On any given weeknight during the spring or fall prep sports seasons, one can find Kelly Rhoden on the sidelines of a Nevada Union High School volleyball court.
She’s out there coaching, teaching and inspiring young athletes playing the sport they love — the sport she loves.
As a coach at NU, Rhoden has not limited herself to coaching one gender; she has been an on-again, off-again junior varsity and freshmen coach for both the boys and girls programs, serving where she is needed at the time, she said. When she first arrived at NU, Rhoden immediately got into coaching, assisting longtime varsity girls coach Bob Rogers and later assisting former varsity boys coach Tim Smith.
“They’re all kids,” Rhoden said. “I teach boys, and I teach girls. I see it as there’s a group of kids that love this sport, and I want to be there to take them through that — teach them and help them through the competition, through the wins and the losses.”
Last fall, Rhoden tackled her first season as the head coach of a Nevada Union varsity program, taking the reins of the girls volleyball squad, a post that traditionally has been held by men.
In fact, most sports at Nevada Union, Bear River and Forest Lake Christian high schools are coached by men and have been long before and even since Title IX was implemented in 1972.
There are 54 varsity sports teams among the three major high schools in western Nevada County. Just six of those teams are coached by women.
Nevada Union has four women head coaches. In addition to Rhoden, Lotty Hellested runs the boys water polo team; Angie Marino serves as a co-head coach for track and field and for the cross country teams alongside Sara Freitas. In total, men coach seven of the eight girls-only sports at Nevada Union.
Bear River offers 19 different sports teams at its South County campus with just one female head coach, Daryn Glasgow, who heads up the girls water polo and swim teams. In all, Bear River has men coaching six of the seven varsity women’s sports squads.
At Forest Lake Christian, a private school in South County, there also is just one female varsity head coach for 11 different teams. Lindsay Barham coaches varsity girls soccer, as well as the girls junior varsity basketball team.
And while the glaring disparity in gender equity is apparent to school athletic directors, coaches and school board members, they acknowledge there are no policy changes on the table geared to shift the trend, one that apparently is not unique with western Nevada County school sports.
“I’ve been coaching track for 14 years,” Marino said. “You go to a track meet, and it’s me and like five women among 35 guys. We have the coaches meeting before, and it looks like a football meeting.”
Bear River Athletic Director Duwaine Ganskie, who guided Bear River’s girls basketball program for many years and now serves as varsity boys head coach, said he’s aware of the issue but doesn’t know how to improve it, citing difficulty in finding qualified people to coach no matter their gender.
“I wish we had a huge pool out there of people that want to get involved,” he said. “But there’s really not.
“I don’t know the exact answer to that other than it’s a cultural issue, that a lot of times women have babies and start families, and it takes them out of the coaching pool. This is a tough thing to do on top of a career. I was lucky my wife did a lot of the stuff raising our kids, while I was coaching.”
Ganskie also said he doesn’t see many women applying for coaching positions when they do open.
“I’ve interviewed twice for the girls basketball job, and there weren’t any female applicants,” he said. “Girls soccer, same thing, no female applicant. It’s certainly not intentional. We’re not trying to have it that way. There’s just not a lot of females that get into coaching.”
Nevada Union Athletic Director Steve Pilcher expressed a similar experience as Ganskie.
“They are tough to find,” he said. “I try and look for them, especially for the girls sports. I think it’s good for girls to have a positive female influence, also locker room situations would be a lot easier, but it’s tough.
“I don’t have the answer. Whether it’s they don’t see themselves doing that when they get older, or maybe it’s job or family obligations … but guys have jobs and families, too.”
Rhoden said she understands the cultural aspect of the issue and acknowledged many women do choose to raise a family in lieu of coaching.
As a mother of two young girls, she said she’s fortunate that she has so many family members living locally to afford her the time necessary to be a coach.
