Windham softball Coach Darcey Gardiner is leading a push to get more women coaching softball teams in Maine. Of the 100 registered coaches in the state, only 35 are female. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Last year’s high school softball Class A final between Oxford Hills and Windham featured two teams coached by women for the first time since the Maine Principals’ Association began sponsoring the sport in 1977.

This year, of the eight teams playing for state titles across four classes, just two had female head coaches – Cindy Goddard of Oxford Hills, which played Cheverus in the Class A final, and Jessica McKechnie of Penobscot Valley, which played North Yarmouth Academy in the Class D game.

Fifty-two years after the passage of Title IX, a federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education, few women coach high school softball in Maine.

On Tuesday, Standish plays host to two senior all-star games. Though each team has between four and six coaches, all but four are men.

At the college level, women coach six of the 12 softball teams in Maine. Around the Northeast, seven of the nine softball programs in the Little East Conference, home to USM, have female head coaches. In the New England Small College Athletic Conference, which includes Colby, Bates and Bowdoin, nine of the 10 head softball coaches are women, and Bowdoin’s Ryan Sullivan is the lone male.

The principals’ association, which oversees high school sports in Maine, does not track how many women coach high school softball teams, said assistant director Mike Bisson.


But Nick Caiazzo of the Maine Softball Coaches Association said that last year just 35 of the 100 high school varsity softball coaches registered with his organization were women.

Some coaches in the game, including Darcey Gardiner at Windham, are committed to seeing this change. Gardiner, who coached against Goddard in the 2023 Class A final, said the blueprint comes from University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon.


University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon has led a number of clinics for women looking to get into coaching. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel

Four years ago, Vachon organized Zoom workshops for women interested in coaching basketball. At the time, there were 27 female high school basketball head coaches among the 133 varsity girls basketball programs in Maine.

Now there are 50 female varsity basketball coaches with 127 girls’ teams in Maine. One female coach, Suanne Lindsey, is the boys’ basketball coach at East Grand High in Danforth.

Vachon said 120 women signed up for the first Zoom in 2020. About 60 came to the 2023 Pass It Forward women’s basketball coaching clinic, which offered advice and mentoring to women who coach or aspire to coach.


“Our overall message is, apply. Shoot your shot,” she said. “Too many times females wait until they think they are the ideal candidate for the job and worry about all the reasons why they aren’t ready for it. We encourage women to apply for the job they want without any hesitation.”

This season, Gardiner was one of just five female head softball coaches in the 17-team Southern Maine Activities Association, home to most of the state’s largest high schools. Of the 27 schools in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference, made up of central Maine teams in Classes A, B and C, just 10 had a female head softball coach. In the KVAC’s Class A division, half of the 12 head coaches are women. Six of the 15 schools in the Western Maine Conference had female coaches.

“Amy Vachon has done a phenomenal job on the basketball side of things, keeping females engaged, doing all-female coaching clinics,” Gardiner said. “Softball, we’re not quite there yet.”

Gardiner and University of Southern Maine softball coach Sarah Jamo are leading the push to increase the number of women coaching softball in Maine.

Jamo said her mother’s generation didn’t have sports, so they didn’t have the experience to coach – but it’s different for young women now.

“It’s coming. We need to do whatever we can to encourage and empower them to be able to do it,” she said. “I think we’re on the cusp of some things. … I think it’s coming. My daughter’s 10, and she’s in the Little League program. There’s definitely more women willing to help. Now, it’s giving them the skills and confidence.”


She and Gardiner are making it their mission to turn some current players into future coaches.

They’ve discussed holding coaching clinics to teach fundamentals, including how to work with and get the most of players of all abilities.

Windham softball Coach Darcey Gardiner interacts with her players during a May 17 game against South Portland. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer


They’ve also discussed the things that may be holding some women back.

Some women coaches say it can be difficult to balance family life and coaching. Gardiner had a baby in late March, at the start of preseason, and wouldn’t have been able to keep coaching Windham if not for the support of her husband, Jake, her parents and his parents.

“It’s about that support system at home. I’m so lucky I have those people in my life,” she said.


Jamo said she, too, had the help she needed at home in place.

“For me, there were definitely some sacrifices,” she said. “Wanting to be a mom, you need a lot of people to step up.”

Longtime Edward Little softball coach Elaine Derosby said she and her coaching staff work to encourage their players to consider coaching in the future. In fact, they discussed it with the team recently.

“There’s four of us on the staff, and we all have children. We talked about our lives with the team. We want to give them good female role models,” Derosby said. “We told them you can do multiple things well and not give up anything. Maybe they’ll find that passion and stay with the sport and give back.”

Vachon, Derosby, Gardiner and others made it clear: they don’t think men coaching girls sports is a bad thing.

When Vachon played at Cony, her father, Paul, led the program. Derosby’s high school softball coach at Edward Little was her father, Gene Keene. Bailey Dunphy, 24, first-year head softball coach at Carrabec High in North Anson, also played for her father, Troy.


“I can’t say I ever thought about gender when I made the decision to coach,” Bailey Dunphy said. “I just knew I wanted to do it. It’s definitely a mindset. It’s not an easy job. … I think coaching is a true passion.”

Madison softball coach Mariah Dunbar, right, watches as her players run in the outfield during an April 30 practice in Madison. Anna Chadwick/Morning Sentinel


Having a coach stay with a program long enough to instill that passion is important, said Caiazzo, of the Maine Softball Coaches Association. Gardiner, Derosby and Goddard, who is in her 34th season as head coach at Oxford Hills, are examples, Caiazzo said, but he added, “That’s not happening at a lot of schools.”

Mariah Dunbar, 22, a first-year head coach at Madison Memorial High, said two of her former coaches, Lee Johnson and Heath Cowan, encouraged her to give it a try.

“Stepping into this role, I was a little bit nervous because I am so young. But starting young is a good (thing), it will get me experience early,” she said. “I hope other young females are looking at me and it encourages them to take that leap of faith and get into coaching.”

Two of Gardiner’s players at Windham, senior Jayden Kimball, 18, and sophomore Lacie Higgins, 16, enjoy coaching youth league players, and Kimball has taught private softball lessons in the last few years.


Higgins said it’s been important to her to have a woman head coach. She feels like she can talk to Gardiner about anything.

“Knowing she’s been in the same position as me is something that helps me because I can relate to her,” Higgins said. “I like working with the younger girls. I feel like I can relate what I’ve done as a player to what they’re doing right now. I can tell them things about what I did when I was their age.”

Kimball likes giving the younger players advice.

“It almost feels like giving back. I feel like this sport doesn’t get recognized as much as a lot of other sports, especially male sports. It’s nice to know the upcoming generation is interested, and giving them knowledge and sharing that,” she said. “When I was younger, I remember the older girls from high school coming to my practices when I was 9 and 10 years old. I was like ‘Oh my gosh, the older girls are here.’ It was a lot of inspiration. It’s fun to go down and be that person to them.”

Related Headlines

Join the Conversation

Please sign into your account to participate in conversations below. If you do not have an account, you can register or subscribe. Questions? Please see our FAQs.