‘Serving’ the community: Lemay is a coach on the go

Photo courtesy Melissa Lemay on Facebook Sheffield native Melissa Lemay (center) gathers the Wolverine volleyball team during a match at Sheffield. Lemay has been coaching for almost a decade, and has been serving the entire Warren County community as a home health care physical therapist for 25 years. Her passion for service made her a natural fit for both positions.

The evaluations, it seems, never end.

Even on an off day, and right after that evening’s practice, eval reports were coming in. This time, it was over the phone. Such is the life of a home health care physical therapist, a high school volleyball coach and, in this case, both. But that’s ok because Sheffield’s Melissa Lemay has always wanted to serve the community.

“I try to set the example (for the girls),” she said. “I’ve always been sort of community-active. I always knew that I wanted to go into some type of service.”

For the last 25 years, she’s been serving Warren County’s physical therapy needs, and she’s going into her 10th season as a coach with the Sheffield Wolverines girls volleyball program, her fourth year as head coach.

And, while the two positions are different, they also share a lot of similarities.

“Physical therapy has to be individualized,” Lemay said. “I have to evaluate what that patient can do. What is the process? What are the steps? How do we get from here to there? In the therapy world, we call that a care plan. (In the gym), we call it a practice plan.

“You can’t approach every girl who can’t serve the ball over the net (the same way),” she added. “They’re not all doing the same thing wrong. You can’t just line everybody up on the service line and say, ‘Do this.’ And then say, ‘Ok, you’re doing that wrong. Everybody else, we’re all going to fix this.’ It’s the same with patients.”

While serving the community, and her hometown, in particular, has always been a passion for Lemay, she almost passed up the opportunity to come home.

As a freshman at Sheffield in the 1980s, Lemay was drawn to physical therapy when different health professions were presented during a health class. Though several options sounded intriguing, it was physical therapy that stuck with her as she continued through high school.

A talented high school volleyball player herself, she was voted by coaches as the 1987 TCAC volleyball MVP, Lemay drew interest from a number of colleges as a player. While they had an athletic training program, it was physical therapy that she wanted. Eventually, she decided to attend Daemen College in Amherst, New York. She took a job at United Community Hospital in Grove City, working with outpatients, after graduation.

She was still there when her mother called about a chance to come back to the area.

“A job came up here for home health care and my mom called,” Lemay said. “I’m like, ‘Hard pass. No, thank you. I don’t think that’s what I want to do.’ (The hiring manager) called me and talked to me about what home health care therapy involved.”

The call was enough to get Lemay to take a chance, but she still wasn’t completely sold.

“I took a leave of absence for a month, but kept the lease on my apartment,” she said. “I came here and thought, ‘I’ll try it for a month.’ And I fell in love with it.”

Still actively playing volleyball when she could, Lemay had never seriously considered coaching until her daughter, Rachel, started playing in junior high.

“I started helping when Rachel was in seventh grade,” Lemay said. “I started in junior high as a volunteer coach.”

She was forced to take a year off due to her own surgery and subsequent rehab but came back for Rachel’s sophomore year in 2014. Two years later, she took over as the head coach.

“I had been helping on and off the prior four years,” she said. “I always knew I wanted to be involved, but I didn’t realize I wanted to be a head coach until I was helping here and really thought I could help this team. I could be of service to this program.”

This year’s seniors will be the first group to spend their entire varsity career under Lemay’s direction, the sophomores were in seventh grade when she took the reigns. More important than trying to build a program of sustained success, Lemay hopes to pass her love of community service on to the next generation.

On top of the physical therapy and volleyball, Lemay is active within her church, helps with the local food pantry and volunteers where and when she can.

“I try to set the example,” she said. “I hope they see that I think it’s important.”

With practice over, some of the girls’ basketball players begin to file into the gym. One takes a shot just before Lemay heads out the door. It’s an airball.

“Try hitting the rim,” she joked.

The player laughed and ran to the hoop for the next shot.

“Ya gotta dribble,” Lemay laughed as the player continued her warm-up.

Always helping, always serving. Before heading home she stopped into the weight room to check on the players working out.

The evaluations, it seems, never end.