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Girls athletics has come long way, but journey not over

The Tampa Prep gym was smelly and dark and downright oppressive. After practice, when she had sweat through her third T-shirt, freshman Jennifer Few would load up the volleyballs in the team shopping cart and push it across the floor like a bag lady aimlessly crossing the street.

Conditions in 1983 weren't that inviting for a female high school athlete or coach. But Tampa Prep coach Carol Chalu ignored the dank walls, motivating her players with 30 laps and stern encouragement, making sure they reached their destination. Few and her teammates would win three state championships.

Now Few has a fancy ball-hopper in a bright gym at East Bay High, where she is a first-year volleyball coach.

"When you learn from the best, there's no other way of sharing information unless you teach others," said Few, who never considered coaching before she met Chalu.

Like Few, Kalyn Bayly lived for softball and soccer before coming to high school. But her coaches in those sports at Lakewood didn't seem to take a personal stake in the team.

In contrast, Liz Collins, Bayly's volleyball coach, would cry with the squad after a tough loss.

"I ended up doing my best in volleyball, and that was probably because of Liz," Bayly said. "Liz Collins did everything she could to make us better players and better people. I know she cared about us so that's why I'm here. To give back."

Bayly is in her second year as volleyball coach at Lakewood. She is helping find setter Amy DeWitt _ a three-sport star like herself _ a college scholarship.

Few and Bayly represent an emerging trend of twentysomething female coaches, repaying the profession that molded them.

Women coaches can serve as crucial role models for girls in a sports world dominated by men. Yet today, while more high school females are playing sports more than ever, women coaches are still in the minority.

"Girls need to have a same-sex role model so they can say, "If that female can do it, I can do it,' " said Linda Carpenter, a lawyer and professor at Brooklyn College who studies women in sport. "It's different when they see that a male can do it. One expands a student's horizons and the other only gives a student a good experience."

Women coaches send a message without even giving instruction. Kim Lopez was a varsity swimmer at Northeast High and Florida State and now coaches both the girls and boys swim programs at Gibbs High. "I think girls need to know it's okay to be an athlete," Lopez said. At the same time, Lopez is also a mother of three. "The boys get to see the nurturing side of a coach," she said.

Role models are "absolutely essential" for high school age students, particularly girls, according to Bob Schleser, associate professor of psychology at Illinois Institute of Technology. Role models have "always kind of been there for boys historically in sports. Although there's more equity in competition now, there's enough residue bias that girls still need strong role models," Schleser said.

Claire Roach seems to have had role models follow her all of her athletic career. The former basketball and volleyball star from Clearwater Central Catholic, Roach is now a sophomore starter on the University of Florida volleyball team.

From St. Paul middle school physical education teacher Susie Rossler, to CCC high school basketball coach Dean Soles, to Florida's Mary Wise, Roach has not lacked motivation from an outside _ or inside _ source.

"A lot of my coaches, even in middle school and during my junior varsity years, told me to stick with it, even when one middle school coach said I would never make it," Roach said. But it was Soles who made her believe in herself. "I think he was definitely one of the most influential figures besides my parents. Besides athletics, he just directed me the right way," she said.

Now at Florida, Wise has encouraged Roach to work with young volleyball players at summer camp, and the experience has turned Roach toward coaching as well.

The veteran coaches in this area all can list proteges who have entered or are at least considering the profession. Marlyn Bavetta at Ridgewood coaches volleyball and softball and is an assistant with her husband on the basketball team. She listed a half-dozen of her former students who are in college planning to get into coaching.

"I think it might be changing," said Bavetta, who has coached for 17 years. "You might see more and more women getting into the profession now. The only thing that might deter them is having a family.

"I feel as a female, we budget our time," Bavetta said while helping her freshman daughter with her homecoming dress, having just returned home from volleyball practice. "You put something on the back burner. The person you always forget about is yourself, though."

Chalu can understand that. She is divorced, without children, and says she rewards herself through her achievement _ becoming a nationally renowned volleyball coach _ and through her athletes. "I gain my experience dealing with other families," she said.

As athletic director at Tampa Prep, Chalu, 43, has an even deeper perspective of the profession. "Coaching is not a high-paying job and not everybody can make it a career," she said. "They do it because they love sports. Many of the girls who have had sports experience here (at Tampa Prep) with me, as competitive and demanding as it is, it seems they love it enough and decide to get back into it. Especially as an extracurricular.

"As more and more girls have positive sports experiences in high school, you'll see more females in sports. Still, in the lower levels, sports is not encouraged enough for girls."

With the effect of Title IX trickling down from college to secondary education, the hope is that it eventually impacts the elementary level. Now for girls in junior high, the Women's Sports Foundation and the high school federation are putting on clinics to teach them how to be role models, speakers and coaches.

"We do need to make sure that the mentoring programs and the leadership conferences are kept up," said Susan True of the National Federation of High School Associations. "That way we will let girls understand the opportunities for them."

Up next:Week 9