Richardson, Texas-February 1 marks the annual celebration of National Girls and Women in Sports Day and its 2012 theme is “Title IX at 40: In it for the Long Run.”
While the NCAA Division III American Southwest Conference has existed since only 1996, it has been on board with the initiative from the start and is reaping the benefits now more than ever with graduates from its universities and colleges.
More than 15 former ASC female student-athletes are working full-time inside the conference as coaches or administrators, while countless others serve in graduate assistant or volunteer roles. All are appreciative of the opportunities they have and are quick to point out the milestones that made it possible, most notably Title IX.
The Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 is a federal law that states: No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.
“I was very grateful for the opportunity to play golf in college and have the ability to use the game into my career,” said LeTourneau University women’s golf coach Lauren (Clemens) Gentry, who was a national runner-up at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. “Opportunities for female athletes at all levels have increased in large part to Title IX, and it is exciting to see that the traditional all-star athlete is not just a male anymore. Female athletes are making a name for themselves starting in high school and succeeding all the way up to professional levels without any obstacles.”
Added McMurry University volleyball assistant Danielle (Kelton) Robarts, who jumped right into coaching with her alma mater a year after graduating: “I am grateful to those who have fought to raise awareness in women’s sports and promote equality. It is the sacrifice of others that not only allowed me to play college volleyball but now it has translated into my first career where I get to coach and develop young women.”
Perhaps the greatest success story of a former ASC student-athlete in a leadership role is East Texas Baptist University softball coach Janae Schlabs-Shirley, who won a conference title as both a player and a head coach for the same team ? not to mention guiding the Lady Tigers to the 2010 Division III national title.
“Coaching for the team I played for, there is a lot of extra pride that goes into every accomplishment,” Shirley explained. “However, there is also extra disappointment when there are shortcomings. Obviously it is two different feelings to win a conference championship as a player and then as a coach, but they are both exciting.
“Winning a national championship as a coach for the team I played for was definitely a unique experience. It was a great feeling to be able to give something back to the university that gave so much to me.”
Shirley is not the only head coach at ETBU who used to suit up as a Lady Tiger. Lyndsay (Simpson) Mashe, a two-time all-conference performer, guides the volleyball program. ETBU athletic director Kent Reeves watched Mashe and Shirley perform as student-athletes ? the latter as one of his players when he was head coach ? and then was the one to hire them. He did not hesitate one bit on either decision.
“What gave me the confidence to hire them was their demeanor and how they went about their business while they were here as students,” Reeves said. “I have a lot of pride in both of these young ladies. Not that they are just good head coaches, but that they do it the right way with class and in a Christian, family setting. The players on their teams know they are going to be treated like family and that is very appealing both to me as an athletic director and to the recruits and their families.”
Christy Shipley-Gipson, another one of Reeves’ former players at ETBU, and Whitney Wyly both still make time to help out in coaching despite having full-time workloads in nursing and education, respectively. The two former softball All-Americans are on staff at the University of Texas at Tyler.
“I have had some amazing experiences as an ASC student-athlete,” said Wyly, who just last May helped the Patriots to a third-place finish in the NCAA Division III finals. “Playing at UT Tyler allowed me to fulfill many lifetime dreams that I never thought possible. I have now been blessed with the opportunity to ‘pay it forward’ in a sense and hopefully influence student-athletes as positively as I have been influenced by our own coaching staff.”
On the other hand, for some former ASC female student-athletes, such as three-time soccer defensive player of the year Kelli Jackson of the University of Texas at Dallas, coaching isn’t the only way to stay involved. Jackson serves as an administrative assistant to a UTD athletics department that employs 27.
“I wanted to stay involved in athletics because of the atmosphere,” said Jackson, who is also advisor of the Comets’ Student-Athlete Advisory Committee. “Playing at UT Dallas for four years was one of the best times of my life, and now being a part of the athletic department allows me to still be a part of the collegiate environment.”
Jackson, like many other females involved in athletics or not, hasn’t forgotten those that paved the way.
“I am beyond thankful for those who have preceded me, and led the way for women in athletics,” she added. “Without the effort of those behind Title IX, most girls wouldn’t have the chance they do today. Whether it be coaching, administration, or opportunities beyond athletics, women now have a chance for an experience that some will never be fortunate enough to understand.”
NOTES: Former ASC female student-athletes now coaching/working in the league include: Janae Schlabs-Shirley, East Texas Baptist softball head coach and compliance director; Lyndsay (Simpson) Mashe, East Texas Baptist volleyball head coach and senior woman administrator; Jane Hays, East Texas Baptist volleyball assistant; Denise Lira, Concordia Texas softball head coach; Angela Gonzales, Concordia Texas softball assistant; Cassi Little, Texas-Tyler basketball assistant; Christy Shipley-Gipson, Texas-Tyler softball assistant; Whitney Wyly, Texas-Tyler softball assistant; Danielle (Kelton) Robarts, McMurry volleyball assistant; Kate Bell-Keierleber, LeTourneau softball head coach; Lauren (Clemens) Gentry, LeTourneau golf head coach and senior woman administrator; Brooke Kincade, LeTourneau soccer assistant; Melanie (Orsak) Chonko, Hardin-Simmons basketball assistant; Katie (Johnson) Challenger, Texas-Dallas soccer assistant; Liz (Dunham) Ramirez, Texas-Dallas athletics operations manager; Kelli Jackson, Texas-Dallas athletics administrative assistant; Polly Thomason, Texas-Dallas basketball head coach; and Keely Schlabs, East Texas Baptist softball operations.
By Greg Weghorst
ASC Assistant Commissioner