Black women coaches: “I definitely think we have made some strides”

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Alabama State coach Penny Lucas-White: "Just because you played a high level doesn’t mean you can coach at a high level."/Alabama State photo

The truth of it is there are relatively few women head coaches in Division I, but way fewer African-Americans. For that matter, only two of the so-called “power-five” conferences have black women as head coaches. VolleyballMag.com took this opportunity to explore the situation.

By Amy Farnum Patronis for VolleyballMag.com

When Butler’s Sharon Clark looks back at her time as a player, she doesn’t remember meeting any coaches involved in the sport who looked like her — a black woman.

Neither do several other of the African-American females who are coaching in NCAA women’s volleyball today. But that didn’t stop them from rising through the coaching ranks and becoming head coaches at the Division I level.

Instead, they found role models and mentors in different ways.

Butler coach Sharon Clark: “I was fortunate that I had a great mentor
Butler coach Sharon Clark: “I was fortunate that I had a great mentor”/Butler photo

Clark, entering her ninth season at Butler, said it was African-American male coaches in other sports who encouraged her to take a chance on the profession.

“I was fortunate that I had a great mentor who knew I wanted to coach and who encouraged me and pushed me,” Clark said. “But these were football coaches — these were black men in other sports who said coaching is a great profession and that I should do it.”

Tonya Johnson, associate head coach at Texas who spent five seasons as the head coach at Georgia Tech, looked to her father. She knew coaching was something she wanted to do after seeing him coach high school football for 35 years in Baton Rouge, La.

Arizona State coach Stevie Mussie, then as an assistant at Penn State, talks with Ali Frantti /Craig Houtz photo
Arizona State coach Stevie Mussie, then as an assistant at Penn State, talks with Ali Frantti /Craig Houtz photo

The new head coach at Arizona State, Stevie Mussie, was a member of Washington’s 2005 NCAA championship team and coached under the legendary Russ Rose at Penn State for two seasons before becoming a Sun Devil. For Mussie, a role model came in the form of a white woman.

“I was coached by a woman, Dawn Colston at Washington, who really proved to me that females can coach females,” Mussie said. “Dawn did it so well for me that I wanted to do it for somebody else.”

Mussie and Linda Hampton-Keith at North Carolina State are the only two black women serving as head coaches in the power-five conferences that includes the ACC, SEC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. It’s also worth noting that Salima Rockwell is the associate head coach at Penn State. She was at Penn State, but when Tonya Johnson left for Georgia Tech, Rockewell replaced her at Texas. And then when Rockwell went back to Penn State, Johnson returned to Texas. And the predominantly black conferences, such as the SWAC and MEAC, not surprisingly have a higher ratio than most.

As college volleyball’s popularity has continued to grow with the gradual addition of more indoor programs over the past 20 years and beach volleyball becoming an NCAA-sponsored championship sport last year, so have participation rates among African-American females.

The percentage of black females playing Division I women’s volleyball almost doubled from 5.5 percent in 1999 to 10.1 percent in 2014 among non-historically black college programs, according to the NCAA Sport Sponsorship, Participation and Demographics database.

Yet, even with more and more African-Americans flocking to the sport, the number of black women coaching at the Division I level has stayed relatively stagnant for the past two decades. The percentage of black female head coaches has not cracked 3 percent, and the number of black females holding assistant coaching positions has hovered around 4 percent, although there are more coaching opportunities overall.

So, why are African-American coaches still so scarce in college volleyball?

Mussie thinks it comes back to the fact there aren’t many African-American female coaches out there.

“There aren’t a lot of black women who want to coach,” Mussie said. “They’re not coached by people who look like them so maybe they don’t see themselves doing it either.”

Clark sits on the American Volleyball Coaches Association Board of Directors and is the board’s minority coaches representative. She is hopeful that with the greater player participation black females are realizing coaching is a professional option.

“I definitely think we have made some strides, but there is more work to do,” Clark. “It is definitely a multi-tiered issue.”

