RCW: All in the family
Being the child of a coach can be tough but playing and coaching at the same school brought Jamie and Emily Bermel closer together.
Many children have their parents as a coach of their Tee-ball, soccer or basketball team early on in life. The dynamic changes when a parent coaches for a living. Jamie Bermel is the head coach of the University of Kansas men’s golf team. His daughter, Emily, grew up playing golf but now plays in the outfield for the Kansas softball squad. Though Emily chose a different sport than her dad’s, they’re still learning from each other.
Jamie started his coaching career 26 years ago at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa. He was the Director of Intramural Sports when the golf coach [Jack Wallace] approached him.
“The coach saw me one day and said, ‘Jamie, I think I’m going to retire, you ought to talk to (Director of Athletics) Lynn King about being the golf coach if you want to do something like that,'” recalled Jamie.
He always loved the game and played collegiately himself at Central College, a Division III school also located in Iowa.
“So in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘This will be great, I’ll get to play golf every afternoon at 3 o’clock. This is going to be the best job ever and (I can still) do intramurals,'” said Jamie of juggling a coaching job along with his position with the intramurals program.
“I always kind feel like I got the job on default, no one wants to be a part-time golf coach,” said Jamie. “It’s not like it is now. Back then there were no assistant coaches, basically just head coaches. So they were hiring, evidently, intramural directors and insurance salesmen and whoever else wanted to be a golf coach. I probably got in at the right time.”
Right time for sure, but Jamie was going into the right job, too. Jamie led Drake to a Missouri Valley Conference championship and two NCAA Tournament appearances, with one team making it to the championship round.
During Jamie’s five seasons at Drake, 1992-97, Emily was born to he and wife Jacque and just over a year later, son Jack arrived. If two very young children weren’t enough for the Bermels, Jamie accepted a job coaching at Iowa State just two days after Jack was born.
Jamie was with the Cyclones for two seasons and made an NCAA Tournament appearance before taking over the men’s program at Colorado State. This move was also easy on the family as both children were still very young.
The Bermels stayed in Fort Collins, Colorado for 13 years and found a groove. Jamie’s golfers were winning conference titles, being named All-Americans and playing in the NCAA Tournament finals. Emily was playing softball and attending camps at Colorado State.
People in all areas of the sports industry will tell you everything can change in an instant. Sure enough, in July of 2012, Jamie was offered the coaching job at Kansas and accepted it. Emily was a sophomore in high school, while Jack was a freshman and youngest child, Charlie, was in junior high. Emily took the news, and the move, the hardest as she had just switched high schools in Fort Collins.
“This was his dream job, so I just came. I was bitter for the first month, but then I really ended up liking it,” said Emily. “I joined the basketball team in high school and met a lot of good friends that way. I actually liked it more than Fort Collins, too.”
Jamie knew the move would be hardest on his only daughter since she was coming into herself as a person and an athlete. She was also moving away from one of her choices for college in Colorado State.
“You never know what a kid is thinking,” said Jamie. “So when I got here, my two main objectives for the summer were to find a house that my wife and Emily liked and find Emily a softball team.”
Emily played softball at Free State High School and played club ball with the KC Originals. She also played golf and basketball for a year at Free State.
Eventually, the time came for Emily to start seriously considering what college she wanted to attend and what sport to play. She chose softball over her dad’s sport, golf.
“I kind of thought about playing in college for a while but I didn’t want to play golf in college because you can play golf your whole life. I wanted to do something now that I couldn’t do forever,” said Emily. “I think if I had pursued it (golf) more I could have played somewhere. I really enjoyed it and I loved having something to do with my dad too. I was pretty competitive in high school; I just didn’t focus on it that much.”
Jamie knew he was a dad first and a coach second. Furthermore, he wasn’t Emily’s coach, so he was supportive of her decision.
“It didn’t matter to me to be quite honest,” said Jamie. “I think the reason she picked softball was that she had a great group of friends she played with and they kept going up in classes. I think that’s number one, she picked softball because of the friends and two, because it’s so fast-paced. I think she really enjoys the activity of it and all of that. Three, so I probably couldn’t tell her anything about the sport.”
With the choice of sports out of the way, the Bermels still had another hurdle: choosing a school. Jamie wanted to sit back and let Emily make the decision, but he did have pieces of advice to offer throughout the process.
