Coach strikes rare balance in roles as mentor, mother

December 23, 1992|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

ATLANTA — The Berenato household is a hectic one. Start with four kid ranging in age from 2 to 9, mix in a homesick basketball player or two spending the night and then turn it into a single-parent family when recruiting season sends the coach on the road for weeks at a time.

But being married to a college basketball coach is worth the hassle. Just ask Jack Berenato.

"She's very focused at trying to balance everything," said Berenato, whose wife, Agnus, is the women's basketball coach at Georgia Tech. "I knew that even if I were a millionaire, she would spend 24 hours and seven days a week at her job. If you accept that, you just go forward. That's one of the reasons I married her.

"It's hard at times, but like the commercial says, you just do it."

Agnus Berenato knew what she wanted to do -- coach basketball -- ever since her playing days at Mount St. Mary's College in Emmitsburg, Md. Her inspiration came from former Baltimore Bullets guard Fred "Mad Dog" Carter, who arrived to coach the women's team at the Mount in 1978. Berenato began coaching high school basketball in 1980, and she has never looked back.

Her husband and her four children have gotten used to it. They know that basketball coach is as much a part of her resume as wife and mother. There aren't many others like her in coaching.

The Women's Basketball Coaches Association says that of the 154 women who coach at the Division I level, only eight are mothers.

But Berenato's devotion to her work does not mean she gives her family short shrift.

"I think it's really great that I have total confidence in myself that I can be a great coach and a really good role model," said Berenato. "And I have total confidence that I can be a great mom and a good wife.

"Sometimes you have to fight the odds. Sometimes you have to fight the negative recruiting, like, 'How do you think she has time to give to you as a player when she has her own four kids and she's on the road recruiting? If she has any spare time, she's going to spend it with her family, not with the team.'

"But give me a chance and I'll prove to you, I think, it can all be done. It's just a matter of priorities."

For Berenato, 36, those priorities include sentiment and family. So she does little things that make her different from most coaches.

Like staying in the office until nearly midnight to catch up on paperwork and doing the grocery shopping at 1:30 in the morning after being on the road recruiting for nearly three weeks.

Like taking a homesick freshman home with her to play Nintendo and Barbie with her children and be surrounded by a family setting.

Berenato says the "extras" might be the reason that she feels as though she's falling behind in a stress-filled profession. Yet she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I don't think she realizes that it is really that difficult," said Jack Berenato, who has a career of his own, arranging for laborers to set up conventions. "I think she thinks other women [who complain] are wimps. I don't think she portrays herself as superwoman, but she knows it can be done."

Fewer women coaching

Agnus Berenato may not be a superwoman, but as a woman who coaches, she is one of a dwindling breed.

According to a 15-year study of intercollegiate sports conducted by R. Vivian Acosta and Linda Jean Carpenter, two physical education professors at Brooklyn College, women are much less likely to be hired as coaches or administrators than men.

The Acosta-Carpenter study indicated that 48.3 percent of coaches ofwomen's teams are female, down from 90 percent 20 years ago.

In the past 10 years, the professors found, there has been an increase of 812 jobs for coaches of women's intercollegiate teams, but only 181 have been filled by women.

And with an NCAA-mandated reduction in coaching staffs going into effect this year, opportunities for women to coach might shrink further. The NCAA, which had allowed men's and women's basketball teams to carry as many as five paid coaches, has cut all staffs to four paid coaches.

"There's going to be one male coach from every single men's program that's going to be gone," said Berenato. "But they've got 10 years' experience with Bobby Knight or eight years' experience with Dean Smith or seven years with Bobby Cremins.

"Then you have a female. Because we never really had the budgets to have large staffs, we don't have any experience with anyone. We're just getting out of grad school. So, who are you going to take?"

When they do get coaching jobs, women earn substantially less than their male counterparts. According to a 1991 NCAA study of average salaries in Division I, a men's basketball coach earns $88,984 compared to $45,847 for a women's basketball coach. Those are base salaries that don't include perks such as shoe contracts and radio/television deals that men's coaches usually secure.

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