The former teacher, coach, trainer and athletic director impacted sports in the area to an indescribable degree.
In the early 1970s, when Melba Roelofs began teaching physical education at Lejeune High School, there were no girls’ sports programs besides cheerleading.
But Roelofs helped change that, first by starting a girls’ track team and highlighting the lack of girls’ sports in Onslow County by calling in to a local sports radio show to fan the flame.
Soon after, girls’ sports started to take form across the area.
Roelofs helped start girls’ softball, volleyball and basketball programs at Lejeune, but it wasn’t easy. She even put her job on the line for girls’ basketball. In order to combat administration concerns about fighting, Roelofs proved her commitment by vouching she would quit if one of her players attempted to fight.
Roelofs led the girls’ track team to state championships in 1989 and 1998. She became the first certified athletic trainer in the county, inspiring many of her students to pursue careers in sports medicine and health care.
Without question, Roelofs has touched a number of lives.
“She is the reason I became a PE teacher,” said Jerri Wingo, a late ‘70s graduate of LHS. “She was a mentor, not only as a teacher, but she was a friend.”
“She made sure that I was taken care of,” said Brandy McCollum, LHS class of 1998. “She was like my big support system as a coach. She always supported me and always had my back.”
“She was a great inspiration to a lot of the students here,” said Debra Bryant, LHS athletic director, who followed in Roelofs’ footsteps. “She made a big impact and a difference in a lot of students’ and coaches’ lives.”
“It’s been great to have her as a mentor and someone who you can ask questions of and get good advice from,” said Lisa Beavers, who began her path to becoming the LHS athletic trainer while a sophomore at the school because of Roelofs’ guidance. “She taught me everything I knew to start off with, how to run the training program, how to set it up and how to even coach and be a quality coach.”
Roelofs was supported by her husband Tim, a former Marine. The two coached with and against one another, each winning at least one state title in track, but the Roelofs’ legacy isn’t about winning. It is about putting the kids first, doing things the right way, with dignity, and being dedicated to whatever you do.
“Winning is easy,” Roelofs said. “Emphasize teaching. Emphasize team building, because that will do more than skill.”
Roelofs dedicated more than 40 years to student-athletes in Onslow County. She spent more than 30 years at Lejeune High School, with stints as athletic trainer and athletic director, prior to spending seven years at Dixon High School as athletic trainer until 2012. She will be inducted in the Jacksonville Onslow-Sports Commission Hall of Fame at Sturgeon City in Jacksonville, May 7.