Donna Polk already has weathered her first crisis as Bowie High School's girls basketball coach. The Bulldogs were supposed to have their first scrimmage, against visiting Glen Burnie, on Nov. 23. But as the teams were warming up, three-quarters of the lights in the Bowie gymnasium went out.
"It wasn't that bad," said Polk, who is in her first year as coach. "We waited around until 5:30 and then finally gave up. We'll just try to reschedule the scrimmage."
Polk, who replaced Roxanne James, is one of five new basketball coaches at Prince George's County public schools this winter. All are familiar faces: Brian Watkins (Douglass boys) and Mark Woods (Suitland boys) were promoted from assistant to head coaching positions; Vincent McDuffie (Forestville girls) and Linda Henson-Hubb (Surrattsville girls) swapped positions.
"The biggest adjustment is the responsibility," said Watkins, who was an assistant coach for six years but never has held a head coaching job. "As an assistant, you're a follower. You only do what the head coach wants you to do. Now, you're the decision-maker for everything. Everything comes down on you; every decision--whether you make it or not--is a reflection of you."
Polk, 30, is learning that. She has done a little bit of everything when it comes to basketball, although coaching is relatively new for her. Polk played high school basketball at Sussex Central in Georgetown, Del., and college basketball at Columbia Union College.
For the past two years, Polk has worked as a high school basketball referee in Montgomery County and the District, officiating boys and girls junior varsity games. She still plays basketball, on a team called the Twilites that competes in a women's recreational league in Montgomery County.
"Having been a player and a ref gives me a good perspective as a coach," Polk said. "I know the rules, and I'm a little more patient. I'd recommend that all coaches experience refereeing, because you understand the dynamics of why a call is made. It really is helpful."
That kind of basketball experience also means a lot to Polk's players. "It makes a difference because she knows the game," senior point guard Bianca Wright said. "Having somebody who has been through what we're going through is nice, because we can share the same feelings."
Polk started coaching four years ago, when she volunteered to help coach a team of 13- to 15-year-old girls in Takoma Park. She took over Bowie's junior varsity team last season, at the urging of James, one of her teammates at Columbia Union. James moved to Florida during the summer, and Polk was named the varsity head coach two weeks before tryouts began.
"The familiarity with the girls from last year helps a lot," said Polk, who is a program supervisor and counselor at St. Ann's Infant and Maternity House in Hyattsville. "Even though I was only a varsity assistant last year, the girls are aware of my style and what I expect. The transition has not been that hard. The biggest challenge has been just getting everything together on such short notice. I had to organize everything at the last minute, but I am comfortable with where we are now."
Meet the New Boss
First-Year Basketball Coaches at Public High Schools
* Donna Polk, Bowie girls
Was Bowie's junior varsity coach; replaces Roxanne James, who moved to Florida.
* Vincent McDuffie, Forestville girls
* Linda Henson-Hubb, Surrattsville girls
McDuffie coached Surrattsville last season, while Henson-Hubb guided Forestville. This year, they switch roles.
* Brian Watkins, Douglass boys
Was an assistant for two years at Douglass and takes over for Earl Hawkins, who retired following 24 seasons of coaching high school basketball (at several schools). Spent two years as an assistant at Gwynn Park and two years as an assistant at Bladensburg prior to coaching at Douglass.
* Mark Woods, Suitland boys
Served as junior varsity coach and assistant varsity coach at Suitland for two seasons before replacing Eric Jeter, whose contract was not renewed after the team went 3-20 last season. Spent four years as an assistant coach at Gwynn Park before moving to Suitland.
CAPTION: Donna Polk, who guided the Bowie girls junior varsity team last season, is one of five new varsity basketball coaches in the county's public high schools.