They Call Me Coach

The women who dare to lead men into battle

But in 1997, she made it to the big leagues— well, the bigger leagues. Walder got a job as an advance scout and assistant coach with the CityHawks, New York's Arena Football team, which played in Madison Square Garden until last year when they moved Hartford. It was the first and only time that Walder earned a full salary as a football coach. But it was short lasting. Her boss was fired after the first season and Walder left with him. Last season, she landed another assistant position— this time with a semi-pro team, the Washington Chiefs. But that job didn't come with a salary.

Despite her experience— and interviews at a number of topflight NCAA schools— Walder currently works for a sports apparel company in Maryland. She would like more than anything to be back on the gridiron, but Walder says she's learned to be flexible about her aspirations. "I'd like to be a coach and get paid for it," she says. "In reality, I will probably end up working for the NFL in a noncoaching capacity."

Kate Pearson, who has been an assistant coach in Minnesota high school football for the last four years, thinks women offer something to the sport that their male peers can't. "I'm kind of their mother on the field, I'm more gentle, approachable," she says. "It's such a testosterone fest, they need to lighten up and not take it so seriously." But Pearson's no softie. When players start slouching on her watch, they run laps.

Maternal mentor: Coach Carol White offers some tips at her kicking clinic.
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Maternal mentor: Coach Carol White offers some tips at her kicking clinic.

A Texas native and lifetime football junkie, Pearson was a junior at the University of Minnesota when she decided to try her luck at coaching football. The idea didn't seem so crazy after Pearson sat through one too many writing classes taught by a graduate student who barely spoke English. "If she can teach writing, then I can coach football," Pearson said to herself. After graduating with a degree in kinesiology, she cold-called area high schools looking for a football job. Like White, Pearson got her first break from a predominantly black inner-city school in Minneapolis. She spent two years there before taking her current job at St. Louis Park High in the Minneapolis suburbs.

Pearson would like to work her way into a graduate assistant job at a four-year college, but so far she hasn't had much luck in the job market. She faces tough competition from men with years of playing experience under their belts. It's the old catch-22: You can't get your foot in the door without experience. But you can't get experience without getting your foot in the door.

Pearson refuses to call herself a feminist, and she says she's not campaigning for anything. "I'd just like to be given a chance," she says. To that end, she has become a quick study in the art of networking. For three years, Pearson has loyally attended the annual convention of the American Football Coaches Association— something of a frat party for the profession. Except, that is, for Pearson, who diligently works the lobby introducing herself to other coaches, joining conversations, and bellying up to the bar.

And while Pearson says some of her less respectable colleagues would still rather get a date with her than talk defensive strategies, she has managed to earn some respect. A notice on her bulletin board back home reads: "I admire your perseverance," a compliment paid to her by a Division I-A coach who had seen her at the convention. Such kind words, and her abiding love of football, get her through the hard days.

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