Angela Berry-White has spent her whole life around soccer. She was an all-state player at North Central, played collegiately at George Mason, played for the U.S. National Team and was an assistant coach at Indiana and Butler.
But it’s as a coach at the high school level, she said, where she has been most blatantly confronted with a startling and troubling reality: Equality for female coaches is sorely lacking. And she worries about the message it sends to her players.
“There are times when we need to stick up, and this is a time I’m going to stick up for us as females,” said Berry-White, who is in her fifth season coaching Brebeuf Jesuit’s girls team. “People may not see it that way, but they are not in my position.”
Berry-White is speaking out after an incident during the team’s game last week against Carmel. After a Brebeuf corner kick in the first half, Berry-White and her assistants felt that there was a handball in the box and that the Braves should have been awarded a penalty kick.
Berry-White said she yelled to the referee from across the field, “Are you blind?” The referee stopped the game and gave her a red card, signaling her ejection. Per IHSAA rules, she missed the team’s game Monday as well, which was the opener of the Marion County tournament. One of Brebeuf’s assistants also was ejected, according to Berry-White, for echoing what she said.
“I don’t yell any expletives, any use of profanity,” Berry-White said. “(The referee) doesn’t come over to me, doesn’t do anything, but pulls out a red card … All because of one call I disagreed with him and he didn’t like my tone.”
According to the IHSAA rule book, “the decisions of Contest officials are considered final and binding.”
Accounts of coach’s behavior
Berry-White said that when Brebeuf asked the IHSAA to review the incident, the IHSAA reached out to the officials, who said Berry-White had been “berating them the entire game.” Berry-White denied that, citing the team’s game film. The sound quality of game film viewed by IndyStar was inconclusive.
Sandra Walter, an IHSAA assistant commissioner who oversees girls soccer, said the officials made the correct decision, and said that “in this imperfect world, (referees) are expected to perform with perfection, and that’s difficult.”
“This was a judgment call by a soccer official who was in the correct position. His (assistant referee) was in the correct position. They communicated, as we ask them to, visually across the field. Our AR shook his head no, there was no contact. That judgment call was made and we should have moved on with the game. But we did have a coach who chose to express her displeasure to the point where our center official felt like she need not be a part of the game any longer.”
Walter said the ejection was not gender-related, and said she has never been approached about gender inequality when it comes to coaches.
“To say that this is a gender issue, as a female, we didn’t have that,” she said. “I talked to our officials who were on that crew and made the call, and it had nothing to do with that coach’s gender. It simply had to do with the comments that were chosen to be focused toward that official, and comments that frankly weren’t appropriate.”
Frank Dixon, Carmel’s coach, declined to comment about what was said or how the situation was handled.
“The final decisions on those things, as the iHSAA says, is not appealable and a red card is a red card,” he said. “Whatever I think on it really is not going to matter.”
Berry-White said the consequence for her words doesn’t line up with what she has seen for her male counterparts.
“I try to talk to somebody and I am seen as being too verbose, only because of my gender,” she said. “There is no gender equality. I am held to a different standard, and that standard is not equitable.”
Berry-White drew a comparison to the recent controversy involving Serena Williams.
“Looking to see what Serena just went through, yes it was bad that she broke her racquet. Yes it was bad about the (coaching),” Berry-White said. “Was it an offense that she should’ve had a game taken away? No it was not. My offense was not a red card violation. There are rules where men and women are treated differently, and that’s what it comes down to.”
Greg Davidson, HSE girls soccer coach, is the president of the Indiana Soccer Coaches Association. He said this is the first time the issue of potential inequality has been raised to him.
“I’m not a female coach, so I’m not living in her shoes and seeing what she’s seeing,” he said. “I’m not going to take that away from her. I know there’s other coaches who have been red-carded for the things they say. I would like to think it’s more about the officials and how thick is their skin being able to deal with a talkative coach, a coach that’s questioning.
“It was something I took note of and will have on alert, and talk to the referee association and IHSAA to say, ‘What are you guys seeing from the referees’ standpoint?’ and have those conversations, before we dictate that it’s a crisis. This could be a very isolated event … but it could be there.”
To read more of this story, visit our partners at the Indianapolis Star right here.