Monday, October 7, 2019

Football is here. And it's Female!!!

Football is back baby and better than ever!  Ole Miss beat Arkansas this week but Coach's beloved (God Damn) Jets lost to the Bills 16-17 and will be holding a kicking try-out this week. 

Whether you watch your local pee-wee league, high school, college games on Saturday or the pros on Sunday, have you ever searched the sidelines looking for a female that wasn't a cheerleader or a trainer?  If you look hard enough, they're there.  And the numbers are increasing.  In communities across the country, the game is increasingly being played, coached and managed by women. And the NFL is helping those women get on the path to a career in the game they love.

Women account for nearly half of the NFL’s fan base, yet they make up just a third of league employees, according to CBS News. The league continues to be overwhelmingly male-dominated.  there has never been a woman head coach or general manager of an NFL team.  The NFL's struggle with its response to player protests and cases of domestic violence and sexual harassment are not a secret.  Now it's working to get more women working in the league.

Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera has seen firsthand the battles with workplace misconduct. Panthers owner Jerry Richardson was forced to step aside, appointing Tina Becker as his replacement, now one of the NFL's top female executives. "There are jobs for women involved in the NFL and they're not on the outside, they're on the inside. They're making decisions," Rivera said.

Skeptics ask how can women coach when they've never played football? Well, some of the best coaches never played the game either. Representatives from other leagues, like Major League Baseball, are already turning to the NFL for advice on how to replicate this forum for their own sport.

Anne Doepner is a lifelong Minnesota Vikings fan – and one of the pioneers, rising from executive assistant to the team's director of football administration.  "I've been challenged about the fact that I want to do this job, to my face. You know, I've had people say, 'Why do you want to do this?'" Doepner said. "'And Why not?' is what I say back. … I think that a lot of women think that, that it's not a possibility or not something they would naturally consider doing because they don't see other women doing it."


Phoebe Schecter
Phoebe Schecter, like many of the women involved with the NFL, played tackle football. After attending the two-day NFL forum in 2017 where women are learning the finer points of coaching, scouting players, and the importance of dreaming big, she landed an internship with the Buffalo Bills.

"It makes you so confident, playing this sport. And you feel empowered. And then you get to come to somethin' like this and you've got these other women who experience the same things. And you just think, I can conquer the world after this," Schecter said.

She is an American and British citizen. She says "soccer" but also has an endearing twang to her Connecticut accent when she mentions her Northern "gran". She stands at a petite 5ft 3in and plays swash-buckling linebacker for her American football team. She is a woman and she has coached in the NFL. She grew up in the USA, but she did not fall in love with its (unofficial) national sport until she moved across the Atlantic.

She is one of just three women to ever coach in the NFL, but Schecter says she was much too busy with horses for the first 23 years of her life to ever get caught up in the sport that produces the world's most lucrative league.

"Horses is a 24/7 thing, it's all encompassing. I never had an interest in football. Equestrian was what I'd always done, it's what I thought I'd spend the rest of my life doing."  It was only when she moved from Connecticut to Cheshire, England to work for a member of the Dutch Olympic equestrian team that Schecter's head was turned.

"I worked six days a week, on my one day off I thought it would be good to meet people. I saw an ad on Facebook for American football and took the chance. It was the best decision I ever made.
"I had no idea what I was doing, I had zero body control. But the girls I met that day were what brought me into it more - and that I got to hit people."

In the past six years she has dropped her lifetime horse habit and replaced it with her newfound "addiction" - contact sports. As a defensive linebacker, Schecter's position involves some of the hardest hitting in the game. It is one of her favourite elements though, and she even plays in a mixed full-contact American football league where she is the only woman on her team, getting tackled by and tackling men twice her size.

"You get two types of [men] - those that say 'She's a girl, she shouldn't be here,' and they come for you, or who don't want to hit me because I am a girl," she says laughing.

