Three local coaches gave their thoughts to The Press about what girls sports meant to them.
Tom Kontak (Genoa/Oak Harbor)
Tom Kontak says there are more important issues than all those championship banners that he and assistant coaches Chris Rawski and Art Eli hung from the rafters of Genoa High School.
During his six years, the Comets would go 91-44. There were 61 league wins, which topped the SLL during that span and back-to-back SLL championships in '06-'07 and '07-'08.
|Tom Kontak (Press photo
by John Pollack/www.smug
All of which would forge the Lady Comets into one of the hottest tickets in town, filling gymnasiums when the girls basketball team played.
In addition, Kontak coached the Comet softball team to a 167-52 record between 2003-'10; two SLL titles and a trip to the Division III state final four.
As much as he was known for winning the District 7 D-III Coach of the Year award for hoops in '08-'09, many regard Kontak as a champion of young women's rights, raising them to equal billing in the often formative venue of high school sports.
"I have coached girls with the same beliefs I have coached my boys' teams," says Kontak." We work hard, we play hard, and we represent our team and our school, and we are accountable for all we do. We are loyal to each other. Those values don't have a ‘gender’ on them. I would say I have had our girls work in the weight room just as much as our boys. I have challenged our girls just as hard as I have challenged our boys. To me, it would be disrespectful to any young lady, to coach them any ‘softer’ than a boy. Girls are tough, too, and want to be challenged just like anyone else."
Kontak has helped develop an impressive collection of outstanding former prep athletes in Simone Eli, Brittany Darling, Olivia Reeder, Courtney Mowery, and Abbey Kontak. . .all of whom have gone on to participate in athletics collegiately.
"I would say that it is pretty clear that Title IX, and the responsibilities that go with it, have balanced some issues. Scheduling, especially with girls' basketball, has been impacted, as in the past, you always would've seen girls' games on Mondays and Thursdays, with boys' games traditionally scheduled on Tuesdays and Fridays.
“I think of Title IX as creating fairness, and pride, and accountability, and I hope I have instilled those values in all of the players I have coached.”
Thom Stanley (Genoa)
Girls track first became a varsity sport at Genoa High School in the 1975-76 school year. Thom Stanley took the field then as head coach and remained there another 29 years.
“Things have changed a fair amount over the years,” said Stanley, who retired from coaching and teaching in 2008. Mainly, he said, “The girls have begun to take it more seriously.”
He also lent his coaching skills to girls’ basketball for a short stint as well as walking the sidelines as an assistant coach for the Comets football team.
During his tenure, he witnessed the evolution of women’s sports first hand.
“Girls had been in intramurals before then and the turnout to play was pretty good. But once they realized you had to be better than intramural level, the numbers started to even out,” Stanley recalled.
And as that mindset changed, so did the caliber of the girl athletes on the field.
“The girls got stronger, a little more serious. A little more dedicated. And with the advent of high-profile scholarships, competition got steep,” said Stanley.
Still in those early years doors weren’t open for girls like they are now, he added. There still were a lot of challenges to overcome.
What main differences does he see between now and 30 years ago?
“The coaches are far better, the training is better and the facilities are superior,” Stanley said. Daily training back then kept athletes fit. It was, however, nothing compared to today’s routine. Few girls had anything to do with weight training. “Going back to the original days, we had something called a universal gym. You could do nine different things. But I think some of them were embarrassed to do it. No, there was no real weight training until, maybe, the end of the late ‘90s. We did more what was considered aerobics.”
The combination of those changes allowed women’s sports to catapult to unprecedented levels.
In parallel, the athletes have been forced to accelerate their levels of personal responsibility necessary to excel in their sports, Stanley said. That meant everything from maintaining grades to knowing the rules in and out, he explained.
Was there an obvious difference in learning how to coach boys versus girl athletes?
Absolutely, Stanley said adamantly.
“There’s a lot to that old adage ‘girls are high maintenance.’ It’s true. You have to know the fine line of when you can push and when you can’t. There were days when you wanted to nudge someone a little further but you knew you just couldn’t. You knew today is not a good day and back off. I think my staff could all read that pretty well.”
Erika Foster (Gibsonburg)
Throughout her eight years of serving as a coach of young women, Erika Foster has known the privilege of being in a lot of different places.
|Former Gibsonburg coach
Erika Foster. (Press photo by
Indeed, she's instilled within the mindsets of young Gibsonburg 7th graders the basic skills of bumping, setting, and spiking needed to succeed in volleyball. She's taught the fundamentals of how to dribble with your head up to future Lady Rangers in Northwood's middle school basketball program.
The mother of three children, these days she even coaches her daughter's 8-and-under softball team, even though she hung up her well-traveled whistle at the high school level nearly eight years ago to spend more time with family.
A former three-sport athlete back in her own prep days who was a gritty competitor in volleyball, basketball, and softball, perhaps what Foster is most celebrated for is the storied Gibsonburg softball dynasty from 2001-'05, during which she led her Golden Bears to a string of three consecutive state championships from '01-'03 and complied a career record of 124-24.
Still, more than shiny championship trophies and her Northwest District Coach of the Year award in '02, Coach Foster says the greatest honor has been having the opportunity to be a positive role model to girls. Of course, the friendships and lifelong bonds young ladies forge through sports is important, too.
Foster is proud to say she has such a friendship with former Gibsonburg star pitcher Jamie Wonderly, whom Coach still talks life and sports with.
"Jamie, along with many other players, has grown into a wonderful, amazing young lady," praises Foster. "Jamie worked extremely hard to be as successful as she was. She developed a strong work ethic, and determination. She is now teaching young ladies to pitch, and I am sure she teaches more than just mechanics. Being a strong, well-known past student-athlete allows Jamie to be able to use that position and play a powerful role in future women athletes!"
This is another great reward gleaned from being involved in girls’ sports, Foster says. It is the opportunity to pass on the torch so somebody else can begin their odyssey.
"I feel that many coaches have strong connections and relationships with their players that can impact them the rest of their lives. I still keep in touch with several of my past players. I have many players that I know would make those who fought for Title IX very proud," Foster said.
"I believe that Title IX has had a huge impact on women since 1972 when it was enacted. I believe that not only does it allow women to have the same rights as men as they should, but it's also allowed women to grow within their sport. Allowing women to have equal rights to play sports completely enhances women today as it has for the last 40 years. Women develop stronger self-esteem and other skills such as leadership qualities, work ethic, pride, determination, morale building, the ability to handle defeat, and stamina."
( — contributing to this article is Press sports editor J. Patrick Eaken and contributing writers Cindy Jacoby and Jeffrey D. Norwalk.)