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San Antonio educator and coach taught students important lessons — in life and in the game

February 16, 2019

Sheryl Dean Campbell was one of those teachers who became like family to her students and their parents and built connections that endured long after their school years were over.

Known affectionately as Coach “Soup” Campbell — a nickname she earned for being “Mmm, Mmm good” on the high-school basketball court — she taught physical education at Rodriguez Elementary School and coached basketball at Rhodes Middle School. Her career in the San Antonio Independent School District lasted 34 years.

Campbell died unexpectedly on Feb. 3, 2019, of a rare disorder she didn’t know she had, a family member said.

She was 57.

Former student Joslyn Avila, 19, who played on the basketball team at Rhodes, said Campbell was always more than a coach to her players.

“It was just her personality and the way she was with kids,” said Avila, now a student at San Antonio College. “She was an outgoing, caring person, and she never showed it if she was having a bad day.”

Campbell became like a “second mom” to those on the team, said Avila, showing up for basketball games after her players had moved on to high school.

“She taught us so much, not just about being an athlete, but as a person,” she said.

Campbell made a practice of staying in touch with her former students and players in other ways, often attending their college graduations — even those held in other states.

“If you sent her an invitation, she was going to be there,” said Stephanie Torres, a mother whose two children were taught by Campbell at the elementary school.

Campbell “treated all kids the same, never singling out the good kids or the bad kids,” Torres said. “With her, all kids needed her love. We were blessed to have her for all those years.”

Campbell’s older sister, Carla McGee, said the future coach started showing athletic prowess at an early age.

“She grew up a tomboy and had a fondness for athletics from the get-go,” McGee said.

Her sister’s love of basketball began as a child when her father, who was in the military, let her play during pick-up games at Fort Sam Houston — as long as she watched closely, learned new skills and honed her game.

From there, Campbell played basketball at Emerson Junior High and Highlands High School. She was team captain of the varsity squad for one year at each school, McGee said. Though just 5-foot-6, her sister was a formidable player, she added.

Campbell received a full scholarship to Texas A & I University in Kingsville — now Texas A&M. While playing basketball in college, she received the Gil Steinke Award for Top Female Athlete of the Year.

In 2000, she was inducted into the Javelina Hall of Fame.

A lifelong member of West End Baptist Church, she volunteered in “seven or eight of our ministries,” said Senior Pastor Michael Angelo Jolla.

“She was very unassuming, so you’d never know the type of athletic ability she had,” he said. “Some people with that type of fame want everybody to know, but she was not one of those people.”

In addition to serving as an usher, Campbell always took charge of giving out iced tea and water at church events, Jolla said. After an event was over, she’d head to the kitchen, roll up her sleeves and start washing all the pots and pans.

“You never once heard her say, ‘Hey, Reverend, where are all the people who should be helping me?’” Jolla said. “She just wasn’t that kind of person.”

At a viewing held before Campbell’s funeral, Jolla asked his office manager to print about 200 program leaflets, thinking that would suffice.

More than 1,000 people showed up.

“That shows how many people’s lives she touched,” Jolla said. “My sermon at her funeral focused on, ‘Let the life I live speak for me.’ And that’s who Sheryl was. Her life said it all.”

Melissa Fletcher Stoeltje is a staff writer in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read her on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | mstoeltje@express-news.net | Twitter: @mstoeltje