February 18, 2014

Gender Bias in the 21st Century

Would a person in our current time ever admit they were racist? What about homophobic? What about sexist? Unfortunately, ignorance and stupidity still surround us, some places more than others. 

This is my 9th year coaching track. Wow, time has really flown. My first two years, I lived right outside Birmingham in a fairly nice town and was assistant coach on a staff of 3. I coached boys and girls distance, and the staff dynamic was great. The head track coach was an older man that had been there forever. He was awesome- helped me get my feet wet, but still respected me enough to trust me with responsibilities. I felt valued, and I learned a ton. I also got along well with the other assistant coach, who had also been coaching for quite a few more years than me. (He, too, was respectful and helpful.)

After coaching 2 years there (and teaching there 4), I moved with my ex to a VERY small and rural town. It is then that this blog was born with the name "Mayberry Runner." The place was pitiful, just pitiful. I still struggle to find positive things that came out of my 6 years there. I will say that I learned a lot about myself, but I was also burned in a lot of different ways and changed forever. I taught there two years before there was an opening for track. (So far, none of the school systems that I worked in had XC.) The former Eagles' coach was in the Army Reserves and had to miss a lot. Therefore, he gave up his head position and stepped down to assistant. I took the head job, and BOY, was it a learning experience. We had SO many challenges with the kids just by the nature of their lives at home and problems that typically accompany poverty. (This school was Title 1 with a 92%, meaning 92% of families fell below the poverty income line.) All the while, the other coach was great to work with. He was gone a lot, but always respectful and easy to get along with. We worked together for 2 years, until the athletic director (my ex) was fired. I was then given a football coach as my partner coach. He absolutely knew NOTHING about running or track. Wowzers, this was rough, BUT he was also easy to work with, respectful, and we made it happen. I designed ALL the training plans and he facilitated. We shared a lot of responsibilities, and he worked really hard to learn about track and field. 

And then I moved, thank you, God. I moved to my new school, but didn't expect to be coaching right away. My new school is also a school of poverty, but a much lower percentage (only about 80% now). The program is small, many farm kids and kids from large families. NICE kids, hard working kids, but still poor. At the time, the old athletic director was fired and all new coaches were being hired. I was called after the season had already started, and the AD asked if I could start right away in the "head girls track" position. I worked with Coach O for a year. I coached all the distant runners and the jumpers. He was also easy to get along with, but didn't know anything about running, either. He and I made it work. We were very different in our coaching styles, but we were always respectful to each other and got along well. 

Then there's last year. I still work with this coach; so I'll do my best to not totally let it hang out. LOTS of things happened. Things that included him calling me names in front of our athletes, cussing in front of and at the athletes, chewing tobacco in front of them, breaking school procedures, and him just being a compete jerk. And it seemed the harder I tried, the more he pushed me out. We had an agreement that we would share the login code to the online site where teams register for most meets. That way I could enter my athletes in events, and he could do the same for his. (Instead of having to write it all down or type it out for coach to do.) Well, he would go back after the fact and change what I had done! One meet, he entered my best girl in EVERY EVENT! I had to go scratch her before the meet started. (And shame on the meet director/software for allowing one athlete to have that many entries.) Other inexcusable things include him taking a bus without formally signing it out, refusing to call roll on the bus, and calling me stupid for wanting to, and he even made a comment once that is borderline sexual harassment (to me). At the end of the year, I read the school board meeting minutes and saw that he had been fired from his teaching job. *I may or may not have done a happy dance. 

The day we left for the State XC Meet, the AD told me that he had been rehired, and we would be coaching track again together. UGH! So far this season, he refused to compromise or even discuss the meet schedule with me. He planned for practice to start before I can get there; so my distance and jumper athletes have to start their warmups without me. (I drive from the elem school and can't leave early.) He refuses to call me by my proper name. And the final straw for me was when he scheduled a TEAM MEETING and didn't even tell me. I had specifically asked him to let me know when he wanted to do it, and I would make sure to be there and prepared. I found out the day of the meeting from a parent. He shot down the Milk Mile and planned his own fundraiser without any discussion with me at all. The list goes on and on. 

I was DONE. The morning I found out about the team meeting, I immediately called the AD. Usually I try to be all polite and nice and stuff, but this time, it all came rolling out like a freight train. The AD said that I should email the coach and cc him on the email. Then he would speak to him about the email and about the way things have been going. So I did. I spent a lot of time trying to express how I felt without being overly emotional. I had two trustworthy people read over the email before I sent it to make sure it was to the point and professional. And I got no response. The AD followed up with me a few days later with a conversation that could be summed up by this quote from the AD:
"Coach C told me that he didn't understand why a woman would ever want to be a coach, and he just doesn't think it's right." 

