San Antonio Sports coaches panel empowers women


Photo credit: Gabrielle Rodriguez

illustration by Gabrielle Rodriguez

In September of 2018, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) announced that the 2021 Women’s Final Four would be held in San Antonio. The event hosts —The University of Incarnate Word, University of Texas at San Antonio, and San Antonio Sports—immediately set out to break the all-time women’s basketball attendance record and empower girls in the San Antonio area.

To help meet these goals, San Antonio Sports hosted a panel on Oct. 13 with some of the most prominent coaches in Division I Texas women’s basketball to raise funds to send 5,000 Girl Scouts in the San Antonio area to the Final Four games, as well as kids from local youth organizations and servicemen and women.While it was free to watch the live stream, participants were encouraged to make a small monetary contribution. A donation of 10 dollars sends one girl to the game. The panel raised $10,545, which is a little more than a fifth of the $50,000 goal.

Moderated by Aditi Kinkhabwala, National Correspondent for the NFL Network, the panel had something for everybody, whether fan, coach, or player. The panel opened with a discussion with Jody Condrat, the former Head Coach and Women’s Athletic Director for the University of Texas in Austin, and Marsha Sharp, the Hall of Fame former Head Coach for Texas Tech University. The two legends reflected on the history of women in basketball, including the importance of Title IX and of using what’s learned on the court when faced with adversity. Condrat summarized the importance of women having the opportunity to foster the skills and values that come from being on a team.

“Many times young people don’t realize that what they’re learning on the basketball court and in the locker room are the very same skills that are going to make them successful in life and for so long, those skills were valued in young men, but not necessarily in young women. I am so happy, in today’s environment, those same values and those same skills are valued in young women, and more and more of them are having the opportunity to practice through basketball and other team sports,” Condrat said.

After the discussion with Condrat and Sharp, a group of Girl Scouts from the San Antonio community recited the Girl Scout Law. The Girl Scout Law emphasizes a lot of the same values that are associated with good sportsmanship and team dynamics, like honesty, responsibility and respect, among other values.

A recitation during a panel of industry professionals can easily seem out of place. Still, by highlighting these similarities in values, it is clear why San Antonio Sports dedicated themselves to bringing Girl Scouts to the game. The Girl Scout organization seeks to empower girls in the same way being on a sports team does, and what better way to inspire young girls than by engaging them in a competition filled with empowered women.

Kinkhabwala then introduced the main group of panelists: Baylor Head Coach Kim Mulkey, who was the first individual in NCAA women’s basketball history to win the national championship as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, Texas A&M Head Coach Gary Blair, who in his 32-year career as a collegiate head coach has only had one losing season, and University of Texas at Austin Head Coach Vic Schaefer, who has been coaching for 36 consecutive years.

The three women’s basketball coaches discussed things like building a culture within a program, how the coaching has changed over the course of their long career, and how the game has changed and grown. According to Mulkey, the biggest change has been that now more women are involved in sports.

“I don’t look back on anything as a coach and try to compare different eras. I think that what we have that’s the biggest difference of all is that you have more. You have more to choose from. There were a handful of those great blue-chip players back in the day when I played, and you had two, three, four teams that always were fighting for those players. On the women’s side, it’s getting better, and you have more of those players to choose from and spread across the country, and we all get a piece of the pie. On the men’s side, it’s always been that way,” Mulkey said.

The coaches also shared fun anecdotes about players over the years, particularly ‘the one[s] that got away.’ Blair recounted trying to recruit legends Cheryl Miller and Clarissa Davis. Schaefer spoke about losing Brittany Griner to Baylor after her father lost his cell phone on a recruitment visit. Blair even gave some insight into what Mulkey was like as a player.

Even though their teams go toe to toe, there was an atmosphere of respect and camaraderie between the rival coaches. Even as they discussed losing players to other coaches, they were smiling and making references to their relationships that exist off the court.

Although it was clear that every coach on the panel was extremely competitive, none of the participants were scared to admit when things had gone wrong or when they had lost. It was a common theme among the participants that they were vulnerable and honest in their story-telling. After all, the difficulties of COVID-19 united them. Blair’s closing words of wisdom to the Girl Scouts reflect that.

“Don’t be afraid of mistakes. My biggest pet peeve in life, and Vic [Schafer] has heard this many a time, is adults refusing to admit to making mistakes. I’m not talking about kids; they say ‘my bad’ all the time,” Blair said. “They know they’re going to make mistakes. But us adults. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake or admit to a mistake.”