Breaking gender stereotypes wasn’t on Joy Webster’s mind when she returned to coaching in late November.
Breaking the press and other basketball matters were of greater concern to Webster.
The New London native stepped into an emergency situation with the Lake Holcombe High School boys’ varsity basketball team and has provided stability, while leading the Chieftains to success.
Webster is one of a small number of women coaching boys’ basketball in Wisconsin. And judging by Lake Holcombe’s record, she’s doing it well. The Chieftains are in second place in the Lakeland-East Conference at 7-2 and rolled up 96 points Thursday night in a rout of Winter. At 9-9 overall, they have already won two more games than they did all of last season.
“It’s been great. She’s a really good coach,” said Jeremiah Reedy, the team’s leading scorer (20.7 points per game) and rebounder (8.0 per game). “The transition with her was pretty easy and I think it’s all worked out better for everyone.”
Webster, an elementary school teacher in the Lake Holcombe school district, decided to assist a team in crisis when the Chieftains’ previous coach, David Engel, stepped down less than a week before the Nov. 28 season opener. Lake Holcombe is a small Division 5 school located in the Eau Claire area.
“I started out by saying, ‘I’ll take the Friday practice,’ ” said Webster. “It led to a Sunday practice and then we opened the season on Monday and had three games that first week. I didn’t want the kids to have a coach for two weeks and then have another one two weeks later. So I said, ‘I’ll take it from here and let’s see what happens.’ ”
Webster is a 1983 New London graduate who played prep basketball for coaches John Dailey and Tom Schampers. Her maiden name is Lathrop, and her father, Robert, still lives in the New London area.
Webster is new to varsity boys’ basketball, but has plenty of experience coaching the game. She had previously coached girls’ basketball for 16 years in the Lake Holcombe school district, including a successful eight-year run as varsity coach. Webster won more than 100 games as the Chieftains’ girls’ basketball coach from 2002 to 2010 and she is the only Lake Holcombe coach to win a regional title.
“I’m a competitive person and it’s been fun getting into that competitive aspect again,” said Webster. “I grew up with four brothers and if that doesn’t make you competitive, nothing will.”
What made her leap into boys’ basketball less daunting was that she knew the skills and personalities of her players extremely well. She and her husband, Scott, coached the vast majority of the Chieftains players when they were in junior high.
“She’s always been there for us, going back to middle school,” said Reedy. “She’s been at every single game I’ve ever been a part of.”
According to Reedy, Webster’s gender has been “no big deal” and Webster said she hasn’t experienced many awkward moments in her two months of coaching boys’ hoops. Webster has taken on the additional pressure of coaching her son, Brady, who is averaging 9.6 points and 5.6 assists as the Chieftains’ starting point guard.
“It’s been a whirlwind, but it’s been good,” said Webster, a 1987 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater graduate. “The boys have been very receptive. I knew all these kids really well after having coached them with my husband. That really helped because they knew what kind of offense and plays I liked to run. They reacted very well to it and it’s been a nice group to work with.”
So what’s the biggest difference between coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball?
“The boys’ game is faster-paced and you’ve got to be on your toes all the time,” Webster said. “You can be up by 20 and the next thing you know, it’s a 10-point game. With the girls, you can relax a little bit if you’re up by 20.
“And there’s less drama with the boys. But, to me, there aren’t a lot of major differences. It’s basketball. You’re doing the same things: shooting layups, shooting shots, and playing defense.”
This isn’t the first time that Webster has stepped into a male-dominated sport. She was one of the first girls to play in the New London youth baseball league.
“Back then, girls didn’t play in the Little Leagues and there was no softball program,” said Webster. “I got girls to start playing baseball. I started out being a water boy and I was like, ‘I don’t want to be a water boy. I want to play.’ So they let me play baseball with the boys and, pretty soon, there were three of us.”
Webster has been a bit surprised with the publicity that she and the Lake Holcombe program have received. Webster was a part of state history on Dec. 1 when the Chieftains played a road game against a Prentice team coached by Amy Ring. It was the first time that two women have coached against one another in a Wisconsin boys’ basketball prep game.
“Really, it was just another game,” Webster said. “But it’s kind of funny because a lot happened in the first seven days. I had just taken the team on Friday and then we started the season on Monday, and then on Thursday I was making state history.”
The Lake Holcombe boys’ basketball job will be posted at the end of the season and Webster said she is about 70 percent sure she will apply for it.
“I’ve really enjoyed it. I’m not saying it hasn’t been more work,” Webster. “Most weeknights I don’t get home until 9 or 10 and I have a hard time sleeping after games. But it’s been fun. As a teacher, I work with early childhood and with kids that are 3 or 4 years old. I’ve missed communicating with the older kids and talking with the coaches. I’ve missed the social aspect of it.”
Reedy, a 6-foot-5 senior forward, won’t be around to play for Webster if she returns next year, but says the school would be wise to rehire her. With Webster running the team, Lake Holcombe has a decent chance of posting its first winning season since the Chieftains went 17-6 in 2007-08.
“She’s very strong willed, so she doesn’t let anything get by,” Reedy said. “She has the will to win and pushes us to do better. She’s changed things around here and made it more fun for us. She wants to win and that’s what we needed.”
Tim Froberg: 920-993-7183 or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter@twfroberg