She believes a big reason former black female players are not  getting into coaching is because moving yourself up the ranks is very challenging financially — an issue common across collegiate sports.

“One of the difficult things is that the pay when you start coaching is so low, so minimal compared to the other options former players have in other professions where they can make a good living for themselves right away,” Clark said.

Many of the top black female volleyball players stay in the sport for a few years by playing professionally or with the national team, but by the time they are ready hang up their knee pads most of them don’t consider moving to the sidelines.

An exception, for example, is San Diego State coach Deitre Collins-Parker, a two-time national collegiate player of the year, 1988 Olympian and AVCA Hall of Fame member. She’s been at San Diego State since 2009.

Another is Rose Magers Powell, who is starting her third season at Alabama A&M. Magers Powell was a member of the USA team that won the Olympic silver medal in 1984.

“They do all of these things and then when they’re older the next step for them usually involves having a family and not coaching collegiately,” Mussie said. “The female gender, in general, struggles to get into or stay in coaching because of those things.”

One who did make the move from star player to coach is Penny Lucas-White. Currently the head coach at Alabama State, she played at LSU before competing professionally and on the U.S. national team in the 1980s. She served as an assistant coach at Auburn before being hired sight unseen as head coach at Memphis in 1991.

Lucas-White believes many black women who play at high levels are hired as assistant coaches to serve as liaisons who can communicate or meditate more effectively with African-American players.

However, the skills needed to be a good manager — or CEO — do not necessarily come easy for every former star player. Lucas-White, who also spent 14 seasons as the head coach at the Air Force Academy, stresses the need for professional development.

“Unless you take your craft very seriously, you don’t continue to grow,” Lucas-White said. “You have to go to clinics because just because you played a high level doesn’t mean you can coach at a high level. I think we all need to continue our professional development.”

In 2002, Clark and Lucas-White were two of the authors of the first NCAA Diversity grant that funded the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s minority coaching development program, “Volleyball: Live it! Love it! Coach It!” While the grant that was not renewed in August 2015 due to budget cuts in the division, the AVCA remains committed developing minority coaches and is self-funding the initiative.

Now known as the AVCA Diversity Awards, the program encourages all ethnic minorities to apply for the program. Awards are given to minority coaches who are first-time attendees of the AVCA’s annual convention in December. It includes paid registration and hotel accommodations for the convention.

Programming focuses on intentional relationship building and offers networking sessions and mentorship by guest speakers and members of the diversity development team. Award winners learn how to communicate with presidents, athletic directors and boosters — and learn how to be a CEO of a team.

San Francisco coach Vicki Brown
University of San Francisco coach Vicki Brown

Vicki Brown, a former player at Illinois who is in her first season as head coach at the University of San Francisco, received the scholarship as a volunteer assistant at the University of Toledo.

“They took us through resume writing and networking,” Brown said. “It really helps a lot. They are not many black head coaches, and it was nice to immerse myself with all of them who are out there — not just Division I. Sometimes, it helps to know that others are in your corner. It really was inspiring to be a part of that.”

Texas associate head coach Tonya Johnson
Texas associate head coach Tonya Johnson

Johnson, who is encouraged by the increasing number of African-American players, believes that knowledge — like the kind the AVCA provides — is power for aspiring young coaches.

“It’s not about just showing up at practice and then coaching in matches,” said Johnson, who played at LSU and was an assistant at LSU and Texas before leaving for Georgia Tech as head coach. “There is so much more to it, especially once you get to this level.”

But while learning about the profession is important, Clark always reminds student-athletes and aspiring coaches — no matter their gender or race — that passion is the key to success.

“Every day, I get up and do something I love to do,” Clark said. “I have no problem getting up early because I have an energy and enthusiasm for it.”

Lucas-White shared a similar sentiment.

“I’ve won a lot of championships,” she said, “by building champions for life.”

1 COMMENT

  1. D-1 DePaul University head coach is Nadia Edward’s and one of her assistant coaches is Arielle Wilson. Both are former Penn State All-Americans and both are African American….

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