Where are they now? MUHS hoop star Jenna Lewis

FORMER TIGER HOOP captain Jenna Lewis Lamica has two rescue dogs at home and says she spends “pretty much all my free time” volunteering at a Los Angeles pet rescue shelter. She said she particularly loves pit bulls.

LOS ANGELES — Jenna Lewis Lamica, a key cog in the 2004 Division I champion Middlebury Union High School basketball team, remembers falling in love with hoop early on.
Her parents, Craig and Donna Lewis, recently sent Lewis Lamica’s basketball memorabilia to her home in Los Angeles, where she teaches and her husband, Chris Lamica, has moved from teaching into acting.
Pictures include her smiling with other third-graders as they lift their first hoop trophy, and another with a sixth-grade team, kneeling happily next to her father.
“I always used to like playing basketball with Dad,” she said, adding she watched many of his rec league games and would “shoot and dribble on the side” in the Middlebury town gym when he played pickup.
Lewis Lamica also tried softball, but said hitting proved not to be a strong point, and before long she just stuck with hoop.
“That was always my focus. It ended up being almost year-round,” she said.
Some athletes grow tired of that grind, but not Lewis Lamica. She was surprised when some teammates felt burned out and left the sport.
“I said, ‘What? That’s a thing?” Lewis Lamica said.
That paid off for her and a group of teammates that stuck together. Many of the athletes on that 2004 team, unlike a number of other multi-sport MUHS students, made basketball a priority — upperclassmen who made that choice included Lewis Lamica’s co-captain, senior Jenn Lussier, and junior leading scorer Mary Nienow.
Coach Cindy Atkins, an MUHS science teacher, remembers the group fondly. She named Lewis Lamica and Lussier as the ringleaders.
“They were not a standout AAU team. But every year they surprised me. They kept improving,” Atkins said. “It was a group that solidified and kept getting better and better and were really pushed by Jenna and Jenn.”
For Lewis Lamica her love of basketball kept paying off. She attended what was then Johnson State College — mostly to play hoop, she admitted. She ended up on the program’s all-time leaderboard in points (fifth with 1,232), assists (second with 343), rebounds (seventh with 484, notable as a guard), and steals (eighth with 192).
In 2020 what is now Northern Vermont University-Johnson chose her for its Athletic Hall of Fame.

That statistical excellence paints a picture. Sometimes an anecdote tells even more.
In 2004 the Tigers played perennial power Essex in the D-I final. The Tigers pulled away in the third quarter. In the fourth Lewis Lamica helped end a Hornet rally by hitting seven free throws.
At one point, the Hornet fans taunted her — “Choke! Choke! Choke!” — as she walked to the line for two key attempts. She looked at the Essex rooters and smiled and shook her head. And sank both. And then waved at the fans as she ran back up the court. The Tigers won by seven.
Lewis Lamica didn’t remember being nervous when the fans were jeering her.
“I looked up and I shook my head no. That was like, out of body,” she said. “I think it actually helped, because I was focusing less on, oh my God, I have to make these, you know what I mean? I like to have a more competitive edge. So that’s, like, more drive for me, like, I got this.”
What the coach saw is also telling: Atkins wasn’t surprised Lewis Lamica made the free throws — it was just typical of her player’s “tough-minded attitude” and style.
“She was the best on the team at taking charges, and she would enjoy doing because she knew it would get under our opponents’ skin, frustrate them. She was just willing to give up her body for charges,” she said.
Lewis Lamica helped set that tone for the team, Atkins said.
“She was always motivating her teammates. That was a very outward thing,” she said. “But the team in the locker room also knew Jenna was very serious about winning. Winning was her No. 1 thing, and she’s a very intense competitor. And the team knew that, and she set that example.”

