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The Grass Ceiling

January 29, 2015

Besides swimming and track and field, women coaches are not prevalent in high school sports. IN Close takes a look why there are so few women coaches and the pressures they face trying to break through the grass ceiling.

Danielle Gleit: Make sure those hands are flat on top of each other and arms are straight.

Joe Furia: Her team calls her coach, surprising? It might be when you see the athletes who make up Danielle Gleit’s Ballard High School swim team. That's right, Danielle coaches the boys.

Danielle Gleit, Coach of Ballard High School's men swim team.

Gleit: I would say that I'm an anomaly, a girl coaching a guy’s team; I mean clearly doing this interview there is still work to be done.

Furia: Danielle admits, she's heard the, "You coach the boys?" comment a few times, even from those closest to her.

Gleit: Yeah actually my own father made that comment. I don't know if it was more of a clarifying question less so as a, "You're coaching the boys?" but I just said yes and went with it.

Furia: It's not uncommon to see men coaching girl's teams at the high school and college level. Softball, soccer, basketball, men are often in charge. But it is rare to see the reverse: Women coaching young men. So rare in some sports when it does happen it makes national headlines.

As a woman coaching a men's team, Gleit feels like she is an anomaly.

Natalie Randolph spent four years as the varsity football head coach at Coolidge High School in Washington D.C. before resigning in 2013 and Brittney Garner took over as head coach of the Picket County High School football team in Tennessee last fall. But it doesn't happen often, and it isn't just football. Shelly Dearden has won New Jersey State high school championships in girls’ soccer, girls’ basketball, and boys’ basketball. In fact, she was the state boys’ basketball coach of the year. Yet, despite enormous respect, people still don't realize she is the coach and mistake her for the team trainer.

Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, Assistant Professor at the University of Washington's center for Leadership in Athletics.

Dr. Jennifer Hoffman: And as we have invested in our women to be athletes, we need to continue that investment in helping them to see that pathway to coaching and help them to see that the skills they already have are going to help them succeed as coaches.

Furia: Dr. Jennifer Hoffman, an assistant professor at the University of Washington's center for Leadership in Athletics, says she not only sees a shortage of women coaching boys, but a shortage of women coaching period. Among the reasons -

Hoffman: Low status positions at the high school level, low pay, poor mobility or ascent through the coaching rank for women at the high school level, we also see high burnout and disproportionate family responsibilities at home that really keep women out of the coaching ranks.

Furia: Another challenge, according to Dr. Hoffman, can be seen in a recent nationally study that says 76% of all high school principals are men and 85% of athletic directors are men. At those same schools, only 50% of girl’s teams were being coached by a head coach who was a woman.

Jen Mueller understands the tricky road women coaches are trying to navigate. Many know Jen as the sideling voice of the Seattle Seahawks and the postgame face of the Seattle Mariners. But Jen also spent several years as a high school football referee in Texas and in Washington. At her very first officials meeting, there were 150 men, and her.

Jen Mueller, Sideline Reporter for the Seattle Seahawks, was a high school football referee for several years.

Jen Mueller: You walk into the room and you see all these men and you can just see the little thought bubbles that are popping up over their head. Some of them are the age of my grandparents and they look like they are going to be very nice and there are others that are thinking, "What the heck is she doing in here."

Furia: Jen wasn't looking to blaze trails. She knew she knew she wanted to be a sideline reporter and though officiating would help her better understand the game. She said that most people appreciated her work on the field, most, but not all.

Mueller: When you would go to work games when I was in college, you had to sign in on a sheet. You'd get to the school; there was a gentleman you would sign in with, that's how you got paid. There was this one school I would go to numerous times in the course of a week and that gentleman gave me a hard time every single time I showed up. I was told that, "Women don't belong in football, they don't belong on a football field," and that I should just, "Go back to the kitchen where I belong."

Mueller officiating a high school football game.

Furia: "That kind of stereotyping," Dr. Hoffman says, "Is a reminder that as far as we have come in the four decades since Title 9 was established, there is still much work to be done. Particularly when it comes to encouraging qualified women to jump into the coaching game."

Hoffman: It's a difficult path to convince a young woman coming out of a highly completive athletic program with experience to come into an environment where she is going to put in long hours, potential for burnout, and discrimination she has never experienced before when she can go into other areas and other segments of the workforce where she is going to have more opportunity, especially opportunity to ascend through the ranks.

Furia: Swimming and Track and Field are two high school sports where it is more likely to find women coaching boys’ teams. As one of those women, Danielle Gleit realizes there may be a few aspiring female coaches out there who may look to her as a role model. That's a role she takes seriously.

Gleit: Women are going to watch this and they are going to see that this young women is coaching an entire boys team and she got hired two years in a row. They didn't see it as a failure, so I think that's really important. I think that if one female coach of a boys team can get another female coach on board or can find them an in and they love the sport and want to do it, that's how it is going to grow.



Made possible in part by

Joe Furia

Joe Furia is an Emmy award-winning journalist who spent more than 20 years in television news, many of those in Seattle covering some of the Northwest’s biggest stories. From WTO and the Nisqually earthquake to major snowstorms and the Seahawks first trip to the Super Bowl, Joe understands the stories that are important to the people of the Northwest. A graduate of the University of Florida, Joe began his television career in Savannah, Georgia. He also worked in Columbus, Mississippi and Albuquerque, New Mexico before moving to Seattle. In addition to an extensive television background, Joe also worked at the Washington Health Foundation as that non-profit organization’s Director of Communications and Technology.

More stories by Joe Furia

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