Women Coaches Win Big in Male Basketball; Molding Good Teams Helps These Teachers Overcome the Gender Gap of Teaching High School Sports

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WOMEN COACHES Win Big In Male Basketball

Two minutes into the game, and Wanda Oates' team is off and running to victory. Her players execute a perfect fast break, which leads to an easy basket and a four-point lead. On the other bench, Gertrude Fisher is on her feet -- yelling instructions to her players. She can only shake her heads as her team commits a second turnover.

Ordinarily, This early-season scrimmage between the Ballou Knights of Washington, D.C., and the Boston Tech Tigers of Boston, Mass., would be regarded as just another high school game. But this is one of the record books as two women go one-on-one against each other in what is still a predominantly male profession --coaching boys high school basketball.

As head coaches of boys basketball teams, Gertrude Fisher and Wanda Oates are in unique situation. Along with Debbie McIntosh, the White coach at Brooklyn's Prospect Heights High School, they are part big sister, disciplinarian and teacher to young Black men hoping to find success in sports. At first, these women were novelties to their players, the fans and the opposing male coaches. However, that soon gave way to indisputable respect as they began molding their teams into winners. "I used to have [male] coaches use me as motivation for their teams," Ms. Fisher says. "They would say, "You can't get beat by a skirt.' It would be a double blow out [to the opposing team] when they lost."

The three women have become luminaries at their schools, teaching health and physical education in their classrooms and drilling basketball fundamentals into their players on the court. Ms. Fisher, 36, is in her fourth season heading the boys basketball program at Boston Technical High Schools; Ms. McIntosh, 35, is in her second season at Prospect Heights High School in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Ms. Oates, 46, as in her first season as head basketball coach at Frank Ballou High School in Washington, D.C.

For these coaches, locker room etiquette takes on a new meaning. Unlike their male counterparts, the women never go into the teams' locker rooms while the players are showering and changing clothes. In the case of the Ballou team, the players are required to always wear T-shirts in the presence of their coach. "I may be 'Mama Oates,' butI'm going to step out of the room at that point, because you're not going to see me changing," she says. "It works both ways."

Although the three coaches are women, there is nothing genteel about them on the court. They are aggressive and want to win. They can discipline a player by cutting coveted playing time. Neither is shy about arguing a bad call, and pity the team that plays poorly. In the Ballou-Boston Tech game, it was an angry Coach Fisher who took her team off the floor at half-time, trailing by 20 points. Her locker room lecture could best be called "blistering," but it shook her team into playing better basketball. Boston Tech stormed back against Ballou in the second half, turning a potential rout into a very close game before finally losing by four points. "You can't be passive and coach," Ms. Oates says. "I haven't seen a passive and successful one [coach] yet."

The job also requires compassion. The women's success often hinges on listening to a player's off-the-court concerns, or lecturing the team about the evils of casual sex, drug abuse and skipping classes. …