While her choice of Johnson came because of her love of hoop, she also had to choose a major. Unlike some teachers, Lewis Lamica said she had not grown up with that calling. But she talked it over with her then boyfriend, now husband, also a Johnson varsity basketball standout, and they both chose education.
“It just seemed natural to us. We both enjoyed helping other people, and we both did coaching with kids in the area,” Lewis Lamica said. “I’m glad I did, but at the time it was just, ‘OK, I have to pick one.’”
Before then she and Chris Lamica had met cute, even if it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. She was the only woman looking to play pickup in a gym full of varsity hoop players. Chris picked her for his team, and they won several games in a row.
But she was put off by his style.
“I really thought he was arrogant, and a show-off, and I even told him that,” Lewis Lamica said.
What changed her mind eventually?
“I realized that’s just how he plays,” she said. “He’s very sweet. He’s definitely one of the most kind and caring people. From then we just clicked.”
He proposed in 2009, a year after he graduated and while Lewis Lamica was doing a post-graduate year and playing in her final year of eligibility. They were married later that year.
They moved as newlyweds to near Elmira, N.Y. Lamica played with the ABA New York Red Riders, and Lewis Lamica taught preK in the YMCA that sponsored his team. They lived in a one-room, one-bath apartment they eventually shared with two of his teammates, with whom they are still friends.
“That was a trip. That also feels like, how did we do that?” Lewis Lamica recalled.
Then both got teaching jobs in Vermont, Lewis Lamica with first-graders in St. Johnsbury and Lamica at Barnet Elementary School. They spent two years there that Lewis Lamica described as a challenge in an area with a high poverty rate: One student attacked others with scissors and was removed from the school, and another stabbed an aide with a pencil, for example.
“It was really hard. I know why so many teachers drop out in the first five years,” she said. “I was really lucky I had amazing mentor teachers, people who were super supportive and took me under their wing. Classroom management was incredibly difficult.”
She persevered.
“I’m just really stubborn. I was going to make this work. I would stay there to five every night getting things ready for the next day,” she said. “It was, I’m not going to quit.”
The couple also got their first dog and took their first long road trip — they have now visited 49 states, always with pets in tow.
In their first summer off they drove through 33 states along most of the nation’s perimeter, sleeping in their Kia Soul and living off  “granola bars, Doritos and peanut butter and jelly,” to save money, Lewis Lamica said. “We fell in love with exploring, seeing what’s out there.”

Then Lamica got the acting bug, took lessons from a Hollywood veteran, and they decided that meant a move to L.A.
They drove out to Los Angeles with only what they could fit in their car, with no work or place to stay lined up, although they were still collecting their last few Vermont paychecks.
“We had no housing, nothing set up. When you’re young you do these things,” Lewis Lamica said.
She found work at the Westmark School, but only after Chris submitted her résumé to the school without her knowledge — she had concluded she wasn’t qualified for the position. Westmark was seeking a special needs educator, and Lewis Lamica did not have that specific background.
Chris was convinced she could do the job, and he was right — she has been there since, teaching second and third grade.
“It’s amazing, really … It truly is a special place,” Lewis Lamica said. 
Westmark is a private school for grades 2-12 for students, according to its website, “who live with language-based learning differences.” The school claims that 98% of its students attend college.
Lewis Lamica adds the students have “typical to above-average” intelligence and many because of their different learning styles are “out-of-the-box” thinkers. “These are the kids who are going to change world,” she said.
Some of them are also the children of directors of No. 1 movies or singers of No. 1 hits.
“For parent-teacher conferences, it’s people you’ve seen on television, or grown up idolizing, and you’re like, what? But I’m always very professional,” Lewis Lamica said. “They’re there as a parent.”
The Lamicas have two dogs, Divi and Zion, and they have fostered dogs. Lewis Lamica said she spends “pretty much all my free time” volunteering for the Best Friends Animal Shelter in Mission Hills, and is particularly fond of pit bulls, which she calls a misunderstood breed. Her classes take an annual field trip to the shelter and complete projects that benefit the shelter.
“I also fill in sometimes to do TV promos on the local TV channels out here, showcasing our dogs at Best Friends. It is my happy place,” Lewis Lamica said.

Lewis Lamica is thankful for her 14 years of basketball. She was asked if she had learned anything from the sport.
“I think perseverance, that you’re going to go through some challenging times. In AAU we would get destroyed in tournaments. Cindy would take us to Massachusetts,” Lewis Lamica said. “We would know what it was like to lose, but we would also have the payoff of, OK, we’re going to stick with it and keep learning.”
She also talked about time management.
“It’s amazing to think of all the things that you’re juggling when you’re playing a sport and then also trying to get assignments done for school,” Lewis Lamica said.
And teamwork.
“That’s a real thing, to learn how to get along with your teammates. You don’t have to be best friends, but you do have to learn to get along and accomplish a goal together, and that’s the same thing with who you work with as a grown-up. You have to work with different personalities. So I’m so grateful for basketball,” she said.
And best of all:
“It gave me my husband, too. That’s probably one of my greatest thanks for basketball, sending me to where Chris was.”

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