with Knuth at Valencia, asked her if she would like to help with the lower school sports program at TFA — and that opened the door that amplified Knuth’s love for coaching and sports.
“TFA was a God’s timing type thing,” she said. “Coaching is all about the kids. When you coach, you coach not to win state championships — yes, you do, but you coach to mentor the kids, and so that’s the reason I coach.”
A HELPING HAND
Throughout her years at TFA, Knuth coached volleyball, basketball and softball; and taught physical education classes. However, in the more than two decades she was a Royal, Knuth mostly spent time as assistant coach; for a brief time, she held the title of head coach for the softball team.
“I thrive on making life easier for other people,” she said. “For me, as an assistant coach, I want to do the things that a head coach doesn’t necessarily want to do or does not want to spend the time doing because they can’t focus on what they have to do to build their program.”
During the first stages of TFA’s softball program, Knuth recalls it was not easy to get girls to play the sport. But, in the end, those who joined the program had fun while learning to play softball, and some of them even went on to play at the collegiate level.
“Yes, I had the title of head coach for a while, but that’s not where I like to be,” she said. “I always made sure that I surrounded myself with some really good coaches that mentored the girls and taught them the skill of fast-pitched softball, because at that point it was fast-pitched and I grew up as a low-pitch player.”
Over her years as assistant coach for the basketball, volleyball and softball programs, Knuth was a part of eight state championships: two for girls basketball, five for volleyball and, the last one — the one she had been looking to get for a long time — the softball title in May.
Even though the softball state championship holds a dear place in Knuth’s heart, the girls basketball state championships of 2006 takes the title for her fondest memory at TFA.
“Winning the first state championship with my daughter when she played on the 2006 girls basketball team,” she said. “Just having her as part of that program and that being the first state championship (we won together).”
For the last seven years, Knuth held the position of assistant athletic director.
“I thrive on doing the things that our athletic director doesn’t have time to do, so I get it done so he can focus on the big picture as I focus on the little things,” she said.
As her last day approaches, Knuth has mixed emotions about leaving. One of the things she will miss the most about TFA is the big family aspect of the school.
“All the way from our administration down to our operations department, it’s just a family environment,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody. So I know all of our teachers’ kids, and they know me, it’s just a size that it’s a village. Everybody is watching out for each other.”
What legacy does Knuth hope to have left within the walls of TFA over her years there?
“I hope it is that I ran the race well and that I touched a lot of lives,” she said. “And that I was an example for Christ. That’s what I hope my imprint is.”