Harder on his kids, coach makes uneasiness disappear

On High Schools

May 07, 2006|By MILTON KENT

Shakespeare was not talking specifically about teenagers when he noted in Julius Caesar that "Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once."

But even the bard likely knew that even the most valiant of teenagers die over and over again, and the cause is usually the same, namely embarrassment at the hands of their parents.

When she heard that her father, Mitch, was going to coach the St. Paul's girls lacrosse team this season, Caity Whiteley, a senior attack, was worried that his presence would separate her from the rest of her teammates, that people would perceive that he was playing favorites.

In other words, she was afraid he would embarrass her.

"I knew it would be more pressure on me because people would think I was playing because I'm Coach's daughter and I was getting the ball more because I'm the coach's daughter," Whiteley said. "I knew that I had to prove people wrong. People will always say that kind of stuff."

Mitch Whiteley, who took over the girls program at St. Paul's in October after 11 years of coaching the boys there, had some of the same trepidations about coaching Caity and her sister, Julie, a sophomore reserve goaltender, who has played limited minutes this year.

Indeed, Whiteley, who led the boys team to three Maryland Scholastic Association A Conference titles, had to be talked into taking over the girls team from last year's coach, Jim Stromberg, the school's athletic director, after three months.

"I think the issue for them [Caity and Julie] really was that I've always had a good relationship with the players on my team," Mitch Whiteley said. "That's a big part of it. I'm overly careful about not showing favoritism at all. My son would always say that I would joke around with everybody else and keep him at arm's length.

"There might be some of that with my own kids as well. I think the danger in this is that you could favor your kids and put them in positions that aren't good and that draws criticism, or, as I think I've done, you could be harder on them, which makes it more difficult for them and their function on the team."

Had Whiteley not already had the experience of coaching his older son, Timmy, in the early 1990s, things may not have gone as well as they have so far. The Gators (14-3) are ranked seventh in the area. They drew the No. 2 seed in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference tournament and a bye into Tuesday's second round.

"He's really positive, which is a good thing," Caity Whiteley said. "Also, I get to spend more time with him. Usually, he'd be busy coaching the boys or worrying about boys lacrosse. Now, he's busy coaching us and worrying about girls lacrosse. We have more time to spend together."

While Mitch Whiteley may not have wanted to show overt favoritism to Caity, it would have been folly for him not to have made her a major part of the Gators' approach.

She was moved from midfield to attack and has 67 points so far this season, with eight goals and eight assists in St. Paul's past three games, against Roland Park, Bryn Mawr and St. Mary's.

And while parents try not to compare, Mitch Whiteley can't help but see similarities between Timmy, a three-time collegiate All-American, and Caity, who will be following her brother to Virginia this fall, in that each is an undersized player who gets by on guile more than brawn.

"[Timmy] was very, very effective," Mitch Whiteley said. "He got effective because he had great skills and a vision with the way he saw the field and felt the game. That was his strength, and that's the same with Caity.

"I think she always felt that she wasn't going to be 8 feet tall and be able to overpower people, so she had to be smarter and slicker and just more skilled. Whether it was gaining that realization early that they were going to have to be more cerebral players, you might say, or they had to be able to catch and throw and do all the little things right because they weren't going to be able to overpower people, I don't know. But it's uncanny the way they are with their style."

On the whole, then, having a father around as a coach probably hasn't been as horrible an experience as a teenage daughter might have previously thought.

"It's turned out better [than expected]," Caity Whiteley said. "I think our team is a lot closer this year, because of his positive attitude. I was kind of nervous at first about what my teammates would think, but everything has worked out fine. We're playing pretty well."

And she probably hasn't died of embarrassment once. milton.kent@baltsun.com

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