“There’s been those years where I battle myself in that I wonder, ‘Am I doing enough for my own kids, or am I doing too much for other peoples’ kids,’” She said. “At the same time, I think it is important for my daughters to see me pushing forth in those leadership positions. I want that for them. There shouldn’t be boundaries or limits to what they want to do. And it’s been fun for my kids to see. It’s been fun for them to grow up in a gym.”
Gender inequity at the highest levels of prep sports not only exists in Nevada County but within the entire Sac-Joaquin Section, said Will DeBoard, the section’s director of communications.
“The section has quite a few female athletic directors, but when it comes to head coaches, the ratio leans heavily toward men,” DeBoard said. “Right now, there are so many schools just looking for someone with a pulse, let alone worry about gender.”
DeBoard did say there has been a slight trend in women head coaches taking over aquatic programs, something also seen in Nevada County with Hellested leading Nevada Union’s boys water polo team and Glasgow running the Bear River swim and girls water polo teams.
But it’s the more highly attended spectator sports, such as basketball, softball and volleyball, that have a lack of women leading the programs.
At Bear River and Forest Lake Christian, men run the girls basketball, volleyball and softball teams at the varsity level.
At Nevada Union, the same is true — with the exception being Rhoden, who took over the girls varsity volleyball team last fall.
Hints of progress?
Despite the disparity, schools are making some progress, Pilcher said.
“Right now is the most female head coaches I’ve seen since I’ve been here,” said Pilcher, who has been at Nevada Union since 1990 and has served as the athletic director for the past 12 years.
Nevada Joint Union High School District Board President Katy Schwarz said she was unaware of the problem.
“I don’t think that is something that we have looked at,” she said. “I’m not sure why that is or why we have less females than we do males. There could be a lot of different reasons, maybe they’re just not enough applying for the job. I don’t think it’s a discrimination thing or anything like that.
“I think finding someone that is qualified and finding someone that has the time becomes the issue.”
Whatever the reason for the lack of women leading varsity programs, it is something those women currently coaching would like to see change.
“To see a woman as a leader, not only in sports but in life is so important,” Barham said. “Girls see that and can translate it into the workplace.”
Nevada Union student-athlete Melanie O’Brien played volleyball for Rhoden this school year and for John McDaniel as a member of the basketball team. O’Brien said she doesn’t have a gender preference when it comes to her coach, as long as he or she is qualified.
O’Brien’s teammate on the basketball team, Kaylin Martin, said she would one day like to be a coach and thinks there will be an influx of female coaches in the future.
“In the future, that’s what I want to do,” Martin said. “I think that a lot of women do coach, just not in Nevada County.”
According to an NCAA-funded study published in 2005 called “CAGE: The Coaching and Gender Equity Project,” women served as head coaches of more than 90 percent of women’s collegiate teams in 1972, the year Title IX went into effect.
But while the number of women’s sports teams offered and athletes participating has grown exponentially since, the number of female coaches on the sidelines of those teams had dwindled to just 44.1 percent by 2004.
“It’s a hard one,” Rhoden said. “There’s a lot of women that I talk to and I know (who) would really enjoy coaching. The problem is you start having kids, and that changes things for women more-so than for men still. We are the ones carrying the kids, so there’s a time frame where you step away from it, and there’s also — what I often see is — once women have children, they tend to step away because their kids are taking that time, and that’s just life. I happen to be in a situation where I can balance both, but there are times where that’s very tough.”
Coaching at the high school level isn’t a lucrative position with coaching stipends typically amounting to $2,000 to $3,000 per season. The pay is not why someone decides to coach, Rhoden said.
“I do it because I love the kids,” she said.
“I do it because I love the sport. The excitement of it, the competitiveness of it, and I love the game of volleyball. For me, as a physical education teacher, I feel we should be coaching and I want to be involved and make that impact.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, call 530-477-4232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“I think it is important for my daughters to see me pushing forth in those leadership positions. I want that for them. There shouldn’t be boundaries or limits to what they want to do. And it’s been fun for my kids to see, it’s been fun for them to grow up in a gym.”
— Kelly Rhoden, Nevada Union volleyball coach