Outnumbered

The underrepresentation of women in NCAA division III athletics from a female perspective.

By Emily Mendes

February 23, 2017

SKIDMORE COLLEGE, N.Y. — Hilda Arrechea claims her childhood was “standard.” Her family fled Cuba, then escaped the Dominican Republic after her father was almost killed, and finally settled in the relatively poor Puerto Rico after missing close to two years of elementary school. Despite a enduring a tumultuous childhood of running around the Caribbean, she’s now coaching the sport that gave her a sense of consistency throughout her youth, volleyball.

Hilda Arrechea. Photo taken from Skidmore Athletics.

Arrechea brushes over her transition of coming to America, “I’m not attached to home, I’m not attached to a car, I’m not attached to things, I’m not attached to places, I’m attached to people.” But being attached to people, her husband Jerry Rodriguez, came with challenges.

Outsiders of Skidmore Athletics often think Jerry is the head coach, yet, he lacks any playing or coaching experience. Coaching has always been a male dominated field, where men are primarily found on the sidelines no matter the gender of players. Visiting coaches, recruits, and parents don’t inquire about speaking to “head coach” Jerry because he has a strong reputation in the volleyball world, they ask because he’s a man.

Skidmore women’s volleyball team. Arrechea and Rodriguez on left. Photo taken from Skidmore Athletics.

But when questioned about challenges she faces as a female coach, Arrechea didn’t consider this to be one of them. She‘s aware of the ’systemic sexism in division III sports of the NCAA — she just doesn’t care.

“I don’t offend easily,” she explains, “not because I have thick skin; for me to be offended I have to care for your opinion and if you’re such a pitiful person to think less of me for something I don’t care about, I move on. If you think I’m less of a person because I’m a woman or because I’m Latina I don’t care for your opinion. Everyone faces adversity.”

It’s possible that she doesn’t consider her journey to be filled with obstacles because of the nature of the sport itself. While men’s volleyball remains popular in Puerto Rico, it hardly exists in division III athletics in the United States. Arrechea didn’t compete with male coaches for positions at the collegiate level. After Title IX, women’s volleyball exploded in the states because the sport could be played in facilities that were already built.

But Arrechea wasn’t the only coach who easily ventured into coaching. “It wasn’t a hard transition for me,” says Beth Hallenbeck, head coach of Skidmore College’s women’s field hockey, “it’s what I knew, what I was familiar with, what I loved.” After graduating as an English major and three-sport division I athlete at Colgate University, she realized her “classroom could be her field” and joined her two passions: teaching and athletics.

Beth Hallenbeck. Photo taken from Times Union.

Although standard for women to coach collegiate field hockey in the U.S., Hallenbeck still encountered male opposition. “You’d have to fight for the right practice times, it wasn’t just automatically shared.” Unlike Arrechea who sparked confusion for being the head coach rather than her husband, Hallenbeck faces other disadvantages. She didn’t always compete with women for coaching jobs, but rather international male coaches. As a popular sport in Europe, field hockey breeds male coaches who frequently take assistant coaching positions for women’s teams in the U.S.

Arrechea and Hallenbeck are both in their late 50’s and don’t have children. Both discussed societal expectations of women when asked why female coaches are underrepresented compared to male coaches. “You get in your late 20’s, 30’s, you wanna have a family, what are you gonna do? Coaching is a demanding occupation, you’re on the road, you either have a great sympathetic husband or partner or you can’t do it. So I think a lot of people get out of it. You see the guys in this hallway — they all have kids, look at Joe Burke ( men’s basketball head coach), he has four kids, I mean how do you do that? You’ve got somebody taking care of them. Hallenbeck continued to explain, “it’s a choice. If you do your job well, you’re out recruiting every weekend, it’s not a 9–5 job so it’s not as easy for some of those things.”

While Hallenbeck expressed that this probably wasn’t a popular belief, Arrechea spoke almost identically. As women, “we are still the ones who take care of the house, take care of the kids, I mean I don’t have kids… It’s a nightmare of a profession, you leave the house at 8 o’clock (in the morning) on a Friday (during a ten week long season), and you don’t come back until Saturday at 8 o’clock at night.” She further emphasized social norms still attached to women, “we are still a society where kids are raised, the house is kept by the woman. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it is. So men are much more comfortable leaving and wives staying home taking care of the kids… it’s not a 9–5 profession that you can just go to work, put your kids in daycare or school and then get home.”

“Most of us don’t have kids in this hallway. I can’t even have a dog much less a kid.”

But female coaches aren’t alone in thinking that societal expectations hinder women’s opportunities to coach collegiately. Student-athlete Bailey Hutchins, a sophomore volleyball player at Skidmore College coached by Arrechea, also expressed concern for women confronting stereotypes while entering the coaching profession. She explains that there is an idea of what women should be doing after college; “it used to be working and getting married and having children but I think now it’s… more professional fields…there is more of a push towards getting a professional job as opposed to coaching.”

Bailey Hutchins. Photo taken from Skidmore College Admissions.

But why do these expectations of what women should be doing after college still exist? And why shouldn’t young women dive into coaching after they graduate? Long pauses of silence followed when both Hutchins and Brianna Cochran, junior on the Skidmore College women’s soccer team, were questioned. The players seemed more concerned than Arrechea and Hallenbeck about the extreme outnumbering of female coaches in division III sports. They’re not wrong be fearful; Arrechea and Hallenbeck come across as almost exceptions as not having faced many challenges. But they didn’t know why this outnumbering occurs — not even being able to provide an explanation.

Because there is no logical explanation.

Cochran explains how “we live in a gendered society… people would criticize a woman for coaching a men’s team… “I know that people probably have stigmas against female coaches but I don’t so it’s really hard for me to think about it like that because I would never look at a female coach and make assumptions like that… but I know that people do…”

Brianna Cochran (#3) and Skidmore women’s soccer class of 2018. Photo taken by Emily Mendes.

For some, these stigmas are important. For some, the lack of female coaches is frustrating. For some, like Cochran, being a young woman and having a female coach is comfortable. For others, like Arrechea, all of this means nothing.

“I don’t think a woman needs to look up to a woman. I don’t think a man needs to look up to a man. You need to look up to good people. Gender, race, sexual preference, ethnic background — those to me are thing that are completely out of your control so why would I admire you for being a woman when you had no control about being a woman? I can look at somebody and admire them for what they’ve done… I like to see them (women) represented but I don’t like to see them in coaching roles just to be a representative.”

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Emily Mendes’s story.