By Rory Sharrock
Being a head coach on the high school level is no easy job. It's a demanding position that requires an everlasting amount of patience as one deals with the fickle minds of student-athletes, questionable calls from officials and over zealous parents.
Here in the Southern Crescent, coaches wear several hats while serving as the face of their teams. Fair or foul, they're the shining spot when the team wins and the point of reference in defeat. However, most importantly, they instill discipline, guidance and a hard-work ethic for their players as they navigate through their four-year stint leading up to graduation.
The concept of team unity is always described as a family and the coach, whether man or woman, is like a second parent, or in some cases, the primary adult in the lives of the students on their roster.
While working as a caretaker for their surrogate children is already a challenging job, after the whistle blows, some coaches return home to design a winning game plan for their biological offspring.
This weekend, the nation takes time out to recognize and honor all the mothers who thanklessly manage the household like an efficient offense and protect our best interests like a goalkeeper during a shootout.
Although every mother is worthy of praise, not to be lost in the celebration are the women who juggle the demands of tending to their personal family with the rigors of coaching high school athletics.
"The time away from your children is the most difficult part about being a mom and a coach," said Riverdale High School ninth-grade girls head basketball coach Candence Jackson. "Your games run at night and you get home real late, but you still have to check homework and make sure everything is ready for the next day."
Time management is a critical element for coaching mothers during their in-game strategies and these skills carry over to their home situations too.
Because of their unpredictable schedule, they're sometimes forced to bring the kids along to their games.
However, in the case of sports such as volleyball, basketball or soccer, which often feature a doubleheader, the open window between games gives these mothers the opportunity to spend time with their children and assist them with their studies.
Nevertheless, nothing can underestimate the importance of having the unconditional support of other family members to pick up the slack when needed to help keep things in order.
"I have a very supportive family and it's not so much the pressure they put on me, it's the pressure I put on myself, because I want to be the best coach I can be. I also want to be there for my three sons and husband," said Eagle's Landing Christian Academy volleyball coach Theresa Tankersley.
Among their many talents, all mothers are blessed with a natural instinct to be nurturing and loving, however, when the game is on, all those friendly gestures are tossed aside as these women's competitive juices bubble over in pursuit of victory.
"I'm very competitive and one day I got out there on the court and showed them what I expect from them," said Forest Park ninth-grade basketball and varsity track head coach Michelle Eady. "They saw me playing with heart and wanting to win. Winning isn't everything, so I do a lot of encouraging. You have to show them. Telling them is one thing, but when you actually show them, it makes a big difference."
While these sizzling competitive flames can be felt across the board in every sport, here in the Southern Crescent, the coaching ranks in high school athletics is a male-dominated arena. Several girls teams such as volleyball, softball, soccer and basketball are led by males calling the plays from the sidelines.
Currently, there are only eight female head coaches in Henry and nine in Clayton County, not including cheerleading.
Of this number, two women coach multiple sports at their school, specifically Dutchtown and Stockbridge, where one person coaches the volleyball as well as the girls basketball teams. Although the men do an excellent job guiding their female players, the gender disparity in terms of coaching has not gone unnoticed by these athletic administrators.
"It makes you wonder why there aren't many female coaches. These girls need a female role model that is a mom and who can multi-task," said Union Grove soccer head coach Jane Cooper.
"I don't want to say anything against any male coaches because I have two males who coach with me, and they do a good job. But I do think it's important to have a female coach somewhere in the program, which is why I got into soccer to begin with."
All four of these mothers, like the many across the world, put forth a championship effort performing on their job and at home. Their numbers speak for themselves and their players are better off for having them in their lives.
The Union Grove Lady Wolverines soccer team finished 14-5-2 and undefeated with a Region 2-AAAAA title at 7-0. Cooper's girls advanced to the Class AAAAA state semifinals but lost to Parkview.
At ELCA, Coach Tankersley led the Lady Chargers to a 22-22 mark and 5-2 in league play. ELCA also placed in the Class A/AA state volleyball playoffs but fell in the second round to Wesleyan.
On the hardwood, Jackson's freshman team from Riverdale ended the season at 13-5 with an appearance in the semifinals of the Clayton County Basketball Tournament but were defeated by Forest Park and fellow coaching mother Eady.
After beating Riverdale, Eady and her girls lost to Mundy's Mill in the championship game to finish at 14-6.
Coincidentally, both Cooper and Tankersley have decided to step down at the conclusion of the school year.