And there you go. Redneck Alabama Bubba Football Coach in full force. What do you even say to that? The AD gave me a lot of advice, the best being to just shine while he sinks. Eventually, he will shoot himself in the foot. I'm just to grin and bare it (or is it "bear"? Our school mascot is bear...ha). Coach C has not spoken to me since the email, not one word. We split up our Piggly Wiggly bagging groceries duties; so we don't have to see each other. And a few days ago when I approached him about uniforms, he gave me a one word answer and walked off. I made copies of our meet schedule for the kids, but he refused to pass them out and just took them with him. Each day, I show up, go coach my athletes while he is on the other side coaching his. 

And that's what's up in my world. So very frustrating. It feels helpless and undeserving. I went to Orlando this past weekend for a math conference (Geek Alert!) and while I was there, I convinced myself that I was going to come back and quit track. I was going to tell the AD and Coach C to shove it where the sun doesn't shine and get the heck out of there. But then what would that do? Yes, my life would be more peaceful for the time being. If my time in Mayberry taught me anything, it's that adversity can make you stronger. I took the program there and really turned it into something. Nothing to something. While it goes unnoticed to many because we never won awards or championships, I know it made a difference to those kids. And that's what it's about. I don't work for Coach C or the AD or even the school. I work for the kids. Period. And that alone will keep me trudging through, silently praying that Coach C screws the pooch very soon. LOL. I also remember something that my running buddy, Brad told me last year, "Those distance kids need a constant. They need a coach to be there for them year round." Yes. Yes, they do. And while I'm no Coach of the Year, and I still have a TON to learn, I work hard. I care about them, and I truly have their best interests at heart. That's why I press on. 

Run Happy, friends! 


  1. Anonymous2/18/2014

    This is the most disgusting and heartbreaking thing I've read in a long time! I wish you didn't have to deal with Neanderthals - or that if you did, you would get the support you need and deserve from the AD.

    I think you should write a letter to the AD explaining why this other coach's attitude is toxic, and why he should not be allowed to wage surreptitious war on you, making your job more difficult and undermining your effectiveness. The AD does not sound like he is taking this seriously! Can you go above him to a higher level, documenting all your interactions?

    Hugs to you, babe. It sounds really tough. Yes, you are strong, and this will strengthen you further - but you should not have to deal with it.

  2. Sadly this stuff still happens. It's so frustrating, though. I feel like if I/we/women respond with anger or make a scene then the guy will just say, "See! Emotional women! Can't handle it!". Basically we're boxed in. So aggravating!
    However. I agree with the above poster. Your AD needs to take this seriously! I think he just doesn't want to get involved, but he needs to. He shouldn't have asked you to initiate the communication. He should have held a meeting with both of you instead. I would approach him again and ask him to provide you with a plan for resolving the conflict.

  3. this post brings up a lot of different emotions: frustration and disappointment that archaic issues like this still exist, that my friend has to deal with it, and that behavior in front of the athletes of both genders reinforces intolerance of differences....or does it? because of what you're doing, even though it is tough- you're saying 'NO' to the notion that a woman cannot coach, no to sexism, and showing these kids there is another way. Like Brad said, these kids don't need perfection,they need a role model.

    Keep leaning in, friend, and Know I'm supporting you and the Bears from TX! Way to stand up-regardless of the outcome.

  4. All I can say is that I am lucky where I coach... The 2 of us get on well and have worked together for 15 year!!!

  5. Wow. That is astounding. No one has any doubt that you have those kids interests at heart. The other coach sounds like...well..I can't type that online ;) Hang in there!!

  6. Uggghhhh... Man. How frustrating.

    I have 2 (very contradictory) things to say:

    1. I can't relate on the coaching side specifically, but I can relate on the professional side. The first time I had to interact with a sexist CEO who refused to work with me or take my advice and insisted on challenging my knowledge of the law and escalating everything to the male supervising partner, the partner said to me, very calmly, "I've been doing this a a LOOOONNNNG time. Guys like this? (People, really.) They aren't able to stick it out for the long hall. You keep your eye on the ball and just keep doing good work. I know you're good. All of your other clients and all of his employees know you're good. He'll destroy his own career in due time, and you'll still be here." I think his advice transcends professions -- if you stick it out and just do good work, you will eventually prevail over the assholes.

    2. If you decided to quit dealing with this inanity because too much is too much and you've got you and your growing family to think about at this moment, I think that would be a completely reasonable and rational thing to do. You will have many opportunities to help people in your life, and I have no doubt you will take advantage of most of them. Taking care of yourself is a completely acceptable and appropriate choice and choosing to do so, if it's what you want and/or need to do, sets a great example for others who may need to make the same choice at some point.