“He took it from me, looked past me to our head coach standing behind me and asked with a smile if I was his new secretary…”

This year was my first year as a high school assistant track coach for a boys program in Des Moines, Iowa. I am the only female on staff. I had an incredibly positive first year experience overall an not once did I have an athlete or another coach on staff diminish my coaching ability because I was a woman. As a matter of fact, our head coach recruited me to be on his staff and I actually got my coaching license because of his encouragement.

All of the above is what made my experience at a local suburban high school this spring disturbing. I was asked by our head coach to attend the coaches’ meeting before the meet in his place. I was excited to do it because as a first year coach, I was eager to learn as much as I could.

I walked into the meeting and was greeted by one of the host coaches and handed our team packet. I stood at the back and listened to announcements and anything they noted. We were told that if we had any changes in relays that we needed to put them on a form and give them to a man sitting along the side of the room at a laptop. Now I am still not sure what his official role was, but he was up in the press box during the meet and worked with results, awards, and line ups.

I asked our head coach if we had changes and he told me what they were and had me jot them down because he wanted me to learn the way this procedure worked. All season long he emphasized wanting to show me all the ins and outs of the job. Once I had filled out the form, I headed to the side of the room where the man at the computer was, told him we had changes and handed him our form. He took it from me, looked past me to our head coach standing behind me and asked with a smile if I was his new secretary.

To say I was taken aback is an understatement. Now I understand that sexism is alive and well in so many professions, but I had never been subject to such a blatant display of it. I was shocked and angry and because I couldn’t believe what I heard, I didn’t say anything. I looked at our head coach and he immediately told the man that I was his new assistant coach and introduced me. He followed it up by saying I had just run the Boston Marathon the week prior which I can only assume was his way of attempting to prop up my qualifications and emphasize that I was more than what this man had reduced me to.

There was no apology from this man or attempt to take back his statement. I walked away beyond angry and still dumbfounded by the situation. It was a difficult position to be put into because I wanted to make sure I represented our program with integrity which is why, I believe anyway, I didn’t say anything that was going through my head. It still bothers me because I know nothing would have been said if I were a male assistant. The good news is that I am supported by my fellow coaches at the high school where I coach, my athletes and parents. It still doesn’t take away the sting of this man’s ignorance.

I know this won’t be the last of this type of behavior I encounter as I move on, especially as a woman coach in boys sports. I just hope the next time I can be ready with a response to stand up for myself.

Bio: Sara Schwendinger has just finished her first year as an Assistant Middle Distance Boys Track Coach at Des Moines Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa.  She has been a runner herself for almost 26 years (August marks her 26th “runiversary”).   Racing distances from the 800m to the marathon. I just turned 40 in March so I’m a proud masters runner now.  Living in Des Moines with her husband David and our furbabies Maisy, a Boxer Mix, and Nosey and Bandit, two Maine Coon cats.