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Copyright 2018 Dayton Newspapers, Inc.

Dayton Daily News (Ohio)


Brooke Wyckoff laughs now, but when the 37-year-old Florida State women's basketball assistant found out she was pregnant, she remembers thinking, "How hard could this working mom thing be?"

A former standout forward for the Seminoles, Wyckoff had seen other female coaches balance basketball and family. The first two years of her career, Wyckoff considered herself a solid multitasker. Then she had a baby, and her respect for working mothers — especially coaches — increased exponentially.

"There's nothing like winning a big game on the road," Wyckoff says, "then asking the trainer for a bag of ice to keep your breast milk cold while you walk through airport security with a cooler."

The women's NCAA tournament is here, and Wyckoff and third-seeded Florida State seek the program's first trip to the Final Four. Avery, her 4-year-old daughter, will watch from the stands. Across the country, dozens of moms — and dads — in coaching will spend the next few weeks juggling scouting reports and nursery rhymes, balancing practice and play dates. These moms say they face unique challenges on the job.

Working moms are the norm, according to the Department of Labor: 70% of mothers with children under 18 work, more than 75% of whom are employed full-time. Moms who work as Division I basketball coaches know it's not just a full-time gig — it's an all-the-time gig. They spend about 100 nights a year on the road, schedule births around the recruiting calendar, plan parent-teacher conferences between big games.

"Being a mom in coaching is like being part of a special sorority," says Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier, mother of three. "But sometimes people don't really get that working moms are ass-kickers. People need to watch out. Working moms can take over the world any minute now."

A trendsetter

Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw has won a national championship, been to seven Final Fours and coached 19 All-Americans. She is no-nonsense to the core, demanding excellence from her players every day. When her only son, Murphy, 27, would come to practice as a child, players "felt like I completely changed," McGraw says. "It was like, 'Oooh, Murphy's here, now we can have fun today!' "

As a baby, Murphy visited practice with McGraw's husband, Matt. When Murphy started to crawl, McGraw would sit him on the baseline, then take her players to the other end of the floor. She measured drill time in Murphy's crawling speed. "We're gonna work on this play until he gets to half court!" she'd yell. As a toddler, he loved pre-practice stretching, because he thought all his "big sisters" circling up meant it was time for a round of Duck, Duck, Goose.

When it was McGraw's turn to be a mom in the stands instead of a coach on the sidelines, "a lightbulb went off."

"When he started to play sports himself, all of a sudden, I understood better that these people are giving their daughters to me," McGraw says. "I've got to make sure I'm building them up. I learned a lot about how to coach from watching his games."

"We need to hire more women coaches," she says. "We need other women to see that, yes, I can be successful as a head coach and successful as a mom."

That example helped one of McGraw's assistants, Niele Ivey. An All-American guard who led Notre Dame to the national title in 2001, Ivey was a mom to Jaden, 5, when McGraw offered her a job.

Jaden attended almost every road trip of Ivey's professional career in the WNBA, sitting with fans or staying with friends in the area. Before a game at Madison Square Garden, Ivey sat alone in a bathroom stall, breast pumping and thinking, "Man, NBA guys have it easy."

Ivey knew the Notre Dame job would require late nights and trips away from home. She had watched her mother, Theresa, work to send Ivey and her four siblings to Catholic school in St. Louis.

"For me, I never had reservations, because I saw my mom and Coach McGraw do both," Ivey says. "They are my role models. Some people hide their passion and turn down opportunities because they're scared you can't do both well. But coaching is my calling."

Stephanie Norman, Louisville associate head coach, was an assistant at Oregon State when her son Parker, now 16, was born. Daughter Cassidy came along three years later. Her first trip away from home came when Parker was 4 months old. The night before she flew out, Norman recalls, she lay on the floor of his nursery, "crying the entire night."

"As time goes on, you get a little more accustomed to it," she says. "But that first trip, man, it's hard."

Lindsay Gottlieb had been a mother for all of six days when her phone pinged with a message from a familiar foe: Charli Turner Thorne, head coach at Arizona State.

Less than a week earlier, Gottlieb had given birth to her first child, a boy named Jordan. She had been flooded with "Happy First Mother's Day!" messages, but Gottlieb says the most memorable came from Turner Thorne, who had started a text chain with all the Pac-12 moms.

Gottlieb always imagined she'd have a family. But it wasn't until she got her "dream job" in Berkeley seven years ago that she remembers feeling, "OK, I want the rest."

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March 20, 2018


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