Coach Mason and her players win some respect

January 31, 1994|By SUSAN REIMER

When Paula Mason tried to volunteer to help coach her son's 10-to-12-year-old basketball team, the guy behind the sign-up table looked at her funny and suggested maybe she would rather be the "snack mother."

No, she said evenly. She wanted to coach.

How about the "phone tree mother," he offered.

No, she said. She'd played in college at Catholic University and ++ she wanted to coach her son and, frankly, if he didn't want her as a volunteer coach, he wasn't going to get her as a volunteer anything.

The man behind the sign-up table brightened. She'd played in college? Would she write her credentials beside her name? Paula looked down at the list of names. All men and not one had written anything but a phone number beside his name. But she complied.

Paula Mason was an assistant coach that first year, and some fathers of her players would not leave the gym when she was running practice.

In her second year, she was head coach and lost her first scrimmage, 30-1. Some of the opposing coaches would not shake her hand or speak to her after the games that season, and her husband heard the circumspect conversations of her players' fathers in the stands.

"There was none of the inherent respect a father would get for being coach," Roy Mason recalls. "It was clear the team would have to do well to justify her."

They did. Her Wolverines finished the season in the Severna Park Green Hornets' league with a 9-4 record and beat the regular-season champion Hoyas, 30-27, to win the playoff title.

This year, fathers called her and expressed their dismay that their sons had not been assigned to her team again.

So Paula Mason proved herself as a basketball coach. And no one at a sign-up table for motherhood would ever ask this woman to write down her credentials. Just ask Matt, her center and her son.

"When she coaches, she gets really into the team and she helps everybody," says Matt. "Last year, we lost a lot of games at first, but she always made us feel like we were going to win the next game.

"And I like seeing my mom's team win and some people who thought they were so great, lose."

Paula is coaching Matthew because he asked her to, because he needed her to, because he is a bright but shy boy who feels better about things the more he knows about them and he would feel much better about basketball if his mom was his coach -- the way he feels about baseball when his dad is his coach. She's almost dismissive about what it's taken to respond to this request by her son.

"I am there because I am comfortable that Matt wants me there. I'd like to see more women do this. It is not that hard. If you had a daughter, you would do it. A dad doesn't think twice about this stuff. Don't do it and you lose an opportunity," she says.

That's easier to say if you know how to set a screen, and Paula Mason does. But she is also coaching her players in the finer points of sports courtesy. You don't enter the gym when another coach is there with his team. You don't dribble when your coach is talking. And she was the reason her team spontaneously cheered at the end of last season when one sorry player caught his first pass.

What is in this for Paula? She is a project director at North Arundel Hospital, and Friday night practices and games at 8 a.m. Saturday in the dead of winter do not make life simple. But her husband sees the benefit as he watches practice.

"She shares a masculine activity with her son, which will put her in a position to share a masculine activity with him in the future, when mothers are excluded," he says. "That will be special."

"He was a premature baby, and then he was around for six years before his baby brother got here," explains Paula. "We have always been close, but as he gets older, you have to fight for those things you have in common. I guess I hope that years from now, part of him remembers that he asked his mom to coach him and she did."

During the first game of this season, one of Paula's players cried on the bench, devastated by one bad pass. He was being too hard on himself, Paula knew, and his tears were hurting his teammates, too. She bear-hugged his raging little body, scolding him and comforting him all at once. Was she a mother just then, I ask, or a coach?

"I guess I don't see how you separate them."

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