She also did strength and conditioning coaching for the sport's Great Britain association and helped develop the women's team on their rise to fourth-best in the world. And, thanks to her dual citizenship, she will captain the team at this week's European Championships in Leeds alongside all self-funded teammates and volunteer coaches.

Schecter is also England captain in kabaddi, an invasion game popular in Asia which she compares to British bulldog with tackling. Watch Youtube highlights of the aggressive low tackling - or "carnage" as Schecter puts it - makes the appeal clear.
But of Schecter's wide-reaching sporting achievements, her most prolific was becoming one of a handful of women to coach in the NFL, starting with a Buffalo Bills coaching internship in 2017. A remarkably quick turnaround for someone who never even cared about American football until 2013, no? But upon meeting the charismatic 29-year-old it becomes obvious how she managed such a rise.

It is unsurprising that upon applying to five NFL teams via a diversity internship scheme, she had to turn down offers before taking up the Bills position. That two-week summer camp pushed Schecter right into the deep end. "It's very daunting. These guys know so much more than me about football, I was working with the defence team, and the head coach said, 'How do we get the players to respect you?'  "So he took my highlight reel and showed the guys. They were like, 'That's sick, she's better at tackling than us,' and since then they've been so supportive, some sending over videos for our GB teams wishing them good luck."  

But for all her enthusiasm, Schecter was plagued by self-doubt during her first tenure with the Bills and had to find ways to negotiate an imposter syndrome brought on by foreign football jargon and being the only woman on the sidelines. "At first it was a little rocky. It was an incredible opportunity and I kind of felt like other people who had been involved in the sport for much longer deserved that more than me. But I figured if I could just get all the little things down, even something as simple as if one of the guys asks me what time this meeting starts I would have the answer for them and they would start coming to me every time. It seems really minute, but when you can build up trust like that it's huge."

What has followed since - a season-long internship at the NCAA Division One college programme at Bryant University (where she slept in the head coach's basement and worked for free), consultancy work with NFL UK and even a full season at the Bills for the 2018-19 campaign - shows she must have made an incredible impression during that life-changing fortnight.

The Bills are off to a winning start to the season but Schecter will not be joining them after the European Championships. Instead, she is taking a self-imposed sabbatical in order to fully commit to developing the game in the UK.  A bold move some would say, but Schecter is as excited talking about her work with the UK Dukes, an organisation aiming to increase grassroots participation (with Schecter taking a special interest in female growth), as her time with the Bills.
"I've had a crazy moment in my life and I'm staying here for the season. [The Bills] are being so supportive.  "From day dot my underlying goal has always been bridging the gap between the US and UK. I thought it was the best time to see what I can do to help."The European Champs should be a huge opportunity for this country to see what we're doing with this sport. There's lots of positive things going on now for women in the sport, we need to ride the wave."


Charlotte Jones-Anderson
Charlotte Jones-Anderson is the Dallas Cowboys' Executive Vice President and Chief Brand Officer. Anderson was appointed Chairman of the Salvation Army’s National Advisory Board in 2010 and is the first woman to ever serve in that role.  In 2012, Anderson was named Chairman of the NFL Foundation and is responsible for spearheading philanthropic efforts in player care, youth football, and medical research. Anderson is the first woman to serve in this capacity for an NFL charitable institution, and the first woman to represent club ownership as leader of a major professional sports league foundation.  In March 2013, Charlotte Jones Anderson won the Individual Arts Patron Award at the Texas Medal of Arts Awards. In September 2013, Anderson was named one of SportsBusiness Journal 2013 Game Changers as a Team Leader.  Under Anderson’s guidance the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders were awarded The American Legion Distinguished Service Medal, the American Legion’s highest honor, for their dedication to community service and support for the United States military.  In March 2017, Anderson was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame for Football Administration.


