Basketball is the No. 2 participation sport for girls in the nation and in Pennsylvania, yet it’s difficult to find a female varsity head coach in York and Adams counties.
Only three women are expected to hold head coaching positions for the 22 YAIAA girls’ basketball teams this winter.
“It’s a little shocking,” said York Suburban head coach Jess Barley.
That number marks the YAIAA’s fewest number of female head coaches since the 2011-12 season, when just two women stood courtside.
Historically, basketball has been one of the biggest participation sports for girls. In Pennsylvania schools last year, only high school track and field had greater participation numbers among females (24,200) than high school basketball (21,330), according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Yet there is a disconnect when it comes to the number of female head coaches in the YAIAA.
“I think there’s a negative stereotype about female coaches, and having more women coaches helps prove they can be just as competent as men,” Spring Grove head girls’ basketball coach Holly Strait said.
The lack of women in head coaching positions should cause concern for parents and administrators, noted one expert of women in college sports.
“Young women see male role models in so much of life and very few female role models,” said Linda Jean Carpenter, who has studied women in sports for four decades. “Young men see male role models everywhere, whether it’s a senator, lawyer, doctor or coach. What they notice is, ‘This could be me.’
“Young women just aren’t getting that.”
And they aren’t getting that at the head-coaching level in York and Adams counties.
“It’s still a man’s world,” said State College High School athletic director Peg Pennepacker, who continues to have students tell her they didn’t know a woman could be an athletic director before they met her. “Just from a role-model standpoint, having a woman in a leadership position can positively affect young girls.
“When you look at the big picture, athletics help breaks down gender stereotypes.”
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Carpenter and Vivian Acosta have researched the study, “Women in Intercollegiate Sport,” for almost 40 years through Smith College and Brooklyn College. The two women have tracked the effects of Title IX, the federal legislation that forbids discrimination because of gender for any education program or activity that receives federal funding. Through their research, they’ve also highlighted how, even after Title IX was passed, women continue to struggle to make inroads in college athletics. For instance, in 1972, nine out of 10 college coaches in women’s sport were females. By 2014, that ratio had changed dramatically: Just four out of 10 coaches in women’s sports were female.
One of the issues, at least at the NCAA level, continues to be a lack of female administrators. Acosta and Carpenter found that male administrators tend to hire more male coaches. That’s also an issue in the YAIAA, with just one female athletic director serving in the league.Their study also highlighted the double standard in athletics, where men are readily hired to coach female athletic teams, but few women in the nation are even considered for head coaching jobs for male teams — especially jobs in high-profile sports like men’s basketball or football.
At the high school level, administrators in the York-Adams league have noted that they have struggled to attract interested candidates, including females and males, for coaching positions.
YAIAA Executive Director Chuck Abbott said while working as the athletic director at Susquehannock High School, he sometimes received just one application for coaching vacancies. On other occasions he received just two applicants.
Coaching high school sports is not as appealing as it once had been, Abbott said.
“I think you see it across the board, but most notably in basketball,” Abbott said. “Coaching basketball has become a year-round job, it’s just a continuous cycle — going round and round. It’s a lot of time to invest, and I think that leads to burnout. I think that there are parental issues that every coach needs to deal with, and there are somewhat unreal expectations.”
Just finding assistant coaches to fill out a coaching staff can be a daunting exercise.
“I think finding good coaches, male or female, is hard right now,” Barley said.
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The key to finding coaches, Pennepacker said, is putting in the extra work.
Pennepacker’s mission in hiring coaches remains the same: She wants to find the best coach — male or female. That was her goal in replacing successful girls’ basketball coach Bethany Irwin, who racked up more than 400 victories before retiring from coaching following the 2015-16 season. Finding a female head coach, however, typically means more than just reviewing applications, Pennepacker said.
“It’s kind of a catch 22. You try to find the best person for the job, but your best female candidates might not have the same experience because they can’t get their foot in the door (as a head coach),” Pennepacker said.
“As an AD, when you are involved in the hiring process, you really need to do your homework. … It’s so much easier to hire John Doe, who coaches AAU basketball. It takes real legwork. In a sense, you have to recruit in order to find the best person for the job.”
When State College named Chris Leazier its new head girls’ basketball coach in October, the school found a man who had experience coaching at multiple levels, including colleges, the NBA Development League and the Olympics.
Strait credits former Spring Grove athletic director Scott Govern, who now works at Hershey High School, because he “persistently” pursued her to fill a coaching vacancy at the junior varsity level. Ultimately that move paid off when Strait took over as the varsity head coach before last season.
“You have to pursue female (head-coaching) candidates,” Govern said. “It’s important to hire females, because they are such important role models for our girls.”
By failing to hire female head coaches, many teams in the YAIAA lack the connection Barley has worked to develop at York Suburban.
“There is something special about having a female in a leadership position leading other young females,” said Barley, who is in her fifth season as York Suburban’s head coach. “My situation is special because I’ve spent my entire life, since I was 6 years old, in the York Suburban basketball program, either playing or coaching at various levels. I can relate to the girls because I’ve gone through everything that they either have or will encounter. … I can share my own personal experiences as a female athlete to help them learn their own life lessons and discover how they can allow team sports to positively shape their own lives like it has mine.”
Kevin Bankos, York Catholic dean of students, athletic director and head girls’ basketball coach, wants to see a change.
He would prefer to have female coaches on the coaching staff of every York Catholic girls’ athletic team, he said. He has made that decision because he has seen the benefits of working with female coaches first-hand.
Like other coaches and administrators in the area, however, Bankos said he’s struggled to find interested coaches, females or males, for coaching vacancies.
He understands. Bankos estimates he’s coached 20 players who had all the skills needed to make great head coaches. But off the top of his head, he could name two players that went into coaching — including his daughter, Ashton Bankos, who has served as an assistant on the York Catholic coaching staff while she pursues a master’s degree.
“They hear horror stories,” Bankos said.
The players joke with him about all the film he needs to watch. Yet, Bankos said he’d like to see the interest in coaching increase because he’s seen the benefits from coaching at every level from third-graders to high school seniors.
“The first thing people should know about coaching is there are a whole lot more rewards than risks, and the second thing people need to realize is that it’s OK to start at a program that needs to be rebuilt,” said Bankos, who was on staff at York Catholic when the Irish went 0-23 in 2002-03.
The league and the students, however, are ultimately the ones who will suffer because of a lack of female coaches.
“I think it’s beneficial for the girls if there are females on the staff, both as assistants and head coaches,” said Bankos, who has coached the York Catholic girls’ basketball team to 11 consecutive District 3 championship games. “It’s important from an understanding side — obviously we think differently, men and women — and from an emotional side. There is a comfort level, too. Players can look to a woman, and they can relate to her.
“When things are going well, it doesn’t matter. But when things go sideways, it’s good to have someone who can look at the situation from a different viewpoint.”
A teenager might be reluctant to approach a head coach, but a teenager might reach out to an assistant coach, especially if there is a connection that goes beyond just athletics.
“There have been a lot of times when I thought things were going well, and a woman on my staff told me I needed to go and talk to one of my players,” Bankos said. “Next thing I know, I’m in an hour conversation I didn’t know that I needed to have until a female staff member pointed it out to me.”