Teresa Ross never set out to become the only female coach of a senior boys basketball team in British Columbia.
In fact, before she took her first coaching gig at Seycove secondary – on a Grade 8 team that included her older son Davey – she looked all over to find someone else to take the job.
“There was nobody to do it,” she says. “I think I phoned 22 people – I honestly remember doing that.”
It’s not that she didn’t have the skills to teach 13-year-olds how to play basketball – she’d played the game herself in high school, and coached it when she was a high school teacher in Richmond before leaving to raise Davey and his brother Chris, two years younger. It’s just that she wasn’t sure she wanted to do it. But there really was no one else, and so she dug out her clipboard and grabbed a seat at the end of the bench.
When Davey hit Grade 11 and moved up to senior, Teresa was entrenched as the head coach, and so – with the full support of the school, players and parents – she moved up right with them. She’s a confident coach, but that final step up to senior was a big one.
“My first year of senior, I was nervous,” she says. “The pace, the speed, the power of the game, the intensity. Boys are powerful – mentally, emotionally and physically – and so it’s quite a challenge to manage that speed.”
There were some awkward moments along the way, too. For instance Teresa would often get passed over during pre-game handshakes with referees and opposing coaches. Folks on the North Shore got to know her well, but things are still a little iffy when the Seyhawks travel to other districts.
“I was at the Pitt Meadows tournament and I was standing there by the bench and the ref walked right past me and went to one of the guys sitting on the bench,” she says. “They’ll shake my hand and you can tell by the look in their eyes that they’re kind of surprised. … There’s always that kind of look of, ‘Does she know what she’s doing?’”
Chris corroborates his mom’s story.
“So many times I see the refs walk by her,” he says with a chuckle, adding that the situation is likely further complicated by the fact that Teresa stands about five-foot-four. “It’s a little funny. … Basketball coaches are usually really tall guys, so it’s funny when they shake hands and she’s so much smaller.”
The team also had to sort out the etiquette for team meetings in the dressing room. Teresa will always send a man in first to make sure all the players are sufficiently dressed. She admits, however, that sometimes her patience wears a little thin when the timer is ticking.
“You don’t have time,” she says with a laugh. “You’ve got 10 minutes at the half and you’ve got to go with the flow of the game. You’ve got to get in there, get it done and get out. It’s no big deal.”
The awkward moments, however, are far outweighed by the positive support she receives, she says, including help from her sons. Davey was a team leader when Teresa first moved up to senior, and Chris has taken that role now that Davey has graduated.
“The guys looked up to my brother,” says Chris. “My brother and my mom made a really good team, and my mom and I do the same thing now.”
Other coaches have been helpful as well, says Teresa, listing of prominent bench bosses like Collingwood’s Andy Wong, Bodwell’s Johnson Chiu, West Van’s Greg Meldrum, Carson Graham’s Larry Donohoe Carson and Jim Kelly from St. Thomas Aquinas as some of the coaches who have helped make her feel welcome on the sidelines.
“There’s a lot of really supportive male coaches – well, they’re all men – on the North Shore,” she says with a laugh.
She’s now in her third season with the senior team – Davey graduated last spring and Chris is in Grade 11 – and Teresa has still never faced off against another female head coach at this level. But there’s no doubt that she can hang with the big boys. The Seyhawks just missed making the provincial championships last season, losing out to STA on a buzzer beater, and are challenging for top spot in the Howe Sound AA league again so far this year.
“This is probably the year I feel most confident,” she says. “I want to make it to provincials. I want to be one of those teams that gives (the players) that experience.”
Chris shares the same goal, and he’s confident that the team can do it with Teresa leading the way. His mom may be short in stature, but she has a “tall personality,” he says.
“I’ve never seen any team say anything to us about having a female head coach, but it does feel good when they sometimes underestimate us because of her,” he says. “That’s the last thing you should do, especially with my mom. She’s like the fiercest competitor ever.”
That fierceness presents itself during practices as well, where Teresa pushes her team hard. And there’s no slack given to Chris, even though as a longtime member of the provincial team he’s Seycove’s star player, on top of being the coach’s son.
“She’s serious. She’s really serious,” Chris says about Teresa’s coaching style. “Even being the coach’s kid, she doesn’t go easy on me. She’s pretty tough on me, and she’s pretty tough on all the guys. The guys respect her because she does so much for the team. … She kind of treats the team like her baby. She really takes a lot of care. She puts so much effort into this – it’s like her third child.”
That’s not too far from the truth, Teresa admits.
“It’s the hardest thing I’ve done, but probably the most satisfying,” she says about coaching the Seycove seniors. “Every one of those kids I see as one of my kids. I care about them all and I try to inspire them, make them feel confident. If they feel that, they play better.”
She may be carving a unique path as a female coach in a male-dominated world, but Teresa doesn’t spend much time contemplating her position as a trail blazer.
“I don’t really think about that,” she says. “I’m not really focussed on being the only lady out there, I just happen to be in this spot.”
Others have noticed, however, and are more than willing to sing her praises. Topping that list is her son Chris.
“I have never seen a female coach in boys basketball, unless maybe when I was in, like, Grade 3,” he says. “She’s super courageous. With all that testosterone out there, it gets pretty serious sometimes but she handles it really well. … She’s special.”
By: Andrew Prest, Writer, North Shore News
Photo by: Paul McGrath, North Shore News
Original article: North Shore News