 Welter, Javadifar and Locust
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers became the first NFL team to have two women as coaches on its staff, announcing the hiring of Maral Javadifar as assistant strength and conditioning coach and Lori Locust as assistant defensive line coach.  Locust and Javadifar are the first full-time female coaches in Buccaneers' franchise history.  "I know how hard it can be to get that first opportunity to coach at the highest level of professional football," Arians said.  "Sometimes, all you need is the right organization to offer up the opportunity. The Glazer family and our general manager, Jason Licht, were extremely supportive of my decision, and I know Maral and Lori will be great additions to my coaching staff.

"I have known Lori going back to my days at Temple University and I've seen firsthand just how knowledgeable and passionate she is about this game. I was equally impressed with Maral's background in performance training and physical therapy and I know she will be a valuable asset to our strength and conditioning program." 
 
Locust comes to the Buccaneers after working as the defensive line coach for the Birmingham Iron of the Alliance of American Football during the league's inaugural season this spring. In 2018, Locust was a defensive coaching intern for the Baltimore Ravens during the team's training camp and, from 2017-18, worked as a defensive line/linebackers coach and co-special teams coordinator of the Lehigh Valley Steelhawks of the National Arena League.

Javadifar most recently worked as a physical therapist at Avant Physical Therapy in Seattle, after completing her Sports Physical Therapy Residency at Virginia Commonwealth in 2018. Prior to her time at VCU, Javadifar worked as a physical therapist and performance trainer in Virginia, while also serving as a guest lecturer at George Mason University.


In 2015, Jennifer Welter served as an intern for the Arizona Cardinals, working six weeks over the summer as an assistant coach under linebacker coach Bob Sanders. She was the first woman to hold such a role on an NFL coaching staff.  “I think it’s time,” then-head coach Bruce Arians said.  “I am not afraid to step out and be different. Jen is a quality coach. She has earned this. I think she can help our players get better.” 

In an October 2017 interview Welter says one of the keys to her success in football has been male mentors who believed in her potential. “When you’re the first woman, and there’s no women in the room,” she says, “a man has to open the door for you. And that’s when it really has to be about progress and working together. Because if it’s not in alignment, it’s going to be a really tough process.”

In her stint in the NFL, Welter worked with the Cardinals' inside linebackers and coached throughout training camp and the preseason as a training camp/preseason intern. She's currently an assistant with the Atlanta Legends in the Alliance of American Football.


Kathryn Smith
During the 2016-2017 season, Kathryn Smith became the first woman to hold a full-time coaching position in the NFL. She worked as a Special Teams Quality Control Coach for the Buffalo Bills, where she helped to formulate game plans and build playbooks for the team. Smith held that position for one season under then-head coach Rex Ryan.  Smith has said it's crazy to hear that she was the first woman in that position because “you don’t set out to be a trailblazer, and I didn’t know that that’s where my path was going to lead me.”

Before stepping into her history-making role, Smith worked under Ryan when he was head coach of the New York Jets as a game-day/special events intern in 2003, reports ESPN. In 2005, she became a college scouting intern for the team, and then a player personnel assistant for the team in 2007. In 2014, Ryan appointed her to an administrative assistant position, a job she also held in 2015 when Ryan moved over to the Bills.  Smith began interning for the New York Jets while attending St. John's, becoming a game-day/special events intern in 2003 and then a college scouting intern in 2005. She became a player personnel assistant in 2007. She then became an administrative assistant in 2014 and joined the Bills as an administrative assistant in 2015. The Bills promoted her to special teams quality control coach on January 20, 2016, replacing Michael Hamlin. She was the first woman to be a full-time coach in the NFL. After the dismissal of Rex Ryan, Smith was not retained by new coach Sean McDermott heading into the 2017 season.

Smith grew up in DeWitt, New York, a suburb of Syracuse, and attended the Christian Brothers Academy. At CBA she participated in lacrosse, swimming, and bowling.  After graduating from CBA in 2003 she went to St. John's University in New York City.  Smith majored in Sport Management and served as a student manager of the men's basketball team.  Smith graduated from St. John's in 2007.


