It usually serves as the concession area during sporting events in the Metamora High School gymnasium.
But on one September evening, the space served as location for a Morrow family dinner for Quinn, Brianna and their three children. That night was an open gym for the Metamora girls basketball team. Brianna is the head coach of the program, Quinn is on her staff. Where they are, their children will be.
“We say our program is a family atmosphere, and it definitely is,” Brianna said. “And we’ve been lucky that we have an administration that supports that. It’s not traditional, but it’s our chaotic mess.”
That mess may be their norm, but it isn’t the norm in coaching. That’s mainly because, 45 years after the passage of Title IX, females in coaching are still very much a rarity at the high school and collegiate levels.
More than 60 percent of college women’s teams are coached by males, with a breakdown of 39 percent female at the Division I level; 35 percent at D-II; and 44 percent at D-III, according to ESPN.com.
Numbers in the Journal Star coverage area for high school sports come very close to mirroring those national collegiate numbers. There are 397 girls sports with filled coaching positions at area high schools. Of those, 141 — or 35.5 percent — are held by a female. That number ticks up a bit for softball, with 20 of 50 (40 percent) positions filled by females.
But in basketball, the sport arguably the most popular among high school girls, those numbers are considerably lower. Only 13 of 58 positions (22.4 percent) are filled by females.
The basketball numbers actually have improved since last season, thanks in part to female assistants taking over programs from previous male head coaches at Limestone and Canton.
According to the New York Times, when Title IX was enacted in 1972, females were head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s college teams.
But the fact that those numbers have gone dramatically in the other direction may not be an entirely bad thing.
Many female basketball coaches, for example, believe that the amount of male coaches in women’s sports shows how much the game has evolved.
“I know people, with Title IX, expected it to change more,” Illinois Central College women’s basketball coach Karrie Redeker said. “For college, I believe, the pay has gotten a lot better and it’s something that men have been able to go into and make enough money to support a family.”
Morton High School’s Bob Becker said he had never even seen an entire high school girls basketball game until he became coach. Now, after 18 seasons, 415 victories and the Class 3A state championship the last three seasons, he is synonymous with girls basketball success.
Also, men can serve as important mentors. New Limestone girls basketball coach Leah (Kassing) Zeitler spent three seasons as an assistant to veteran Kevin Metzger.
“I learned a ton from Kevin,” Zeitler said. “He knows the inside and outs of the game. Overall, the way he plans and organizes. He knows how to set goals and achieve those. He knew my ultimate goal was to be a head coach.”
WHY AREN’T MORE FEMALES COACHING?
There are likely many reasons for this, and none seems to be more important than another.
One could be young girls aren’t seeing themselves as coaches down the road because they don’t see enough women doing it now that they can emulate.
“I think a lot of girls just aren’t around female coaches enough to want to do it,” said Jonelle McCloud, facility manager at Proctor Recreation Center and former high school and college basketball star player and coach.
Some young female athletes may have not been encouraged to think about going into coaching.
“I sure hope coaches (are encouraging females to go into coaching),” Bradley women’s basketball coach Andrea Gorski said. “There are certain players you know will make a great coach. They are a student of the game. They know how to get along and communicate with different types of people. I certainly hope at the high school level, the coaches are encouraging those young females to give coaching a shot, because I do think coaching is something you fall in love with. For high school coaches to nudge young women into coaching is a great thing.”
Said Limestone's Zeitler: “I can go back now and look at kids who would make great coaches. But whether I told them that or not, I highly doubt. I see it both ways, both genders (not) doing it. I would love it to change. Even now, thinking about kids I’ve had at high school level, I can see some who would make a great coach. It’s something I should tell them.”
That point guard on the boys basketball team or catcher on the baseball team may be looked at as coaching material. But it’s not clear if the girls point guard or the softball catcher is thought of in the same way.
“For somebody to recognize a female player to make it to the collegiate level to play, you see that pretty regularly” Pekin girls basketball coach Becky Fulkerson said. “But for that kid to go and coach, you don’t hear that very often.”
Dunlap girls basketball coach Heather Cassady is one such player turned coach. She played at Dunlap before a career at Indiana.
“When kids have that passion, you can usually tell,” Cassady said.” A lot of times they don’t know what to expect. I’ve sat a couple girls down and let them know what your day-to-day would be. I should do it more often. I wish there were more because I think there is a different perspective from females. The more women you see in leadership roles, the more that young girls can look up to that and reach higher.”
