It’s troubling when a woman coach leaves a high school girls basketball job

Jessica Witham (left) has resigned as Orono High School's girls basketball coach, (BDN File Photo by Brian Swartz)

Jessica Witham (left) has resigned as Orono High School’s girls basketball coach, (BDN File Photo by Brian Swartz)

And then there were 28….

With the resignation of Orono High School girls basketball coach Jessica Witham on Wednesday, there are now only 28 women who are head coaches on the state’s 143 high school varsity girls basketball teams, according to rosters listed on the Maine Principals’ Association website.

That’s disconcerting and even more so given that no progress has been made in the last 10 years as there were 33 women coaches of the 147 teams in the 2003-04 season.

Women qualified for these coaching positions should be given the equal opportunity to do these jobs and when receiving that chance should receive support from parents, the community, their coaching peers, school boards and school administrators.

Doing so would enable more women to provide leadership, mentoring and life lessons to young female student-athletes who might be motivated to chose a similar career path thanks to the guidance of a woman coach.

Woman coaches still have to overcome several obstacles that their male counterparts do not. Woman coaches who also have families have a difficult balancing act of committing time for their family and job. Some parents, especially men, also still don’t have confidence in a woman coach’s ability.

Many women, however, such as Witham, successfully balance family and job commitments and also have excellent coaching qualifications. She was a four-year basketball standout for the Orono High team before a fine career at the University of Southern Maine where she also served as an assistant coach for Gary Fifield, one of the state’s best ever college coaches and a member of the Maine Sports Hall of Fame.

She was a junior varsity basketball coach at Orono for a year and has been the varsity coach for the past nine seasons, compiling 128 wins and leading her team to three appearances in the Eastern Maine finals in the past five seasons.

Witham will not comment on her reasons for resigning and Orono administrators, thus far, are also keeping quiet.

Parental discontent over Witham’s decisions on playing time and her coaching style could be the reasons behind her resignation. Others, despite experiencing similar success and holding a good coaching position, have stepped aside for the same reasons.

In Orono’s case, hopefully due diligence was followed to insure Witham received an opportunity to address any concerns about her coaching philosophy and a chance for resolutions to any perceived problems.

Extra time spent to keep a qualified woman coaching a girls basketball team is worth it.

During the recent Eastern Maine tourney in Bangor, I noted during a Class B quarterfinal game that something rare was occurring — both teams’ coaches, Camden Hills’ Meg Cressler and Oceanside’s Samantha Wiley — were women.

More has to be done by communities, school boards and administrators to start making this a regular occurrence.

Joe McLaughlin

About Joe McLaughlin

McLaughlin (right) is a Stearns High School and University of Maine graduate who worked for three years at the Aroostook Republican and News in Caribou as a reporter and editor. He has worked on the BDN sports desk for 30 years, the last 18 as sports editor. McLaughlin and his wife, Kathy Schwigan, live in Brewer and have three adult children: Ryan, Matthew and Tess.