Katie Sowers
Katie Sowers became the NFL’s first openly gay and second full-time female coach, reports ESPN. Sowers, 31, works as an offensive assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers, making her the team’s first female assistant coach. 

Sowers (born 1986) is an offensive assistant with the San Francisco 49ers since 2017. Sowers began her American football career playing in the Women's Football Alliance. Upon her retirement, Sowers joined the National Football League in 2016 as a coach for the Atlanta Falcons's training camp. Upon joining the 49ers in 2017, Sowers became the first LBGT coach in the NFL when she publicly came out before the 2017 NFL season.

In 2016, Sowers worked with coach Kyle Shanahan when he was an offensive coordinator for the Atlanta Falcons, according to ESPN. Before that, she played pro football for the Women’s Football Alliance and was chosen to compete for the national team in the Women’s World Championship.

Sowers was born in Hesston, Kansas. During her childhood, she started playing American football at the age of eight. For her post-secondary education, Sowers attended Hesston College and Goshen College in the 2000s before resuming her studies at the University of Central Missouri in the 2010s. In Central Missouri, Sowers graduated with a kinesiology master's degree in 2012.

While completing her studies at Goshen, Sowers began her American football career playing for the West Michigan Mayhem and the Kansas City Titans in the Women's Football Alliance. While with the Titans, Sowers was a member of the United States women's national American football team that won the 2013 IFAF Women's World Championship. Sowers continued to play in the WFA until her 2016 retirement due to a hip injury. Sowers joined the National Football League as a wide receivers intern with the Atlanta Falcons in the summer of 2016. After her summer position ended, Sowers remained with the Falcons as an intern scout until she moved to the San Francisco 49ers in June 2017. With the 49ers, Sowers resumed working as a seasonal offensive assistant until her promotion to offensive assistant in 2019.

“There are so many people who identify as LGBT in the NFL, as in any business, that do not feel comfortable being public about their sexual orientation,” she said. “The more we can create an environment that welcomes all types of people, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, the more we can help ease the pain and burden that many carry every day.”


Kelsey Martinez
In 2018, Kelsey Martinez became the Oakland Raiders’ first female assistant coach in the franchise’s history. However, changes to the Raiders’ coaching staff for 2019 include the apparent departure of the first female assistant in franchise history.

Martinez, a strength and conditioning assistant, is no longer is listed as with the organization according to the team’s website. She joined the club in early 2018 under Tom Shaw, the department’s then-coordinator who was dismissed in December.

Martinez was well received within the organization. Special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia was among those who considered her a barrier-breaking example.  “I have five sisters, and I have three daughters,” Bisaccia said in August. “For them to be able to, along with all other females, see that she’s accomplished this goal is going to give them a chance to realize, ‘Wow, this is a path I can take.’ … She carries herself extremely professionally. She’s incredibly knowledgeable in what she’s trying to teach these guys. She hasn’t missed a beat with the players." 

“Once a pro player feels like you’re knowledgeable and you can help them get better, they’re going to listen to you. And I feel like with Kelsey, that was evident right away, not only to the coaches but certainly to the players.”

In an interview with the Raiders’ website, running back coach Jemal Singleton talked about the positive impact that he hoped 26-year-old Martinez’s presence will have on his daughter.
“My daughter is five, so right now she’s at such an impressionable age that the sights and sounds she’s around will impact her really for the rest of her life,” said Singleton. “And to be in a situation here — I don’t know if it’s the first, or the only — but to get to have a female strength coach in Kelsey is unbelievable. Because now my daughter can see there’s so many different roles when you come here. You hear [play-by-play announcer] Beth Mowins on the call [during games], you see Kelsey out there working the players, and it’s one of those things as a father you want your daughter to have those aspirations to be whatever she wants to be.”


