`Coach Mom' breaks old rules

Breakthrough: Anti-discrimination lawyer Kathleen Cahill braves new front lines the Little League field.

August 20, 1999|By Sarah Pekkanen | Sarah Pekkanen,SUN STAFF

Kathleen Cahill has fought on the front lines of some of Maryland's highest-profile sexual harassment cases. First she represented a Baltimore County policewoman who was retaliated against for complaining about colleagues' lewd remarks. Then, in a celebrated 1996 case, Cahill sued the Maryland State Police for sexually harassing three troopers. She won, and sweeping reforms followed.

But the steel-nerved anti-discrimination lawyer was unprepared for what happened when she entered another of society's male-dominated domains: Little League.

When Cahill began coaching for a Lutherville-Timonium recreation league this spring, her 6- and 7-year-old charges took it in stride. But other coaches and a few parents were shocked to see her move beyond the juice-and-cookie duties usually assigned to moms.

One stepped in front of her to correct her boys' batting stances. Another called her "Bat Girl." Still another implied Cahill was favoring her own son.

"It was," she says of her breakthrough role, "like [being] a female astronaut who has piloted."

Now Cahill, 43, is taking up a new cause: drafting women as coaches. She has talked to Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks, who runs clinics for boys, about the possibility of organizing camps for Coach Moms.

Cahill, a former competitive figure skater who boasts a "pretty good" right arm, points out, "You need all the coaches you can get, and obviously they come in both genders."

A glance at the league's roster of players shows why female role models are needed: Though the 10 teams were co-ed, only two girls signed up to play.

Every social movement must begin with baby steps, and to make it easier for those who follow her, Cahill is happy to impart the wisdom she collected during a season as the league's lone female coach:

On bluffing:

"It's really important to be organized, because that way, you appear competent. On muddy days, I'd bring in paper towels, and [the male coaches] would be like, `Wow! What a great idea!'"

On conflict:

"At one game, a coach for the other team took over coaching my boys. He'd come up to the plate and try to fix their stance. Instead of saying, `Bug off,' I pointed out the [boys' fathers were] right behind them. I felt pretty darned mature. In the old days, I would've reacted differently. But the boys would have felt controversy, and that's the last thing I wanted to impart."

On preparing:

She collected tips "as rigorously as if I was going to Harvard Law School."

Best tip received:

"The coaches all wore caps with the letter L [for Lutherville]. One day, a guy pulled me aside and said, `You've gotta wear the cap.'"

On good sportsman(woman)ship:

"When I cheered for (the girl players on other teams), my boys would get mad."

On securing an undefeated record:

"At that age, you win every game."

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