With the game tied and a little over a minute left in a thrilling battle against the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, Washington Mystics’ star shooting guard Nikki McCray lands awkwardly after being fouled on her way to the basket. The near sellout crowd of 18,923 previously ecstatic fans falls silent.
Trainer Jackie Jenkins jogs onto the MCI Center’s hardwood floor and attends to the hobbled Olympian’s cramped muscle. McCray rises gingerly, steps to the free-throw line and hits both pressure-packed shots. She is carried to the bench amid the thunderous cheers of appreciative spectators, and the Mystics win 76-74.
While most of Jenkins’ days this summer weren’t this exciting, she witnessed sports history. Jenkins, GW’s assistant athletic trainer, was the head trainer for the Washington Mystics in their inaugural season in the WNBA.
After working for a collegiate program, Jenkins was forced to adjust to a whole new level of intensity in a professional league.
“It’s hard having 30 games in less than three months,” Jenkins said. “We get a lot of knee injuries and tendinitis.” The strategy is simply “treatment, rehab and rest,” she said. “The athletes are easy to work with.”
Jenkins said she believes the players’ positive attitudes sparked an amazing response from Washingtonians. The Mystics boast the league’s highest attendance, despite the team’s stumbling through a league-worst 3-27 season.
“The fans are wild about the team, they are so behind us,” Jenkins said. “I wouldn’t say the WNBA players are spoiled. They work hard on and off the court because they never know if they’ll be back next year.”
Whether many of this year’s players will be back is a pressing question given the Mystics’ lackluster performance. Jenkins said the Mystics’ morale “wasn’t that bad” during their rough first season.
“Nobody ever got down on anyone else,” Jenkins said. “It helped that the fans were there no matter what.”
But when she had finished wrapping twisted ankles and strained knees, Jenkins’ duties changed from athletic trainer to travel agent and mom, as she booked hotels and oversaw meal money for the players.
“The major difference between GW and the Mystics is the travel responsibilities and needs,” Jenkins said.
Currently working with the volleyball and gymnastics teams at GW, Jenkins credited her work at the University with preparing her to work with the Mystics.
Will we see Jenkins in the WNBA in coming years?
“I’d like to be back next year, but nothing’s guaranteed,” she said.
As for the league, Jenkins said without hesitation, “It will be around for a long time.”