Growing up in Bangor, there may not have been any more foreign words to Diane Jacobson than “sports” and “hall of fame.”
High school sports, and especially girls athletics, were hardly in existence in Bangor when Jacobson was growing up. And even if they were, there was work to be done on the family farm.
Little did she know, however, a decision later in life to work out of her home in order to raise her children would lead her to become a youth soccer and softball coach, a high school basketball official scorer and, most notably, one of the greatest supporters of high school athletics in Janesville history.
Jacobson’s dedication to athletics, including spending more than three decades on Parker High School’s Athletic Booster Board, have earned Jacobson a spot in the Janesville Sports Hall of Fame.
She’ll join Mike Brooks, Rick Kingsley, Lesley Perry Murphy and Bill Semmens as part of the 2018 class that will be inducted during a May 19 event at the Janesville Country Club.
“As a coach, you try to surround yourself with good people, and Diane is the best,” said former Parker girls basketball coach Tom Klawitter. “She gets things done and is loyal through thick and thin.
“She wants things done the right way, and she wants all of the kids over there to be successful. I’ve never, ever seen her not support a program, or support one more than any other.
“She’ll always say, ‘I’ll get it done, and if I can’t right now I’ll find a way.’”
Jacobson and her husband, Gary, moved to Janesville in the mid-1960s, and when they had their first son, Scott, in 1965 Diane decided she would work as a seamstress and stay-at-home mom.
Daughters Shari and Shelly and sons Shawn and Steven followed. They all went to school at St. William Catholic Church, where Gary spent nearly two decades as a basketball coach, beginning when Scott started playing in fourth grade.
Early on in his coaching career, Gary asked Diane to keep the scorebook.
From there, the school asked if she’d be interested in coaching soccer. And softball. And cheerleading. She was also the treasurer of St. Williams’ athletic association for 15 years.
“I can’t do it (play sports) myself; I’m not an athlete,” Diane Jacobson said. “But I so much enjoy being around the kids who are.
“And it all started at St. Williams. I coached co-ed soccer when all I knew was you can’t touch the ball with your hands, and you try to get the ball in the net.”
Jacobson also took charge of making uniforms for the St. William sports programs. And she spent time as a Cub Scout and Girl Scout leader, too.
“I was busy, but I loved every minute of it,” she said.
In 1990, Klawitter caught Diane at a St. Williams event and asked if she’d be interested in keeping the book for his girls basketball program. Two years later, boys coach Bob Luchsinger asked if she’d be the boys’ official scorer, too.
She’s been at the scorer’s table ever since, these days donned in her official black-and-white striped shirt.
Through the years, Jacobson was able to follow her kids through their athletic careers, which included playing nearly every varsity sport imaginable. And now she’s doing the same with her 15 grandkids and one great-grandchild. All five of Diane and Gary’s children are married and have children, and no one in the family lives farther away than Fitchburg.
Diane’s athletic playing career was essentially limited to a co-ed recreational softball team made up entirely of Gary, Diane and their family.
“I’ve always enjoyed it. My five kids were all three-sport athletes,” Diane said. “It’s been a great mixture of different sports. That’s the fun of it.
“Our Saturday mornings all winter are five basketball games. Eight, nine, 10, 11 and 12. And if Parker is playing that day, that’s two more. And it’s totally awesome.”
The past three-plus decades have also seen Diane—or “Mrs. J,” as she’s know to many—serve on the Parker booster club board. She’s spent the past decade-plus as the club’s president.
“There’s been times where I’ve needed a uniform mended, so it can be something like that, or something related to the booster club, a special purchase,” Parker baseball coach Brian Martin said. “Anything, at any time, that anyone needs, she finds a way to get it done.”
“In today’s day, it’s unheard of. We have a true gem and a true treasure.”
Some of Jacobson’s recent board memories include setting up and maintaining the weight room at Parker, purchasing the timing system for swim and the sound system for the gym and hosting an annual trivia night to raise funds.
In 2011, Jacobson was given the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association’s Distinguished Service award for her efforts.
“When coaches want anything, they come to the board and ask for help,” she said. “I’ve got an an amazing treasurer and secretary who have been officers about as long as I have.”
Jacobson continues her at-home seamstress work, as well. When she’s not altering prom dresses for local students, she can often be found volunteering her services for athletics teams—from fixing up uniforms to sewing up holes in hockey bags to, one time, even fixing Parker’s tennis nets when funds were not available to purchase new nets.
“I had no idea how huge tennis nets are,” Jacobson said. “But I took them downstairs and sewed them. I think I saved the district about $17,000, and they’ve still held up.”
For more than 50 years, Diane Jacobson has been a staunch supporter of youth athletics in Janesville. And she’s passed that legacy to the next generation, with many of her children and their spouses coaching, officiating or volunteering on youth athletic boards.
Not bad for a woman who didn’t exactly have sports initially in her DNA.
And for Jacobson, it’s a Janesville Sports Hall of Fame-worthy run that isn’t over yet.
“As long as they still want me, I’ll do it,” she said. “I’ll have to retire someday, I suppose, but I still enjoy it.”