Callie Brownson
This isn’t the first time the Bills have been the NFL club that was taking a progressive step in diversifying their hiring practices on the football side of the house. The addition of Callie Brownson to their coaching staff as a full-time coaching intern this past week marks the third time in the last four years that a female is part of Buffalo’s coaching staff.

Brownson, a graduate of George Mason University, never had the opportunity to play football beyond the youth level, but played eight seasons as a safety, running back and slot receiver for the D.C. Divas of the Women’s Football Alliance. A five-time team captain, Brownson was a four-time All-American.
 
After coaching high school football in Northern Virginia for three years, Brownson attended the Manning Passing Academy where she served as one of 16 female coaches for the first women’s clinic. It was there she met Dartmouth head coach Buddy Teevens, who was impressed with her expansive knowledge base.  He offered her a two-week internship that turned into a full-time position as an offensive quality control coach, becoming the first full-time female football coach in Division I.
Coincidentally, after getting a similar two-week training camp internship with the Buffalo Bills this summer, her performance was such that again she was offered a full-year position on Sean McDermott’s staff.

“I first met Callie at the NFL Women’s Careers in Football Forum in Indianapolis through Buddy Teevens, the head coach at Dartmouth,” McDermott said. “She came highly recommended by him. I was immediately impressed by her enthusiasm for the game of football and her career aspirations. During training camp, she showed a tremendous work ethic and earned this opportunity. She is very driven, professional, smart, and eager to learn.”

There was always a passion for football within Callie Brownson. From watching games as a kid with her dad, to playing youth football and even women’s professional football. But coaching football beyond the high school level wasn’t given a second thought, until she witnessed the changes in diversity hiring in the NFL.

Mount Vernon high school, Brownson’s alma mater, was where she thought her coaching career would begin and end, under famed coach Barry Wells, who recruited her to coach on his staff.
“He was the one who bridged the gap,” said Brownson. “But even at that point I had coached with him for three years and I thought that was the pinnacle. I was going to work a nine to five job and then coach high school football and that was as good as it was going to get.”
 
That was until she saw the work that Sam Rapoport, the NFL Director of Football Development, and former pro football player herself, was doing to expand the avenue for women to land NFL coaching positions. “They made this big push for diversity including women more in their fan base and on the football side, Jen Welter gets hired. I had played on Team USA with her, so I knew her pretty well. So the wheels started to turn. Then you see the work that Sam Rapoport started doing from the NFL league office as it pertains to diversity and at least getting women in front of people or in the door, so I immediately jumped on that train.”

Brownson attended the NFL’s first ‘Women’s careers in Football Forum’ and even met Bills owner Kim Pegula.  “I remember she met about 200 people and I was toward the back of the pack and she still had that Kim personality,” Brownson said. “All these people meeting her and probably hitting her up for a job. So someone in her position would probably be exhausted. She was just Kim. She was super happy and reaches out and grabs your hand, asks her what you want to do. She left an impression on me because there were other people there who maybe weren’t as enthused.”  Networking and making connections at the forum ultimately led to her landing a personnel and scouting internship with the New York Jets.

Now with the Bills, Brownson is grateful that there were two females hired prior to her current tenure in Buffalo. Kathryn Smith was the first full-time female coaching hire of the Bills in 2016 when she was promoted to Special Teams quality control coach. Last season Buffalo hired Phoebe Schecter as a full-time coaching intern.

“It means a lot more and comes with a heavier punch to me to continue that,” said Brownson. “It means a lot to me for the two who came before me. Kathryn Smith and Phoebe Schecter both did an amazing job so that this could continue, so I could have this opportunity to be here. If they hadn’t done a good job it may have gone another way. What they’ve done and how hard they worked and the impression they left on people in this organization is the reason why I’m even here and have this opportunity to continue that.”

And Buffalo carried their female hiring over to their personnel department even before they added Brownson, hiring Andrea Gosper as a year-long paid intern in their scouting department this past April.

