Karen Barefoot speaks with shipbuilders in The Apprentice School gym on Thursday, March 23. Photo by Lexi Whitehead

Trailblazing Former Apprentice School Coach Shares Insight with Shipbuilders

Published March 29, 2023

Karen Barefoot has coached women’s basketball teams at Lenoir-Rhyne, Elon, Old Dominion and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. But it all started at Newport News Shipbuilding, where her roots run deep.

“This is home. It always has been. It made me who I am today,” Barefoot said standing outside The Apprentice School last week. A fifth-generation shipbuilder, Barefoot was hired fresh out of college in the 1990s as the first head coach for The Apprentice School’s upstart women’s basketball program – which was the first female sports program in the school’s history. She even coached the team to a national championship in 2001.

Last Thursday, Barefoot returned to NNS to share her insights on leadership and overcoming obstacles with a group composed primarily of leaders from the Columbia-Class Submarine Program. Barefoot’s talk included anecdotes from her time as a player and coach.

Brandi Smith, vice president of Columbia-Class Submarine Construction, said there are parallels between the startup of the women’s basketball program at The Apprentice School and the startup of the Columbia-class program.

“There are a lot of related lessons we can learn, along with some basic leadership skills. We talk about winning every day. We talk about learning every day. It’s very simple, and a lot of folks can relate to sports analogies,” she said.

Smith also said Barefoot’s message resonated with respect to the new generation of shipbuilders coming into the company.

“They have a ton of potential and a desire to go do, we’ve just got to point them in the right direction,” Smith said.

Barefoot was especially pleased to see some of the women she coached at The Apprentice School – who now work in the Columbia program – in attendance.

“My whole goal was to give them careers after basketball,” she said.