Wahconah basketball coach June Blake at last month's Coaches vs. Cancer Showcase. Blake is one of the few women in the county coaching girls' high school sports teams.
DALTON, Mass. — When the Wahconah Regional High School girls basketball team played at the Coaches vs. Cancer Showcase last month, it really stood out.
It was not for the team's play — though it did win its game that Saturday at Taconic High School. What set Wahconah apart was its coach.
While all 10 Berkshire County schools sent teams to the sixth annual event, only two — Wahconah and Lenox — sent varsity head coaches who were women.
And that is not unusual.
Today the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport marks its 27th annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day. More than four decades after Title IX changed the landscape of high school and collegiate athletics and opened doors to girls and women who want to play sports, the ranks of those who coach those teams remain largely dominated by men.
The reasons have less to do with any "glass ceiling" than with a relatively small pool of female applicants when head coaching jobs open up, according to several local women who break the mold and do lead teams, high school athletic departments or both.
But the result is the same. And while no one is questioning the aptitude of men — either in terms of wins and losses or mentoring — there is a feeling among women coaches that there is something to be said for having a woman's presence on the sideline.
"The girls I coach definitely get a benefit from having a female coach," said June Blake, the Wahconah girls basketball coach and varsity softball coach at Mount Greylock. "I've gone through the same situations as they have. I think I can offer them a little bit more because I've been through that as well. I think I can pass along more things."
Not every sport in the county shows the same gap between male and female coaches, and neither does every school. At Drury High School in North Adams, for example, both the softball and girls soccer teams are coached by women. And even when men do occupy the top spot in a program, they frequently have female assistant coaches by their side.
But the fact remains that there are schools where a girl can play a couple of different sports for four years and never have a female role model as her head coach.
How common is that nationally? It is tough to say. No good statistics are available at either the state or national level for high schools. But a 2006 study of college athletics found that just more than 42 percent of women's teams were led by a female head coach — down from 90 percent when Title IX was enacted.
The local colleges fare much better on that front.
At Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, four of the school's six women's teams are coached by women. At Williams, there are 15 women's varsity teams; 10 are coached by women, and the five that are not are led by men who are the head coaches of the men's and women's teams concurrently.
At the high school level, female head coaches are harder to find. This winter, iBerkshires.com talked about the issue with three of them: Blake, Drury athletic director and girls soccer coach Molly Meczywor and Mount Greylock athletic director and girls lacrosse coach Lindsey von Holtz.
QUESTION: Is there a value for girls in having a woman for a head coach and role model?
Von Holtz: "I believe that having female role models is incredibly important.
"There's always that outside component [to sports]. Male coaches are striving to help with it, but there's always the separate piece of watching another female be successful as an athlete or as a coach, especially for young girls who are into sports and do want to maybe be a coach someday or continue on in the sport someday."
Meczywor: "I would like to think the girls in my team or in my class see me as a role model.
"There are definitely things my girls might tell me that they wouldn't tell a male soccer coach. Sometimes I feel like I'm more of a counselor than a coach. I don't know if that's because I'm a female.
"I've never had that conversation with (track coach) Jim Buffoni or (basketball coach) John Franzoni, who coach females."
QUESTION: How much of a concern is it for you that there are not more women coaches in the area?
Blake: "Am I concerned about it? No. I understand it.
"I wish there were more female coaches. I don't know the statistics, but I do know there are only two in our league - head coaches. I think there's a big benefit from having female coaches.
"It's unfortunate becaues I think youth today and definitely female athletes would benefit from having a positive female role model on a day-to-day basis."
Meczywor: "I never really thought about it in a concerned way. ... I don't think [female coaches] are treated any differently — at least in the soccer community.
"And I would like to think [the girls] have enough positive female influences in their lives that they're exposed to."
Drury athletic director and girls soccer coach Molly Meczywor.
QUESTION: Why are there not more women in those positions?
Von Holtz: "You can't select a coach who doesn't apply."
"I don't know about other schools outside of Mount Greylock. We have not had many female applicants. Those we have had have been very qualified, so we've been able to select them."
"At the same time, since I've been here, there have not been many available jobs."
Meczywor: "It's hard if you want to have a family and be a coach. I'm really lucky to have a husband who understands sports is a passion of mine. But I also feel conflicted a lot. I'm at practice with my girls and I'll feel I should be at home with my own kids. But I also have a good support network."
Blake: "It goes back to career choices and family commitments. There are many more male applicants than women. I think when it comes to hiring women, if you're a qualified applicant, I think schools would benefit from hiring female coaches.
"I can't speak for myself because I don't have kids, but I do know it's much more difficult [for a mother]. It doesn't usually work out where you have a stay-at-home dad. ... I know some coaches who gave up coaching because they started families."
QUESTION: All things being equal, should gender factor into hiring for a coaching position?
Von Holtz: "We're not going to remove a coach just because he's male. When a position is open, do you think about that aspect? Yes. But you think about a lot of other things, too."
Meczywor: "We've only had a couple of positions open [since becoming A.D.], and both of them were boys'. To be honest, when I started coaching soccer at Drury, I was the boys JV coach. We want the person who is going to be best role model. ... I don't look at it as, 'If it's a girls position, do I want just females?'
"We want the person who is going to be best for the position.
"It's hard to find coaches, period, especially with everything that's going on in the sports world. Some people think it's not worth it. You've got to be certified, you've to take courses. It's a lot of work to be a coach. It's not easy."
QUESTION: Is there a chance that we'll see the numbers change in the near future?
Von Holtz: "I think we will see more female coaches as time continues."
"I've only been in this area for four or five years. I can tell you that on the [athletic director] side, when I came here I was the only female in [Berkshire County], and currently there are four."