For Jennifer Leedham, the coming weeks should be all about planning. Planning for next season, planning what competitions she should be attending to cast her eye over the potential new recruits.

But for Ellesmere Port native Leedham, the next month will be filled with anxiety and worry, with her very future in the country she has adopted as her home thrown into doubt.

Head coach of the women's basketball programme at NCAA Division II school Franklin Pierce, in Rindge, New Hampshire, Leedham has made the progression from student to teacher in her 10 years in America. She arrived in 2005 at the Ravens having won a much-coveted scholarship and was followed by her sister, Great Britain international Johannah, to Rindge in 2006.

As a player she helped, along with Johannah, win the 2009 NCAA Division II championship game and was earmarked for a role in coaching by the school's athletic director Bruce Kirsch.

Big impression

Three years as an assistant saw her progress into the role of head coach, one she has held for four years. Her work with the Ravens has seen her lauded as one of women's basketball's brightest young coaches. A Brit making her way stateside and making a big impression.

But now Leedham is left facing the very bleak prospect of returning to England and having to rebuild her career from scratch after her H-1B non-immigrant visa reached its end.

That particular visa, which last for six years, allows employers to hire staff from overseas to fill speciality occupations. Leedham has since had an application for a green card refused and her future in America now depends on approval of an O-1 visa, the same kind of visa handed to elite sports stars plying their trade professionally on foreign soil.

Leedham has tried to maintain a positive outlook throughout her tribulations but admits that she may have to face up to the prospect of leaving something she helped build and leaving what has become her home if a decision goes against her in the next month.

Jennifer Leedham in action during her Franklin Pierce playing days
Jennifer Leedham in action during her Franklin Pierce playing days

"I was fine during the season as I was able to put my worry and stresses into basketball, but now the season is finished I'm just left with this nervous worry that I'm going to have to leave it all behind," said Leedham.


"It's so stressful. This is my home now and coaching the girls at Franklin Pierce has been my job for about five years. I love what I do and the people who I work for want to keep me in employment and value the work I do here. But that might not be enough.

"I try to be hopeful but I really don't know if I have any cause to be. It sounds bad me saying that I don't want to come back to the UK but it's purely down to the fact that I have built my life here since going to college. It's where I live and where I have the opportunity to do what I do. There just wouldn't be the same opportunities for me in the UK.

"But immigration has been a major topic over here in the past few years and they a scrutinising more than ever I suppose. The way they think is that why should a British girl get a job which an American could do? What makes her so special? Maybe if it was field hockey or soccer then the outcome would be different as they as sports more closely aligned with Britain, but basketball is America's game."

Leedham has support in her corner, though, in the shape of two of women's basketball's most respected voices.

Geno Auriemma, head coach of the women's programme at the University of Connecticut (UCONN), himself a foreign born coach who became an American citizen in 1994, and Bentley University head coach Barbara Stevens have both backed Leedham and written letters on her behalf.

UCONN women's coach Geno Auriemma is backing Jennifer Leedham
UCONN women's coach Geno Auriemma is backing Jennifer Leedham

"They are two of the winningest coaches in women's basketball and it's great to have their backing," said Leedham.


"Everyone I speak to can't believe the whole situation. To know people are supporting me and looking out for me throughout this is great, I just don't know what the future will hold for me, though. My life is on hold."

And what of following the path of Auriemma and becoming and American citizen? If it meant keeping her job, Leedham is all for it.

"I wouldn't want people to think that I'm turning my back on Britain or anything like that, it's just that basketball is my life," she said.

"I wake up, coach kids, hand girls scholarships and watch and teach basketball, it's my everything. I would do whatever it takes to be able to keep what I have, I've worked hard to get where I am and I just hope that whoever makes these decisions sees that."