Pat Harris-Paxson has coached girls' basketball. She has coached volleyball and golf, cheerleading and the pom squad. She even had a stint coaching boys' basketball. She went from Crossland High to Central to Friendly to Oxon Hill and then back to Friendly, where she spent the final 10 years of her career as the Fort Washington school's athletic director before retiring this month.
In 32 years as a coach, administrator and educator, Harris-Paxson witnessed the evolution of high school athletics in Prince George's County.
"You've got to remember," she said last week from Conway, S.C., where she now lives, "when I came into the county, varsity sports for women were one year old."
In those days, there were few female coaches or athletic directors in high school sports. Times have changed, yet there remains a concern about a lack of women in those positions, particularly after five women left their positions as athletic directors in the county in the past two years.
"We're aware of that," said Earl Hawkins, supervisor of athletics for the county's public schools. He said the problem starts with not having enough women in the positions that lead to becoming an athletic director. "The problem is the number of [female] coaches. A lot of our female teams are being coached by males. Simply put, we would like more female applicants, [would] like more females to step forward and apply for these positions.
"If you look at where athletic directors began their careers, it's usually in coaching. In this county and most counties, the predominance in coaching is definitely male. That's the issue more than anything else. We just don't have the number of female applicants to draw from. I'm sure there are qualified applicants out there. We need them to get involved. We want more representation from females."
Harris-Paxson said she does not believe a solution is simple. In her experience and from talking to her peers, she said that women face a significantly different challenge from men when it comes to being an athletic director.
"Women tend to be more in tune with equality throughout a program," she said. "What will happen is you'll bump heads with the big-time coaches, your football programs and boys' basketball programs. . . . males having problems with females as your close boss. They tend to go around your back more. Particularly when you're new, before you get established. There was a lot of that. Once you get established and your principal knows what you're doing, there usually is more support.
"But every female I talked to, it was a problem. For some it was a continuous problem. That's a shame."
In the past two years, the county's five female athletic directors all left their positions for various reasons. Harris-Paxson retired. So did Oxon Hill's Christine Johnson after 17 years leading that school's athletic program. DuVal's Carol Konrad resigned so she could concentrate more on her academic positions, Principal Thomas Anderson said. Attempts to reach Konrad have been unsuccessful.
Linda Courtillet gave up her position at Eleanor Roosevelt and Jackie Slay was replaced at Largo.
Only one of those women was replaced by a woman, when Oxon Hill hired Linda Maiden to replace Johnson. The county recently gained a second female athletic director when Ernie Welch retired at High Point and was replaced by Shirley Diggs.
"It definitely is a male-dominated position," said Johnson, who was one of several veteran teachers to leave the county after the school system's retire-rehire program was changed.
Johnson said when she took on the job of athletic director, she put pressure on herself to prove that a woman could do the job just as well as a man, although it helped that her then-husband was the athletic director at another county school.
Maiden, who succeeded Johnson before this past school year, said she has yet to notice any distinction between herself and her male counterparts because of their genders.
"I've been treated very well by everybody," Maiden said. "I wasn't treated any differently because I am a woman."
Diggs said she had passed up an opportunity to become an athletic director in Colorado before moving to the Washington area. She has coached volleyball and track at High Point, but being an athletic director was something that she has long wanted to do.
"It's dominated by the men, but hopefully as some of us women are getting in there, they'll listen to us, too," Diggs said.
Prince George's County is not alone in its low number of female athletic directors. In Montgomery County, only three of 24 athletic directors are women. In Fairfax County, five out of 25 athletic directors are women.
Part of the reason could be the time demands of the job. Overseeing all sports is a heavy time commitment, former and current ADs said, and doing the job and having a family is difficult, they said, especially for a woman.
"It's a male's world, first of all, let's face it," Harris-Paxson said. "They've dominated forever. . . . But why is this that we're not hiring more women? Why aren't we looking at women to move into that position? The other thing is, is it the women? It is time consuming. . . . But I don't know anybody that has been called in for interviews, either.
"I know there must be competent women out there, and why aren't they giving them a chance to fill athletic director positions and give them a chance to prove themselves instead of just automatically giving it to a warm body who is not doing the job. I don't get it."