Said Metamora's Morrow: “I’ve coached players that when I watch them, I go, 'You need to be a coach.' I think they just kind of need to be pushed. A lot, too, is that with boys, how many times is that quarterback, his dad is the head coach or involved in some way? Whereas with girls, it’s not very often that mom is your coach. You don’t see as many females and you don’t have those role models.”
Other factors could be determining a young woman's career choices, too.
“Maybe they don’t see as many females in that position,” said ICC's Redeker, who is one of only two female coaches in her eight-team junior college region. “But I think it’s more the time that it takes. The struggle with being a wife and a mother. Most of the coaches are also teaching. It’s just a lot.”
Said Pekin's Fulkerson: "You just don’t find many women that want to coach, with the hours, especially the head coach. With all the administrative stuff you have to do in coaching, it’s so time-consuming. It takes away from your family, big time. There have been a lot of nights where a lot of my work hasn’t gotten done until after my kids are in bed.
“I’ve had a lot of turnover for my freshman coach. Every year, I’d ask who the new teachers were. Quite a few were new moms and they didn’t want to do that. I think they have a new family and they don’t want to lose that time.”
That dilemma, in fact, might transcend coaching and be true throughout the academic profession.
“I think teachers are becoming harder and harder to find, and I think coaches are becoming harder and harder to find,” Limestone superintendent Dr. Allan Gresham said. “There was a time we’d post a math job and would get 30 to 35 applicants. We posted one the summer before and got five applicants. If there’s less and less supply of teachers, coaching would follow hand in hand with that.”
Gresham hired a new girls basketball coach in the spring. Among 25 applicants, he believes there were only three females.
Gresham said he doesn’t approach an interview for the classroom or bench any different.
“No, because I think a quality teacher can coach and a quality coach can teach,” he said. “There is no preconceived notion. One of the positives of a female coaching female athletes is they can relate a little bit better. But, other than that, I don’t think there’s a whole lot. We go into it looking for a quality coach. And we didn’t go into it saying, if we have two quality candidates that we feel are the same and one’s a female and one’s a male, we wouldn’t say being a female or male tips the scale. We’d look at it just like it was two males or two females, we’d look at characteristics and skills that they bring to the table.”
DEVELOPMENT FOR THE FUTURE
Morton's Becker wants to groom his players for big things, whether it’s coaching or something else.
“At our summer camps, the kids are coaches,” he said. “We put them in a position to coach the little eyes that are on them. Our players are put in a position to get experience at it.
“I’ve had players that I think would make good coaches. But I think more than that, and more than basketball, we’re trying to mold leaders and try to help them develop leadership qualities. And from there, to do anything in their mind they want to do. I want them to come out of the program, thinking they can become anything they want to be. If it’s a coach, great. If it’s a doctor, nurse or teacher, great, as long as they know they can become anything they want to be.”
Said Limestone's Zeitler, who played at Bradley: “I think it comes down to relationships we build and influence we have on kids. I had coaches who had such a huge influence on my life, I wanted to give that back to kids.”
There can be several ways to have that influence and give back. Two of Becker’s former players are doing that now.
Jacey Wharram is an elementary education major at Illinois State University. To get an idea of whether she wants to coach, Wharram is coaching fourth- and fifth-grade volleyball at Normal Parks and Recreation.
“I love sports,” Wharram said. “It’s been a big part of my life and helped shape my life and I wanted to spread that to others.”
Brooke Bisping, two-time Journal Star Player of the Year who played at Bradley, is on Becker’s staff but doesn’t aspire to be a head coach, mainly because of her job as a registered dietician at Hy-Vee in Peoria.
“I love what I do and love the role I have of helping to mold strong women,” she said.
Bisping has found her own niche, which has allowed her to be around the sport and help young girls learn basketball. She teaches the sport in individualized training sessions. It started with a player she coached in a summer league wanting some more instruction.
“In high school, I played shooting guard, then moved to the post and played point guard, and played multiple positions in college,” Bisping said. “So I’m able to teach positions one through five. It’s very individualized training. I love developing their skill set.”
University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma raised a lot of eyebrows during the NCAA tournament last spring when he said not as many women want to coach. Instead, they choose a “normal life.” His daughter took to Twitter to ask him to "WALK IT BACK."
But was Auriemma that far off? Maybe a better way to put it is that priorities change.
