At county coaches meetings, Eileen Boozy often has scanned the indoor landscape. She found nothing unusual _ at first.
But on second thought, Boozy recalled that in the room full of girls basketball coaches, men outnumber the women three-to-one. The women, she said, sit together with unspoken solidarity.
"It seems like it doesn't bother me a whole lot when I'm there," said Boozy, Gibbs' girls basketball coach. "But then when I think about it, it's weird. I wonder why there aren't more of us."
Today, high school females are playing in record numbers, but their coaches, role models and mentors are more often men.
In 1972, before the landmark federal law Title IX provided for equal opportunity for females in sport, 90 percent of female teams were coached by women. But, ironically, Title IX also seemed to open the doors for men in coaching; they rushed to coach women's teams as those jobs became better-paying and more prestigious.
It is only now that the number of women coaching female teams has begun to rise again. In the past year, the percentage of collegiate female coaches has increased to 49.4. In high school, however, the national average _ 36 percent _ shows no sign of increasing.
"At best, we're holding our own," said Susan True, associate director of the National Federation of State High School Associations.
In hiring their own, though, high school administrators perpetuate the status quo.
"People in control of hiring are predominantly male. More often, you hire people like you, and from the same network," said Donna Lopiano, executive director of the Women's Sports Foundation. "The refrain you hear around the country is that women don't apply. But, really, no one ever makes a paper hire. They go out and hustle their interests. This is happening with men, but they're (administrators) not looking at women's networks.
"Whenever you hire someone not like you, you must have an extraordinary affirmative-action commitment. The question is not, "Are (women) doing the same thing in applying (as men)?' but "Am I making an extraordinary effort to find someone?"'
Florida's high school hiring _ though not extraordinary _ is above the national average. According to the Florida High School Activities Association member school directory, the number of women coaches increased 6 percent over the past year _ to 47.6 percent.
Because coaching is an extracurricular activity in high school and does not offer a full-time salary, principals say they often have trouble finding candidates of any gender.
Unlike in college, the first priority for a high school administrator is to find a coach already teaching in the school. And since budget cuts have reduced area physical-education departments the past four years, in-house candidates are few.
"We advertise positions in the county and sometimes the kids themselves will recruit," said Doug Erwin, principal at Hillsborough High. "We are not in the business of recruiting for sports only. I think Hillsborough (County) has a very strong priority toward academics first. We can't sell out."
Without recruiting, though, Erwin said he has added two women to the coaching staff since he came to the school a year and a half ago.
Largo High School has a total of 16 athletic teams. Fifteen are coached by men, just one by a woman.
"There is no question I would actively recruit a female if we needed it," Largo principal Barbara Thornton said. "But I haven't seen it as a problem. I would try to recruit a black teacher because I see that need, but at this point, we have been so successful with the coaches we have."
In Pinellas County this year, 53 of the 184 coaches of girls teams are women (28.8 percent). In Hillsborough, there are 61 women coaches of 164 (37.2 percent). And 44 of the 118 (38 percent) coaches of girls teams in the North Suncoast counties of Pasco, Hernando and Citrus are women.
For the most part, men and women choose to coach high school athletes because teaching has enormous rewards. They certainly don't coach for the extra money, they joke.
Yet in Tampa Bay, men and women are paid equally for coaching the same sports. Men and women also have the same time constraints placed on family.
Why then, are there more men in the business?
Knowing how to play
Hiring practices are not the only reason. While Title IX has forced institutions to restructure girls' opportunities in sport, it has not been able to change some notions of gender bias. Some men and women still believe that men always have been more knowledgeable in sports.
"Women don't apply for coaching jobs unless they feel they are very well qualified," said Karen Partlow, director of the American Sport Education Program. "That attitude is different from most men who just want to put their hat in the ring. Women need to feel they can do that job better than anyone, or else they won't apply. They look at men that coach who had extensive sports experience and say, "I haven't had that so I won't apply."'