She was hired not long after meeting Bills GM Brandon Beane and Assistant GM Joe Schoen at the Women’s career in Football Forum in Indianapolis this past winter. It was there that Brownson first met Gosper, and now the two are working for the same NFL organization.  “Coach Teevens and I from Dartmouth actually spoke for the coaching breakout session. Andrea was in it and was a coaching intern at the University of New England,” Brownson said. “I met her there and she was somebody who came up to us and talked to us a little bit. I met her there and then I found out she got hired here. She’s incredible.”

As much as Brownson values her opportunity with the Bills, she just wants to get to work knowing the regular season is fast approaching. She knows that performing at her best every day will only help create more opportunities in the league for women going forward.

“I hope to continue it for someone else and leave a ripple effect among other teams as well,” said Brownson. “Here’s the third woman hired on our football staff and we’re going to keep doing this, and it has been successful for us, so you should do it too.”


Jennifer Stango Garzone
Sometimes, the football players on the opposing team would think the woman on the sideline was the manager. Or they would approach her — she had to be the trainer, right? — to tape up their ankles.

“I was like, ‘Sorry, guys, uh, you’ve got to go to the trainer, not me,’” said Jennifer Stango Garzone, the first female head high school football coach in the state. “It happened more so in the beginning and not so much now.”

Garzone, an assistant football coach for seven years at Wolcott Tech, became the head coach of MCW United in February after former coach Jamie Coty resigned. MCW United is a co-op team that encompasses Wolcott Tech in Torrington, Housatonic Regional High School in Canaan and Wamogo High in Litchfield.

“Football is probably always known to be not only a male sport, but kind of a man’s man sport — so for a woman to break the barriers down, so to speak … but Jen’s not your typical woman,” said MCW assistant Damian Gwinn, who has known Garzone for four years. “She played football. She knows the game. She’s not just some random person, that there was nobody there and she was the only one available to take the job. She was more than qualified for it.”

It’s not known how many female head high school football coaches there are nationally, but Garzone, 35, is not the first. There have been female head high school coaches in Colorado, Florida, Wyoming and Tennessee. Dartmouth hired Callie Brownson as an assistant as the first full-time female coach in Division I football, and since, Brownson has become a full-time coaching intern with the Buffalo Bills.

Brownson went through the NFL’s Women’s Careers in Football Forum; both the NFL and NBA have been making an effort to hire women in coaching positions.  “I think it’s fantastic,” said Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of National Federation of State High School Associations who was formerly the CIAC’s executive director. “Obviously, she brings semi-pro experience. Her knowledge of the game is superior. She commands respect from experiential perspective.”

Garzone played football for a number of years with women’s teams, including the Hartford-area Connecticut Crush and the Danbury Wreckers.  Seven years ago, she became an assistant football coach at Wolcott Tech, where she is a social studies teacher and the girls basketball and softball coach. Wolcott Tech football merged with the other two schools four years ago.

“For the most part, it’s been a smooth transition,” Garzone said at practice Thursday at Housatonic Regional. “I think having played and doing it for as long as I have, that question (of having a woman as a coach) isn’t there in the forefront of most of (the players’) minds.”

She had always liked playing football and thought about it in high school, at Sacred Heart High in Waterbury, but it was a backup plan in case she didn’t make the soccer team. Then she made the soccer team. She played soccer, basketball and softball in high school, then at Post University in Waterbury.

One of her soccer coaches told her about the Crush.  “She called me up and ‘Hey, do you want to come play football?’ and it was a done deal from there,” Garzone said on Thursday. “It was amazing. Just the sport itself, the camaraderie.”

She paused, watching the slower MCW players finish their mile run around the track.
“Hey, make sure you put pressure on who’s in your group to get them in because some of them are still walking,” she yelled. The players who had already finished started running with the others and encouraging them along.

