Howard University alumna Janice Pettyjohn is making history at her alma mater due to a new position she’s landed with the Howard Bison. Get the full story from Nicolette White at Burlington County Times.
They call her Hellraiser.
But bar raiser might be a better nickname after the latest accomplishment of Lumberton native Janice Pettyjohn.
At almost 23, the Rancocas Valley Regional High School alumna is reaching new heights for womankind, becoming the first woman hired for a full-time football position at Howard University. But the road to Pettyjohn’s historic hire wasn’t always easy.
Growing up, Pettyjohn gravitated more to arts than sports.
“Ironically, I’ve always been artsy girl. So, painting, art, I still do to this day, that’s what my hobbies surrounded,” Pettyjohn said.
In fact, health issues put an end to any hopes to participate in youth sports before they could even begin. Still, Pettyjohn was determined to find a way to be involved in Lumberton Middle School’s extracurricular actvities.
“No one wants to come right home after school; you want something to do,” Pettyjohn said. “So I started managing the basketball team in seventh grade then I did it in eighth grade and it ended up just becoming something that I loved without realizing that I love because it just became second nature.”
As offseasons would come and go, time away from the court only increased Pettyjohn’s interest in sports. Soon, middle school basketball team manager turned into Rancocas Valley Regional High School football team manager. As Pettyjohn leveled up, RVRHS staff like former head coach Dan Haussman couldn’t help but notice her ability to get the job done.
“She was always organized, she took on a ton of tasks, and we never had to worry about game set up,” Haussman said.
But where Haussman really got to know Pettyjohn’s ability to rise to a challenge was in the anatomy and physiology class he teaches.
“I watched Janice work really, really, hard because that’s a college level honors course,” Haussman. “That’s when I really got to see the determination and the grit she exhibited as a student as well.”
In 2017, Pettyjohn graduated from RVRHS and took her studies to Howard University, one of more than 100 historically Black colleges and universities. There she enrolled in the university’s sports medicine residency program. It took no time for Pettyjohn to come aboard the Bison football team when former head coach Mike London offered her an undergraduate position as a graphic designer and equipment manager.
“And then from there, my name just kind of started floating around. And next thing I know, I’m working with operations, I’m working with the color commentating people on the radio, I’m working with the (sports information) department,” Pettyjohn said. “I was always the person kind of with that mentality like that if it has to get done, I’m going to be the one that gets it done.”
When Larry Scott took over Bison coaching duties he assigned Pettyjohn new recruitment responsibilities. She found herself being treated more like an adult and less like a student.
“… Despite the fact that I was at the time. He gave me the same responsibilities that he was doing and little did I know that he and Coach Scott both were preparing me for this job that they wanted me to have once I graduated,” Pettyjohn said.
In 2021, Pettyjohn graduated from Howard’s Sports Medicine Residency program with a minor in sociology. Her original post-graduate plan was to attend medical school but realized that her heart wasn’t in it.
Pettyjohn was offered a full-time position with the Bison and has since transitioned to assistant director of football operations in addition to taking on the responsibilities of director of on-campus recruiting. This new position was developed specifically for Pettyjohn.
She’s involved in the recruiting process such as campus tours and runs operations such as maintenance of the football facilities and assists with coordination for events.
The significance of not only being the first woman hired full-time, but also as a new college graduate making history is not lost on Pettyjohn.
“I’m super grateful for this position,” she said. “Being 22 years old and getting a full-time position at Howard fresh out of college — its rare. Coach Scott really saw the potential in me.”
With football being a male-dominated sport, Pettyjohn’s current position is typically filled by men. Yet Pettyjohn says the biggest hurdle she faced was working in a high-level career at such an early age.
“‘I’m 22, about to be 23, doing what some 30 year old’s are just getting started doing,” Pettyjohn said. “You’re finding coaches on my staff who have coached in the NFL, who have played in the NFL. Coaches, who I’m not going to necessarily say ages, but they’re over the age of 40 and 50, who have been in this game for quite some time. So it was definitely a matter of building trust.”
And at times where Pettyjohn isn’t giving herself enough credit, her coaches, players, and Howard faculty are there to lift her up.
“Two of our associate AD’s will literally just call me sometimes to say you’re doing a great job. Our academic advisors will just call me and say you’re doing it. And my coaches tell me all the time. So even when I don’t feel it, if I don’t give myself the credit, there’s always someone else there in my ear,” Pettyjohn said.
When Rancocas Valley Regional High School Principal Joseph Martin found out Pettyjohn’s history-making hire, he reached out to offer congratulations.
“To me what really grabbed me was that this is a story of a young strong woman finding such tremendous career opportunities in a male dominated sport/industry,” Martin said.
In her current role, Pettyjohn draws from her sociology background to understand the impact students’ backgrounds and resources have on their decision making. She has seen athletes ignore injuries to remain on the team.
“Sometimes, sports are all they know. Their futures solely depend on their athletic abilities,” she said.
In the future Pettyjohn hopes to create a rehab facility in a low-income area to ensure all student athletes can receive the treatment they need to maintain their athletic abilities and careers.
“Janice’s future goals will better level the playing field for athletes from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing them with training, healthcare and other supports that will help them succeed both on and off the field,” Martin said. “Those goals are what we are most proud to celebrate at RV when we share Janice’s story!”