Santa Margarita High’s Grace Jackson is never too busy to help

Grace Jackson holds a sign reading in part: "Beach Volleyball & Baseball Support CASA Youth in Foster Care!"
Grace Jackson, a volleyball player at Santa Margarita High, held a clothing drive to help Kids for CASA.

At first, Grace Jackson didn’t really hear them.

Fresh out of practice, the Santa Margarita High football team had clambered into the stands, chowing down on slices of pizza while watching Jackson, their equipment manager, traverse the volleyball court.

Jackson was laser-focused on the match against Fullerton Rosary. But soon, her attention snapped to the crowd, the football guys banging their feet against the bleachers in a rhythmic chant:

“She’s my man-ager!”

For almost a year, the team had grown used to the 6-foot-1 junior working the football sidelines, a responsible figure who passed them water and game film. Now they were on her hardwood, off their turf. Jackson laughed at their chants and proceeded to play “out of her mind,” her mother, Lori, remembers.


“She’s not the most talkative outwardly, and so that was really cool when we watched her play volleyball, because she’d really get after it,” said Anthony Rouzier, head football coach at Santa Margarita. “She goes up there, she’s spiking it. You can see she’s in her flow and her comfort zone.”

Santa Margarita students stand in a row.
Members of the Santa Margarita High volleyball and baseball teams gathered Feb. 16 for a clothing drive to benefit Kids for CASA.
(Luca Evans / For The Times)

Volleyball is an escape for Jackson, an outlet separate from the usual demands of being Grace. In addition to playing for the Eagles’ indoor and newly instituted beach volleyball teams, she’s a co-founder of the school’s chapter of Kids for CASA, which helps provide resources for children in foster care; an international Baccalaureate student; and proud manager of the football team since October 2020.

On an early morning in mid-February, she went back and forth to help collect trash bags filled with clothes from a turnstile of cars in front of the school. Wanting to benefit CASA, Jackson had organized a clothing drive that employed her beach volleyball teammates and Santa Margarita’s baseball team to trade in Goodwill donations for gift cards that would be given to foster kids.

She yawned, squinting at the sun, balling her hands inside a blue Eagles sweater.

“I’m going day by day,” Jackson said.

Those days are long. In the fall, Jackson would shuttle from football duties to indoor volleyball practices and games during a season when she racked up a team-leading 2.3 kills per set. This spring, she’s getting home at 8 p.m. from beach and club volleyball practices to delve into an ever-growing pile of homework.

Watching her cut across the sand every afternoon, beach coach Macy Jerger said you’d never have an idea Jackson was balancing such a big itinerary on her plate.


“She’s a silent warrior,” Jerger said.

The same attitude endeared her to Rouzier and the football team. Jackson started helping out as a manager when her volleyball season was shut down in fall 2020. Once the nets came back up and she found herself overbooked, Jackson never wavered, going from volleyball practices to four-hour football practices.

“There was no question of her commitment,” Rouzier said.

Ward Jackson, Grace’s younger brother, played on the freshman football team last season and was with varsity for a few games. In one practice, he remembered, a freshman on the team complained about the water that was being served. Jackson barked at the player to go “fill it up himself,” asking him how he liked it.

“Everybody respected her,” Ward said, smiling. “She’d always put someone in their place if they were doing something stupid.”

Jackson has been doing that her entire life. She has three younger siblings, and at 8 years old — when her siblings were 6, 4 and 2 — she learned how to do laundry. Not long after, she learned to cook and bake. Now, she’s a constant in helping around the house, driving Ward to his practices or preparing dinner for the entire family.

Her eldest daughter is a “mother hen,” Lori said, her siblings going to Jackson for advice sometimes more often than their mom.


“I want to be a good role model to them,” Jackson said of her siblings, “because I know they look up to me and I want to make them proud.”

She’s a role model because she “does everything,” brother Ward said. The latest of that everything: playing beach volleyball after the CIF officially approved it as a sport in early February.

It’s a chance for Jackson to explore something new, a fresh side to a longtime passion. Jerger is happy she was interested in beach volleyball, and tries to channel the Jackson aggressiveness that the coach saw dominate indoor courts.

“We try to get that different Grace to come out,” Jerger said.

The football team came to know well that different Grace, as it became a tradition to venture down to the Santa Margarita gym after practice to watch Jackson on game days.

Perhaps before long, they’ll be stomping “she’s my manager” into the sand, too.