Sports

Coaching role reversal

Women coaching male sports have overcome obstacles

Mount Mercy men’s volleyball coach Mary Kay Van Oort cheers with her players before the second set of a match against Culver-Stockton in February. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Mount Mercy men’s volleyball coach Mary Kay Van Oort cheers with her players before the second set of a match against Culver-Stockton in February. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Sally Hart walked up to the coaches meeting before a soccer match and the officials looked to Hart’s assistant coach for information.

Kayla Kregel contacted a recruit and received a message back addressed to “sir.”

Hart and Kregel are on the margins as far as head coaches of male athletic teams go. Hart is the boys’ soccer coach at Washington (Iowa) High School and Kregel coaches track and cross country at Waldorf University.

Compared to the number of men present in women’s athletics, women coaches of male athletic teams are considered a rarity at the high school and collegiate levels.

However, according to Chris Cuellar, Iowa High School Athletic Association Communications Director, the sports with the most women coaches are skill-based, co-ed athletics such as swimming, cross country, track and soccer.

“From an athletic standpoint, women have every bit of knowledge on form, technique, skill and mind-set that men have,” Cuellar said.

Although women coaching male athletic programs is not the norm for several programs in high school and college, the women in this position embrace their role with confidence.

Few women, however, have experienced the pressure put upon them by the societal stigmas of a male dominant field.

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Mount Mercy University men’s volleyball coach Mary Kay Van Oort has 10 years of coaching experience under her belt at the NCAA Division I, community college, NAIA and high school levels.

In her recruiting process, she admits to touting her coaching resume earlier and more aggressively than she typically would to showcase her knowledge.

“When I am recruiting, it’s not in my nature to talk a lot about myself, but I feel the need to do so more with the young male athletes so they know that I know volleyball, I’ve been around it, and I can coach it,” Van Oort said.

Tami Lewton, Ankeny Centennial High School’s head boys’ tennis coach, experienced adversity when she was a younger and newly hired as the Dowling High School boys’ tennis coach.

“There was definitely a proving yourself movement,” Lewton said. “We also won state that year so success also breeds a little bit of respect.”

After her years at Dowling, Lewton stepped away from tennis to take a position as vice president in the buying office at Younkers.

When Lewton returned to tennis at Ankeny Centennial, she said she never felt intimidated as a woman coach due to her background in interacting with high executives in New York.

Despite being in the minority — and encountering the occasional sexist pushback — women who coach male sports teams do so with confidence and respectability.

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“You shouldn’t go in with fear. If you’re confident and you’re a coach, then go coach whoever wants to play your game,” said Sue Rink, head boys’ soccer coach of Hudson High School.

Rink has been coaching soccer since 1993 and started the Hudson program in 2000. Although she is well known in the area, she recalled a time she overheard an opponent say “good thing I don’t have a female coach.”

“They left with their tails between their legs after that game,” Rink said.

Kregel also has experienced inappropriate comments, yet she didn’t think twice about coaching men when she applied for the position.

Kregel did feel the harsh reality of being a woman in a men’s dominated field.

“When I first started, I think some male coaches who have been in the business for a while question young, new, female coaches and wonder if she’ll be able to do the job,” Kregel said.

Jamie Schollenbruch, assistant men’s volleyball coach at Dordt College in Sioux Center, also said she had no sense of hesitancy coming into her position with the men’s volleyball team.

However, when playing against opponents, Schollenbruch said she sometimes feels as if their politeness and overuse of the word “ma’am” is overcompensation because she is a female.

For Rink and other female coaches, knowing the game lies at the forefront of their coaching agendas.

“This goes for any coach; you have to know the game,” Rink said. “I see plenty of male coaches who don’t understand the game.”

Washington (Iowa) High School senior captain Anthony Torres admits the kids new to the program weren’t sure what to expect from Hart and her abilities.

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Torres and other teammates said in response, “Guys, just trust her and you’ll see.”

Normalizing women and trusting them in these positions is at the mercy of fellow coaches, student-athletes and the future generations of sports fans.

“We see men coach women all the time,” Hart said. “I don’t think it should be out of the norm the other way.”

However, it will take some time before women coaching the opposite sex becomes normalized in our society.

“I don’t totally understand what the holdup is for a lot of programs,” Cuellar said. “I think it’s just going to take some time.”

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