“Early on in the recruiting process when we were at Colorado State, she was very interested in Colorado State and I told her, ‘You need to look elsewhere. All you know is Colorado State and the coaches and camps. I think you need to move away and experience something other than Fort Collins,'” said Jamie. “When we sat down, she was very clear in what she wanted. She wanted a big-time athletic department. She said, ‘I’m not playing at a small school. I want to go to a big school. I want to go basketball games, football games, all that stuff. I don’t want to go somewhere that doesn’t have that.'”
Emily had a dream of going to North Carolina, but she also looked at Iowa, Iowa State, Kansas and Colorado State.
“I didn’t really know KU was a good softball program at all and I wasn’t really interested in it because I kind of wanted to go back to Fort Collins and CSU, but then Coach (Megan) Smith pursued me and told me they were interested,” said Emily. “They gave me an offer and I sat on it for a while because it was my first offer. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do yet. A couple of months later, after I got a few other offers, it just felt right. My dad won’t be able to see me play if I went anywhere else and my mom wouldn’t be able to travel, so it just fit. I really like KU for more than just softball. So it all just kind of fell in to place here.”
Emily chose Kansas and declared a journalism major. Her future plans are to become a sports commentator or an athletic director. She has spent her life around sports, after all.
On the diamond, Emily filled the role of a pinch runner her freshman year of 2016. She appeared in 24 games and scored 11 runs. Currently in her sophomore year, she has played in 27 games and started 18 in the outfield. She boasts a .333 batting average and has three RBIs for the season.
Emily and Jamie still see each other around the athletics facilities. Emily stops by Jamie’s office or they pass each other in the DeBruce Center. Emily and Jamie’s teams have morning weightlifting session at the same time in the fall. It’s moments like this that have taught both Jamie and Emily lessons.
“Watching her go through her freshman year and now her sophomore year, I think it shed a different light on how she feels about her practices, her games, her weightlifting, her studies and how all that ties in. I think that’s helped me understand my guys better,” said Jamie. “It’s so easy in this job to get to be one-track minded to where all we think about is golf. We’re dealing with 18, sometimes 17 to 22 year-old-kids and there’s a lot more out there than just golf. I see that in her whether it be the social side, the academic side, or the extra meetings because she’s on SAAC (Student-Athlete Advisory Committee). She wants to participate in clubs and she wants to do a lot of stuff. I’ve picked up on some things and I’ve changed the way I coach because I’ve seen her go through some things. I think it’s been great for me.”
Though Emily learned from Jamie about college athletics throughout life, she is able to apply that knowledge now that she is a Division I student-athlete herself.
“Having a coach’s perspective is definitely helpful, like whenever there’s a conflict or girls aren’t understanding why they’re (the coaches) making decisions. It has been nice because I kind of understand where they’re coming from and I understand scheduling is hard,” said Emily. “We (players) don’t see it from that perspective all the time, but he’s (Jamie) helped me see it that way. He is pretty hard on me in certain aspects, like I’ve got to keep good grades. But overall he’s been super supportive.”
While being a coach’s kid might sound like a lot of pressure to be the best on and off the diamond or course, the Bermels have a balance of family and athletics. Jamie sees how his career of coaching has affected the way Emily plays, though.
“She’s in a position where she’s a grinder,” said Jamie. “She’s under-sized, she certainly doesn’t have a hot bat, her arm strength isn’t the best on the team, but she’s one of those kids, and I’ve coached them too, that somehow, some way, they find a way to get on the field or the golf course.
“I think a lot of how she operates is probably from the conversations she’s heard at the dinner table about ‘so-and-so is the most talented player but he keeps making bad decisions’ or ‘he can’t play under pressure,’ whatever that is. She has a good feel for the game, but she’s one of those that when you watch her play or (in) an at-bat, you’re thinking, ‘Oh there’s no way she can get on here or make that catch,’ but somehow she finds a way to do it. I think a lot of it has to do with me being a coach and her hearing what those experiences are.”
There is a family feel to the entire athletics department at Kansas due to the actual familial ties throughout the various teams as well as the ones created in or out of games. Jamie coaches the men’s golf team with a winning attitude and has passed it on to Emily, who carries it through in softball.
“She wants to win. I don’t know where she got that from, though,” Jamie concluded jokingly.