University of Maine head coach Amy Vachon talks to her players during a time-out in the first quarter of a Nov. 15, 2018 game against Duke at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor. Morning Sentinel file photo

What you heard in Amy Vachon’s voice is surprise. Honest, genuine surprise.

The University of Maine women’s basketball coach and an Augusta native, Vachon was a guest on The Coaches Room podcast that Hall-Dale High School teachers and coaches Jared Richmond and Brandon Terrill host. Vachon was the guest in a May 19 episode, and near the end of the podcast, Richmond and Terrill asked Vachon what ideas she had for increasing the number of women coaching Maine high school girls basketball.

Initially, the hosts underestimated the number of women head coaches in Maine high school girls basketball at between 12 and 20. Later, they corrected that to 27, the current number.

“I had no idea… Jeez, that’s really sad to me,” Vachon said, caught off guard by the low number. “I don’t know, maybe that’s something I’ve got to look into.”

And she did.

University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon instructs her team during a preseason game against Stonehill on Oct. 27, 2019 in Bangor. Morning Sentinel file photo

On Sunday, June 14, Vachon will host an online workshop through Zoom for Maine women who are currently coaching, interested in coaching, or formerly coaches girls or women’s basketball in the state.

Joining Vachon on the panel are high school coaches Dawn Armandi (Falmouth), Lynne Hasson (South Portland), and Karen Magnusson (Maranacook), as well as college coaches Adrienne Shibles of Bowdoin and Kissy Walker of Husson.

Two days after announcing the event, which will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Vachon announced on her Twitter feed that 56 participants had signed up for the event. As of Friday afternoon, Vachon said the number swelled to 80.

“I don’t think there’s a lack of interest,” Vachon said. “I was shocked at how few (women coaches) there were, and it just bothered me.”

According to the Maine Principals’ Association, 28 women coached high school girls basketball programs in Maine during the 2019-20 season. That number dropped to 27 with the recent resignation of Lewiston head coach Lynn Girouard, who cited a deteriorating relationship with parents. Girouard’s resignation left Hasson as the only woman head coach in Class AA, which includes the largest 16 high schools in the state.

With 133 girls basketball programs in the state last season, that meant just over 21 percent — approximately 1 in 5 — had a female head coach.

So why are the numbers so low?

Some coaches cite raising children and time constraints play a role.

“I’m actually surprised we have that many,” said Brenda Beckwith, a longtime central Maine coach currently at Winslow High School girls basketball team.

Beckwith points to her own experience as an example. For a time, Beckwith stepped away from coaching to raise her four children.

“I didn’t want to leave them,” Beckwith said. “I think it’s hard if you have a traditional job and children and coach.”

Added Rangeley coach Brittany DiPompo, who recently completed her first season with the Lakers: “Obviously, coaching takes up a lot of time.”

Rangeley girls basketball coach Brittany DiPompo watches her team play during a Class D South quarterfinal at the Augusta Civic Center last season. Kennebec Journal file photo Buy this Photo

A Jay native, DiPompo took a teaching job at Rangeley because she knew she wanted to get into coaching. At Rangeley, she’d have the opportunity to learn from one of the best in the state in Heidi Deery.

Under Deery, the Lakers became a perennial Class D powerhouse, most recently winning the state championship in 2016.

“Really, my first (female coaching) role model was Heidi,” said DiPompo, who joined Deery’s staff after graduating from the University of Maine in 2015. “I knew I wanted to be involved with Heidi because she’s such a great coach.”

Adrienne Shibles completed her 12th season as the head women’s basketball coach at Bowdoin this spring. The winningest women’s basketball coach in Bowdoin history, Shibles led the Polar Bears to the Division III national championship game in 2018 and 2019.

Finding a female role model in coaching was important to Shibles. As a three-sport athlete at Mount View High School, Shibles was always coached by men. It wasn’t until she arrived at Bates College and played basketball for coach Marsha Graef that Shibles considered coaching as a career option.

“It was, ‘hey, this is something I could do.’ She encouraged me to get started. She continued to support me over the years,” Shibles said of Graef, who died in 2015.

Creating a network of mentors is one of the goals of the upcoming workshop.

