Finding Marie: Where sports and tragedy intersect


Courtesy of Jessica McClellan

Brandon Sans, Sports Editor

The biggest goals require the hardest sacrifices and can be shaped by the toughest tragedies.

UNC Wilmington senior Jessica McClellan’s college journey may have more twists and turns than the average student. She gave up her love of volleyball to pursue her dream to enroll in law school.

McClellan, who is scheduled to graduate this May, has been around sports her entire life. That made sacrificing sports all the harder to do when it was time to think about life post-UNCW. It was her past that made that choice easy.

McClellan was adopted when she was over a year old after she was placed in foster care. Her birth mother, Karen Marie Waye, was beaten to death and abandoned on the side of a road when McClellan was nine-months-old.

“She is the main reason I originally wanted to be an attorney,” said McClellan, who kept Waye’s middle name as her own. “The older I got the more I wanted to help people who are victims of domestic abuse rather than seek vengeance.”

Her adopted father, Tom McClellan, is an Assistant Athletic Director at East Carolina University. She’s spent many weekends traveling around the country, attending athletic events. In many ways, sports became synonymous with her childhood.

“Sports have shown me the importance of working as a team,” said McClellan. “Being able to coordinate many things at once, and knowing that through hard work, anything is attainable.”

McClellan began to play organized volleyball in seventh grade for her junior high school team. It gave her a “sense of belonging” she had never felt before. Combined with the time spent with her father at athletic functions, volleyball became something of a second home to the Greenville native.

Her passion for sports led her to UNCW where she spent her first two years on the Seahawks’ volleyball team and was a member of UNCW’s inaugural beach volleyball team. After her sophomore season, she decided to step away from the time-consuming rigor student-athletes face and to focus on the long-term goals she had for herself.

“I believe that if you are going to do something, always give it 110 percent,” said McClellan. “If you aren’t able to give that, then you should find something that you love that you are able to give that much to.”

In the past year, McClellan has found many things she’s put her heart into. She has not sworn off sports forever and interned with UNCW Athletics. True to her goals, she completed another internship with Hogue Hill, a real estate law firm located in downtown Wilmington.

McClellan intends to be even more active in the community before her graduation. A desire to help people has pushed her towards practicing law in the future. Even though her immediate future may not include Wilmington, that has not stopped her from plans to impact the Port City community.

“This year, I hope to get into law school and figure out where I will be heading after I graduate in May,” said McClellan. “My goals for my last year in Wilmington are to be more involved in the community outside of campus and work with girls that are looking for some guidance in what they want to do after they graduate high school.”

To dedicate years of a person’s life to something requires love and discipline, two things McClellan will always have in her relationship to volleyball. Even though she chose a different path, the sport will always mean something to her.

McClellan arrived at UNCW as a volleyball player but left it as an aspiring lawyer. Along the way, she’s found a community, friends to run the Wrightsville Beach Loop or enjoy a day at the beach with and a home that will help her succeed wherever her journey takes her.

Sports Editor Brandon Sans can be found on Twitter @bsans10. Any tips or suggestions should be forwarded via email to [email protected].