“Coach, what group am I in?” one asked her.
“It’s like having 47 children,” said Garzone, who has a 4 ½-month-old girl with her husband Francesco Garzone, a math teacher at Wolcott Tech.
She laughed.
“Although I’m glad I didn’t give birth 47 times,” she said.
But does it feel like that some days? she was asked.
“Yes,” she said. “With no epidural.”
The players tower over her. To them, she’s “Coach.” Or “Stango.”

Eric Hickey, a senior wide receiver, said there’s no difference having a male or female head coach.
“We always have that mentality that we have to work hard and, hopefully, come away with the win,” he said. “I think it’s the same.”

The team hasn’t won since the merger in 2016. Wolcott Tech last won a game in 2014. So most days, she’s not thinking about being the first female coach; she’s thinking of what she will do to get the team its first win. MCW will host Platt Tech on Sept. 14 at Housatonic’s field.  “When you’re the first, the eyes are watching, the microscope’s on you. It is (pressure),” she said. “I try not to think about it too much and try to focus on the task ahead.

“The only saving grace is that I’m not taking over a state championship program. I’m taking over a team that’s still looking for their first win. That makes it a little easier, but the incentive is still there to do well.”

Anne MacNeil, Housatonic’s athletic director, loves having a female football coach.
“Having another strong female is amazing, and having Jen as the coach — she’s proven herself as a leader. She’s compassionate. She’s out here for our students — that was evident since day one,” MacNeil said. “It’s good for the boys. There has never once been any inclination of disrespect. She’s the coach.”


Loretha Douglas
Dedrick Sumpter already had a star-studded football coaching staff at Williamson High School in Mobile.
Former Auburn linebacker Antonio Coleman is defensive coordinator.
Former NFL No. 1 draft pick Jamarcus Russell is the passing game coordinator.
Sumpter’s most recent hire, however, may garner more respect and attention than either of those two Williamson legends.
Loretha Douglas has been a household name in park ball coaching in the city for nearly 30 years. She is now on Sumpter’s staff, coaching the defensive line and helping with special teams.
 
“Most people don’t understand what a legend she is in this city,” said Coleman, who played for Douglas when he was young. “She coached some of the best athletes ever to come through Mobile. In football, in basketball – she taught everything. She taught me how to play basketball.”

Douglas is one of two female football assistant coaches in the state entering the 2019 season. Geneva County’s Melissa Tomlinson is the other. They are believed to be the first female assistants in Alabama high school football history.  Sumpter and Geneva County head coach Jim Bob Striplin have said Douglas and Tomlinson weren’t hired as some kind of publicity stunt. They were hired based on their credentials and ability to coach young people.  “Publicity? If you are from this community, you know that is not what this is,” Coleman said.  “When coach Douglas first walks into this field house, I don’t care what size a kid is, they listen to her,” Sumpter said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with publicity. She’s very intense, but she has a deep connection to our players and most of our staff because she raised them all.”  That includes Coleman and Russell.

Douglas first became involved in coaching when the Boys and Girls Club of Mobile needed a physical education director in 1991. She worked there for 16 years before Hurricane Katrina destroyed the gym. She also spent time coaching at Harmon-Thomas Community Center and Taylor Park Community Center, among other stops.

She estimates she has coached more than 1,000 kids over the years and has even given a few a place to live when they needed it.  “Some of these kids were homeless or didn’t have anywhere to stay, and she would move them in her house and take care of them,” Coleman said. “Countless kids.”
When Sumpter became head coach at Williamson in 2012, he wasn’t familiar with Loretha Douglas.
That changed in a hurry.  “When I first got here, all I heard was, ‘Miss Lo, Miss Lo,’” he said. “I heard so much about her. Once we formally met, I would ask her every year, ‘When are you going to come join us? When are you coming? We need you.’”

The formal process for Douglas joining the Williamson staff started last fall.  “I had been laid off my last job,” she said. “I just sat around the house for about a month, just wondering what my next job would be. I finally heard a voice say, ‘Get up. Why are you just laying there?’ Coach Sumpter had been asking me to come coach. I finally told him that I would.” 
 