“I think it affects females when they get serious with someone, moreso than with guys,” Redeker said. “I hear more of our female athletes say they can’t wait to be a mom or have a family. I don’t hear too many of our guys say that.”
McCloud was on the staff of three different Division I women’s programs over 10 years. It was at Florida State that she met her husband, Daniel. They got married in 1996 and had the first of two children in 1998.
“I clearly remember this,” said McCloud, who founded and coaches the J.E.M.S. girls AAU program. “I’m on the road traveling, and my husband said, 'Jonae took her first steps.' I want to be there for that, and I’m on the road. I think because you carry that baby for that long, it’s important to see them grow up.”
Priorities can change.
“It’s not a bad thing, you want to be around your kids growing up,” McCloud said. “I’m not saying that men don’t want to, but I think it’s a little more personal when you’ve been with this child, carried this child for nine months. They are a part of you.”
Stacey Seals was the head girls basketball coach at Limestone for four seasons and was on staff from 2001-2007. During that time, she had the second and third of her four children.
“It was when I was rocking my third child, Shae, after a game that I knew I needed to give up my dream and focus more on my family,” Seals said. “As I was rocking him, I was running through everything about the game in my head and it was like a light bulb went off and I realized that even on my limited time at home all I could think about was basketball, and that wasn’t fair to my family.”
Former Bradley basketball player Rachel (Merriman) Lucas coached both boys and girls junior varsity soccer and girls junior varsity basketball at Richwoods.
With children ages 4 and 7½ months, she is not coaching anything this year.
“I will miss it,” she said. “However, we enjoy going to sporting events as a family, so I will get my fix in that way. I agree that my priorities have changed. Before my children, I can honestly say that sports were my life. And now my children are my life.”
Zeitler got the Limestone job in the spring and later found out she and Jordan, her husband of three years, are expecting their first child.
“I didn’t start adding it up until I got an estimated due date,” she said. “I started talking to coaches. My varsity assistant will take over for a week or two. It will be a challenge, but we’ll figure it out as we go. It helps that I have a good coaching staff to lean on. There’s about a week off in that time so I don’t think I’ll miss a whole lot (of games).”
SUPPORT SYSTEM A MUST
Morrow has her husband on her staff. Fulkerson has her father. And Cassady, who doesn’t work in the Dunlap school building, has her brother-in-law, who does. McCloud’s husband maintains a very active social media network for the AAU program.
“We’ve been lucky,” Morrow said. “At no point did anyone in my family or his family say, 'You guys, you probably need to get out of this; it’s about time for you guys to be done.' They’ve always just said, 'Do you need me to come help?'”
Fulkerson’s daughters play at the grade-school level and are old enough now to help at practice.
“My two have kind of grown up in the gym a little bit,” she said. “Life situations probably have had them involved a little more than they wanted to, but my team has been very supportive of them being there. My kids look at the players like bigger sisters. I think my team treats my kids like little sisters and part of the team. It’s genuine kindness from the kids. They welcome them and talk to them. It’s a necessity when they are there.”
“When I first started coaching on the high school level, I had two small kids,” BU's Gorski said. “And I think there’s also some guilt associated with raising children. I remember feeling that this is a very time-demanding job, but to me it is worth it. To have your kids grow up in the gym, which I know a lot of coaches do, you’ve got to really, really love it to make it with little kids in this profession.”
This is where some women have experienced a double standard. It’s cute to see the children of a male coach at practice. But a woman may be accused of either short-changing her kids or her players.
“I think that mindset has changed,” Gorski said. “There’s always going to be stereotypes. Honestly, the way I looked at it, (being in) the gym and around young athletes is a great way to raise your kids. My daughter (22 now) had great role models, growing up, whether it was a high school team I was coaching or college team I was coaching.”
Said Morton's Becker: “I would have my kids come around. There were times they’d be around those “babysitter” role models and everyone thought it was fun and cute. But that would really be a challenge to have to bring an infant or toddler to practice. Not that you couldn’t overcome them, but I can really see where that would be a challenge to have to plan for that and arrange that.”
The changes can happen at any level.
“It happens in the college level, it happens in high school level,” Cassady said. “Just different priorities change. They’re ready to have families and have kids. It can be done. But you have to have a support system. You have to surround yourself with people you feel comfortable with because coaching is not easy. And a lot of times that support is not an option for females.
“I wish there were more, because I think there is a different perspective from females. The more women you see in leadership roles, the more that young girls can look up to that and reach higher.”
David Allen can be reached at 686-3214 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpudPJS.