If it weren’t for her former players’ regular phone calls, Jane Albright would think that she hadn’t really been away from Graham for 40 years.
“Part of it feels like I never left,” says the nationally-recognized, retired women’s basketball coach of her hometown, later adding, “It’s time to be in my little town and do whatever needs to be done to help.”
Her chosen, soon-to-be undertaken way of “giving back” combines a lifelong hobby, decades-long career, and the help of several longtime friends.
Within the coming weeks, Albright plans to open a used-and-new Christian bookstore, Things Above, at 15 S.E. Courthouse Square in Graham. A soft opening is planned to start a few days from now, with a grand opening anticipated for June 12 and 13. During that weekend, Albright plans to welcome longtime friend and comedian Jeanne Robertson for a book signing on Saturday afternoon.
Robertson is among a handful of authors who will be featured in the bookstore. Others include James Bryan Smith, who is expected to visit in July; Francine Rivers, best known for Redeeming Love; Dallas Willard; and John Wooden, the late college basketball coach who wrote The Pyramid of Success.
In stock will be used books from Albright’s own collection and other “clean” books such as Christian fiction and non-fiction, humor, athletics, and other genres. Additional items will include cards, journals, gifts, and Bibles.
Another draw for customers will be the sale of Salvation Coffee Company products. The independent coffee shop on South Church Street in Burlington, owned by Jim Young, has already begun to set up a coffee bar in the budding bookstore. Also included, Albright said, will be iced tea and Cheerwine.
“I just think that books are really critical in people’s development,” Albright told the newspaper this week. The retired coach also considers books as “integral to our society,” something that she said has been lost, to an extent, by an increased dependence on technology.
Still, more important than the books, she said, is helping people foster relationships between each other and God. The goal is reflected in the store’s motto of working toward a “horizontal and vertical connection.”
“What I was really trying to do was get a place where people could connect,” she explained. Remembering a point that a friend made to her, Albright said that the bookstore is designed to be a “third place” — a place to connect — after visitors’ homes and workplaces.
“It’s definitely more of a ministry than a business to me,” she said.
43-year career took Albright westward
Before her four decades-long career led her to coach women’s basketball for Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Wichita State, and Nevada universities, Albright was raised up playing basketball in Graham.
“It’s always been really special,” she said of the city. “My family all grew up here.”
Both her father and brother served as councilmen for the city, while her grandfather owned a business on the square near her future bookstore. Now, coming back to her roots, Albright has remodeled and moved into her family’s home on Marshall Street.
As a child, the “self-proclaimed bookaholic” says that she received books as rewards from her parents and relatives for making the honor roll in school, which bolstered her interest in books and steadily grew her collection.
As far as a career, the then-student dreamed of being a veterinarian, but a passion for basketball and inspiration from her middle school and high school coaches, Ray Lee and Anne Maynard, led her to change course. After graduating from Graham High School in 1973, she attended Appalachian State University, where she played basketball and volleyball and graduated cum laude with a degree in health and physical education.
Her coaching career began at Spartanburg High School in South Carolina, before moving to universities in the Mid-West and West, and ending with retirement from the University of Nevada in 2017 with an overall record of 512-477. “I loved every minute of coaching,” she said. “But when I knew it was time to quit, it was time to quit and go home.”