"It's the way we are brought up," Lopiano said. "Every male who has played basketball thinks they can coach it. Women have always believed that they need to be credentialed to be hired while males have the attitude that they can do everything. They are much more aggressive and risk-taking than women, just simply by the way culture treats them."
In a culture that emphasizes professional sports, men gain national exposure and are featured prominently as role models. Boys can dream with examples in mind, while women not only have fewer models, but fewer opportunities, says Dutch Weller, Seminole girls basketball coach. "I think a lot of boys at younger ages want to be pro athletes. Then reality hits them with academics" _ and they turn to coaching.
The outlets for women in sports close earlier than for men. "Girls have been trained into seeing that this is it. They're not thinking coaching," Weller said.
Granted, some young women are realizing that there are more lucrative careers available now.
"When I first started coaching, the girls would say, "I want to be a teacher and a coach,' said Kathy Biddle, athletic coordinator at Clearwater, and coach since 1979. "But you don't hear that anymore. Now they say, "I want to go into business, or own my own.' Other careers have become more important to a female than they used to be."
"The girls maturing now have a lot of choices in front of them than those from the pre-Title IX era," said Linda Carpenter, an attorney and professor of physical education at Brooklyn College studying women in sports. "It takes a pretty committed kid to decide to coach instead of say, going into business."
Yet while the glass ceiling continues to rise for women, society's view of family priorities casts a shadow over the coaching profession.
"This might sound sexist, but women may find that they don't have time to coach with a family," said Bob Hosack, director of centralized athletics in Pinellas County.
Carol Chalu, athletic director at Tampa Prep and a veteran volleyball coach, is divorced without children. She believes family life does restrict women, despite recent progress in child care. "Women are still the primary home-care specialists," Chalu said. "When both are working, (women) frankly don't have time to coach."
According to Lopiano, family pressures "shouldn't be holding back women. It's just a convenient excuse. Fifty percent of women in the work force don't have families," she said. "Look at research on male coaches, many of them leave the profession because of family."
But the number of men leaving the profession doesn't greatly affect the overall balance. Equality should come over time, say the experts, as more and more girls participate and recognize the opportunities in coaching.
"Men have competed for so much longer and have been raised to compete at an early age that right now it seems like a numbers game," said Rick Bose, softball coach at Gibbs. "Now you're seeing women beginning to appear and I think it will take another decade or two to see the numbers more reflective" of the participation level of girls.
Close to 3.4-million boys participated in high school sports last year, while almost 2-million girls participated _ up from 300,000 girls playing sports in 1971.
"I think we're now seeing that the first generation of women who do have excellent sports backgrounds is growing astronomically," said Nancy Hogshead, former Olympic swimmer and current president of the Women's Sports Foundation. And consequently, she says, the pool of applicants is sure to rise.
But applicants for which jobs? Perhaps administrators should approach diversity differently, tackling the harder odds first, says Lopiano.
Title IX may have opened doors for men to coach women, but the doors do not swing both ways. Women have hardly ever coached male teams, and if they do, it is for combined sports like swimming or tennis.
"The base problem lies in the fact that women coaches are not being hired to coach male teams," Lopiano said. "You would suspect that if the ratio is 50/50 men and women who coach women's teams then it should be 50/50 for men's teams. Women are almost non-existent and underrepresented.
"I think there has to be a real effort to get women to coach men. It will do an awful lot for women's athletics. If boys were exposed to women coaches, then the attitude of acceptance would just go across the board. It's just that the values are set in place early in life," Lopiano said.
How the numbers compare
Numbers of male and female head coaches of girls sports in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties:
Sport Pinellas Hillsborough
Volleyball 19 women, 23 men 12 women, 20 men
Basketball 7 women, 23 men 4 women, 20 men
Softball 7 women, 22 men 3 women, 20 men
Sport Pasco/Citrus Hernando Total
Volleyball 9 women, 10 men 1 woman, 3 men 41 women, 15 men
Basketball 2 women, 10 men 0 women, 3 men 13 women, 43 men
Softball 6 women, 10 men 1 woman, 3 men 17 women, 39 men