Former Oberlin Varsity Volleyball Coach Runs for Lorain City Council


Photo courtesy of Inez James

Inez James, a former Oberlin head volleyball coach, ran for Lorain City Council in this year’s primary election. Although she will not move onto the November election, she said the experience was a positive one.

The primary election for at-large seats on Lorain City Council took place Tuesday, and although candidate and former Oberlin College Head Volleyball Coach Inez James was not one of the three candidates to move on to November’s general election, she had a memorable campaign.

Last Friday morning, just four days before the election, James told herself that win, lose, or draw, she’s grateful for the opportunity to have met so many people throughout her campaign.

“I’ve met people who are cheering for me, people who have a lot of questions, and people who already made up their minds — which is fine,” she said. “That’s the beauty of it. There’s beauty in a community that is so diverse.”

James, who came in sixth place out of nine candidates with a total of 1,090 votes, was born in Lorain but raised in Cincinnati. She moved back to Lorain to live with her father temporarily before going off to Kentucky State University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education with a minor in recreation in 1992.

Shortly afterward, James was hired as a building substitute teacher in the Elyria City Schools district, from which she then landed the head volleyball coaching position at Oberlin, where she worked for just one year. While on campus, James was also an assistant coach for the women’s basketball and women’s lacrosse teams.

“I am the politician and the person I am today because of my players,” James said. “I learned a lot from them. There was a tremendous amount of diversity on my team, not just in race but in economic status. My players were outspoken and always voiced their concerns, but they taught me the strength in being open, and made me walk a lot taller.”

After Oberlin, James began working for the Ohio Turnpike Commission, where she has worked for 22 years — 2 as a toll collector, 13 as an assistant supervisor, and 7 as a head toll plaza supervisor. She got her Master’s degree in special education from Ashford University in 2012, and began working toward another Master’s in clinical mental counseling from Ashland University in 2015.

Her aunt, who was the president of the Lorain Chapter of the National Association of Negro Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, Inc., got James involved in her organization around 2008 — which sparked her interest in politics and a desire to get out into the community. James created the Feed the Hungry program at Greater Victory Christian Ministries, is a mentor and literacy coach for the Boys2Men Reading and Mentoring program, and an active board member and volunteer for the Genesis House, which provides guidance and support for domestic violence victims.

“Being out in the community helped me get involved in politics,” James said. “I had a friend run for City Council, and someone told her I would make a great campaign manager. We talked about it and prayed about it, and I helped her win. I realized I have a niche and being out in the community helping others is something I truly enjoy doing.”

Outside of politics and community service, James enjoys volleyball, reading, and going to church.

“Church is the reason I have this smile on my face,” she said. “It gives me some peace of mind. I read a lot of books about faith, but lately I have also gotten into politics, history, and self-help books.”

Had she won the primary, James’ top priority would have been to reform the education system in Lorain. House Bill 70, which passed under former Governor John Kasich in 2015, allowed for the state takeover of Youngstown, East Cleveland, and Lorain schools, which led to the appointment of David Hardy Jr. as the CEO of Lorain City Schools in July 2017 — and has been a point of contention ever since.

James, however, said that residents must be understanding and patient with the law.

“This isn’t a new thing,” she said. “We must go back to 2013 when the state said that, if we didn’t get our grades up, they were going to come in. This has been a problem for a long time, and we didn’t prepare or consult the community or fight it back then. Now we’re simply reacting.”

James said that she doesn’t see the value in fighting the people who were brought in to help, and has instead tried to address the issue by writing several letters to the editor of the ballot, asking the student board to put a levy in place.

“Of course I don’t like that the state had to come in, but if you’re failing and they bring in someone to help you, it just doesn’t make any sense to me to fight,” she said. “One man didn’t come in here and destroy us. He came to help us, yet the media only puts the negative stuff in the paper.”

James’ other two focuses were job readiness and public transportation. She said that Lorain County Community College should offer more programs to teach residents marketable employment skills and that computer and internet access are things that every resident should have.

“You can’t talk about jobs if you don’t talk about public transportation,” she added. “Public transportation is important to securing a job, and it’s important for senior citizens. By bringing it back, senior citizens can delay living in a retirement home by being able to transport themselves to doctor appointments and the grocery store.”

Although she didn’t move past the Lorain County primary, James has an extensive history in community service and politics and will certainly continue fighting for the things she believes in — something she said she picked up while at Oberlin.

“We talk about Lorain as an international city, but [Oberlin] is an international college,” she said. “I love the people here. They accept others for who they are, regardless of background or lifestyle. In the world that we live in today, that’s important. They show how important it is to be strong in your beliefs yet respectful of others.”