More coaching role models sought for girls in sports
It was like any other pregame meeting.
Yet when Lenox girls basketball coach Nicole Patella met her counterpart from Wahconah, June Blake, last week, the two shared something special: The duo are the only two women to currently lead varsity basketball programs in Berkshire County.
"What I said to June was we're like the underdogs, we're the minority," Patella said. "Sometimes girls can react differently to men coaches. I think a woman coach is beneficial. We both played. We've been in the situation before."
As the country celebrates National Girls and Women in Sports Day today, the ranks of female coaches in Berkshire County are thin. About 19 percent of varsity coaches in all sports are female, and girls basketball has just the two.
Drury athletic director Molly Meczywor coaches girls soccer at the school and is one of three female ADs in the county along with Lindsey von Holtz at neighboring Mount Greylock and Joan Schultz at Lenox. Meczywor said at Drury one of the problems for women -- or anyone -- to break into a varsity position is the lack of turnover. Many of the Blue Devils' coaches seem like they've been there forever.
Ron Wojcik, who went from coaching boys to directing the Hoosac Valley girls said he's not sure why there's so few female coaches. Even in the Pioneer Valley, he said many of the coaches he sees are men.
One key for Wojcik and the Hurricanes' success has been female assistants. Wojcik relies on both Stefanie Curry and Megan Vaughn to talk with his players.
"They can talk to girls individually on a personal level, and they're just picking up on a lot of things I may not be," Wojcik said. "I can't say enough about my assistants. I think from the female perspective, if you're a guy coach in a women's program, it's huge to have at least one female on your staff."
Both Meczywor and Patella agree strong female role models are important for girls young and old. Meczywor can trace the start of her career to a female role model herself. She was a young teacher fresh out of Siena College when Amy Meehan, now the principal at Drury, asked Meczywor to be her junior varsity basketball coach.
"I saw Amy do it: she had kids and was married and she was great at it," Meczywor said. "Had Amy not been there, I wonder if my life would've been different. ...
"As a beginning teacher, you're stuck in that role of ‘Oh my god what do I do.' It seemed like Amy was always there to help. From where I am in my career, I owe it all to Amy. That's how I ended up coaching."
Meehan, who has two children playing sports at Drury, said having strong female leaders is important across education, not just in athletics. The former Drury coach said coaching basketball can be tough on families, though, often sucking up six days a week. Seeing Meehan balance both being a mom and a coach had an impact on Meczywor. She said that juggling act is the toughest part for her now as she's pushed and pulled in different directions.
Patella has three children -- including one in high school -- and while she said her winters aren't easy, it's all worth it.
"I would encourage it by saying they can be a great role model for these young athletes coming up," Patella said. "It's possible to juggle your children and your job and managing a team. It's hard, but it's doable. ...
"You're leaving a lasting impression on a young woman. Hopefully they'll try and be successful in their life by working hard and being dedicated to a team. If a woman can influence that, I think it's really important in a young woman's life."
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