Magnusson, who just finished her second season as girls basketball coach at Maranacook, said she learned a lot from the men she had as coaches, Paul Vachon at Cony and Jamie Beaudoin at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Magnusson, who also coached at Cony High in Augusta, added that she looked to the national stage for female coaching inspiration.

“My role model was Pat Summitt way down at Tennessee,” Magnusson said.

Summitt won more than 1,000 games and eight national championships coaching the Volunteers.

“I had role models as females as athletes,” Magnusson added. “I got to play for two coaches who were as well. I always wanted to coach because I had a passion for basketball and kids. I knew coach (Paul) Vachon did too. I worked at his camps and saw how much fun it is.”

When she took her first coaching job at Cony, Magnusson was less worried about a lack of respect for her gender and more concerned with her lack of experience.

“I was worried they wouldn’t respect me because of my age. I was 23, 24,” Magnusson said.

Beckwith said she had female basketball coaches at Lawrence High School in the 1970s, but they coached a passive style of basketball. It wasn’t until she played for Fran Garmon at Temple Junior College in Texas did Beckwith see the potential in coaching.

“She was a woman before her time,” Beckwith said of Garmon, who went on to win more than 500 games and earn a place in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

Coaching influences for women do not have to be women, Amy Vachon said, pointing out that her father Paul — who built Cony into one of the dominant girls basketball programs in the state during his time with the Rams — as an example of an ally who has helped get women involved with coaching basketball.

“I’m not saying men should not coach females. My dad coached me,” Vachon said. “I don’t think I wanted to coach for a long time. Maybe if somebody approached me sooner, I would have.”

Vachon added that there can be a gender bias, whether administrators realize they’re doing it or not.

“People tend to hire people who look like them,” Vachon said.

After graduating from the University of Maine in 2000, Vachon spent one season coaching the girls basketball team at Waterville Senior High School. That was intended as a one-season job from the start, as Vachon had plans to attend graduate school at the University of North Carolina. After spending some time as an assistant coach at Greely High School in Cumberland, Vachon became head coach at Catherine McAuley of Portland for the 2011 season, leading the Lions to the Class A state championship. After that, she moved on to Orono, becoming an assistant coach on Richard Barron’s UMaine women’s basketball staff.

Two of Vachon’s assistant coaches with the Black Bears, Courtney England and Parise Rossignol, played basketball at Maine. Most other players on the roster would rather look toward continued playing after college rather than jumping straight into coaching, Vachon said. Vachon has one former player who she thinks could excel at coaching once her playing career in Europe is complete.

Maranacook girls basketball coach Karen Magnusson talks to her team before a Jan. 28 game in Winslow. Morning Sentinel file photo

“Tanesha Sutton would be a great coach, I think,” Vachon said, referring to one of the leaders of Maine’s America East Conference-winning teams in 2018 and 2019.

Gardiner Area High School graduate Katie McAllister knew when her playing days at Thomas College were over, coaching was the next step in her career.

“The second I graduated from Thomas, I knew I wanted to get back on the court and coaching was the way,” McAllister, who earned her undergraduate degree from Thomas in 2016 and master’s from the Waterville school in 2018, said.

The 2019-2020 season was McAllister’s first as head girls basketball coach at Monmouth Academy. McAllister was ready for the Xs and Os of the game, but the administrative aspects of the job took her by surprise.

“For some kids, you’re a parental role model, or you need to talk to kids about grades. I wasn’t expecting that. I thought I’d get on the court and coach them up,” McAllister said.

Added Beckwith: “If you could go to your practice for one and a half hours and that’s it, it would be perfect. But it’s not like that.”

Having a female mentor who had been in that situation and could offer advice would have been a help to McAllister, and could be a help to other young women stepping into coaching.

“I’m using this (workshop) as an opportunity to network and learn from all these great coaches,” McAllister said. “I just think of this as a coaches workship, and I wish more people would think about it that way, with no labels.”

Vachon said the workshop is intended to be a starting point, a place to share ideas. Magnusson said she’s excited to take part, and sees it as a stepping stone.

“We want to provide a support system,” Vachon said.

If it works, the next time Vachon is asked about the number of women coaching basketball in Maine, there won’t be surprise in her voice. There will be enthusiasm.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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