Douglas applied for a volunteer position with Mobile County Public Schools in October. Later in the fall, a full-time spot became available on the custodial staff at Williamson. Douglas jumped at that opportunity. It’s all been a smooth transition.
 
“I never planned any of it,” she told AL.com. “God just puts you in the right place at the right time.”
Coleman and Sumpter laughed at the thought that some of Williamson’s players might not respect Douglas because she is female.
 
Douglas graduated from Williamson in 1981. She played softball and basketball and ran track. She joked that she tried to play volleyball too, but “that didn’t work out very well.” It’s important for her to see the Lions succeed, and she believes they will this fall.  “We are going to make some noise, make an impression,” she said.  Douglas already has made an impression on hundreds of young people in Mobile.  Count Coleman in that group.
 
“She taught me about hard work and respect,” he said. “Everything she has taught we try to teach here. She taught me to be the best in everything I do. That is what she instills in everyone. And toughness? If you didn’t have that, you had it when she finished coaching you.”
 
Douglas graduated from Williamson in 1981. She played softball and basketball and ran track. She joked that she tried to play volleyball too, but “that didn’t work out very well.” It’s important for her to see the Lions succeed, and she believes they will this fall.
“We are going to make some noise, make an impression,” she said.
Douglas already has made an impression on hundreds of young people in Mobile.
Count Coleman in that group.
 
“She taught me about hard work and respect,” he said. “Everything she has taught we try to teach here. She taught me to be the best in everything I do. That is what she instills in everyone. And toughness? If you didn’t have that, you had it when she finished coaching you.”
 

Optimistic October

October is the tenth month of the year in the Julian and Gregorian Calendars and the sixth of seven months to have a length of 31 days. The eighth month in the old calendar of Romulus c. 750 BC, October retained its name (from the Latin and Greek ôctō meaning "eight") after January and February were inserted into the calendar that had originally been created by the Romans. In Ancient Rome, one of three Mundus patet would take place on October 5, Meditrinalia October 11, Augustalia on October 12, October Horse on October 15, and Armilustrium on October 19. These dates do not correspond to the modern Gregorian calendar. Among the Anglo-Saxons, it was known as Ƿinterfylleþ, because at this full moon (fylleþ) winter was supposed to begin.

October is commonly associated with the season of autumn in the Northern hemisphere and with spring in the Southern hemisphere.


October's birthstones are the tourmaline and opal.  Its birth flower is the calendula.  The zodiac signs for this month are Libra (until October 22) and Scorpio (from October 23).


The last two to three weeks in October (and, occasionally, the first week of November) are the only time of the year during which all of the "Big Four" major North American professional sports leagues schedule games; the National Basketball Association begins its preseason and about two weeks later starts the regular season, the National Hockey League is about one month into its regular season (check out this beaut of a goal from the last night's Stars game vs. Detroit:  https://youtu.be/FTvmQcjW7jQ ), the National Football League is about halfway through its regular season, and Major League Baseball is in its postseason with the League Championship Series and World Series. There have been 19 occasions in which all four leagues have played games on the same day (an occurrence popularly termed a "sports equinox"), with the most recent of these taking place on October 28, 2018. Additionally, the Canadian Football League is typically nearing the end of its regular season during this period, while Major League Soccer is beginning the MLS Cup Playoffs.

October also celebrates the following festivities: 
  • American Archives Month
  • National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month
  • National Arts & Humanities Month
  • National Bullying Prevention Month
  • National Cyber Security Awareness Month
  • National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
  • Filipino American History Month
  • Italian-American Heritage and Culture Month
  • LGBT History Month
  • Polish American Heritage Month (more info to follow!)
  • National Work and Family Month
  • And of course, it's Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  If you haven't already scheduled your mammogram, pick up the phone now and call your doctor!  https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month
Here's the link to this month's Action for Happiness calendar: 
https://www.actionforhappiness.org/media/810489/october_2019.jpg
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