The Grace boys junior varsity basketball team stood around in the locker room after an eventful game against St. Ann’s. The odor of sweat permeated throughout as we waited for Coach Joy to enter. It had been a rough game, and our faces reflected the disappointment — we lost by a mere two points. Losing never feels good, but what made it especially disheartening this game was the absence of our coach.
The referee had called Coach Joy out and then removed her from the game. The offense? Coach Joy had done what any JV coach would do—she stood up to call a play for her team. But this prompted the referee to blow his whistle and scream that she was not allowed to stand on the court. A technical foul, he claimed. No one saw it, but we all knew the real reason for it: she was a female coach leading a boys high school basketball team. We all felt awful. The stigma against women coaching basketball was still painfully prominent, we realized.
But this was not the first instance of sexism during that game. As Coach Joy and her two male assistant coaches, Coach Woody and Coach Tyson approached the referees before the game, I stood there as the captain of our team, listening to the referee as he spoke exclusively to Coach Woody. The referee refused to address and recognize our head coach. I knew then, from the piercing look in his eye, that he was decidedly against any sort of gender equality in sports. Female basketball coaches were on the rise, and clearly, not everyone was on board. I wanted to shout at him.
Coach Joy Blackwell has been a focal point of the Grace athletic community for years. Not only does she coach the boys JV basketball team, but girls volleyball and softball as well. Anyone who has ever been a part of one of Joy’s teams understands the effort she puts into not only the team but every individual player. What makes Coach Joy so special is her ability to both unite and inspire a collective, while simultaneously handling teenagers dealing with the pressures that come along with getting to that point. With that being said, Coach Joy is tough as nails.
“Hey get on the line…no messing around in my practice.”Coach Joy
She played a multitude of sports in high school and credits her understanding of coaching to playing all she could whenever she could. Currently, there are eleven assistant female coaches in the NBA, and that number may be growing. Female coaches are often unfairly evaluated and perceived in a negative light by athletic directors, media, peers, parents, and athletes in comparison to their male counterparts.
She is the best coach I have ever had. She has challenged me like no one else has. She isn’t a female coach. She is an incredible coach, period. “I know you guys. You were all me at one point. I was you. I love the game. And we love to win,” she would say. Her mantra is always positive but firm. Make no mistake, Coach Joy is no pushover. She is tough, disciplined, dedicated, and most importantly a true competitor. She commands attention and we oblige.
For me, it was not the zones we ran or the plays we executed, but rather the example she gave which inspired me to mature and think of the bigger picture. I was a bratty kid who cried at every loss, but because of what Joy taught me, I was able to captain and lead a team. With Joy at the helm, it was always bigger than basketball.
She made it a point to work on the individual off the court before we had even practiced. These lessons of maturity she lends are apparent in almost all of the athletes she has coached. Everyone hates the running and conditioning at first, but by the end of the season, all her players are ready for war. Personally, playing for Joy has been my best experience at Grace Church.
While there is an increasing number of female coaches teaching boys across the country, it is still not mainstream. Joy understands this challenge and embraces it in a way that is unique and effective. She started her coaching career in 2006 coaching both boys and girls. The difference between them, she says, is that “While I teach girls the fundamentals of the sport, I am teaching the boys how to develop their basketball IQ.”
“I know you guys. You were all me at one point. I was you. I love the game. And we love to win.”-Coach Joy
No matter how we look at it, there is an embedded bias—conscious or unconscious— that can result in aggression towards women in coaching. Hence, the game at St. Ann’s, where the referee targeted our coach simply because she was a woman. Throwing her out of the game was an attempt to remove her authority.
Whether he admits it to himself or not, the truth is, Joy Blackwell stood up to coach her team along with the other coaches, but she was the only one asked to leave. The entire team stood and watched our coach exit the game. We needed her there and it showed as we lost in the last five minutes. We felt her struggle, and more than ever, we were all proud to be a part of her team at that moment.