Whalers' all-female coaching staff is proof that empowerment is real

Margaret Thatcher, quite famously, said this once: "If you want something, ask a man. If you want something done, ask a woman."

Heh, heh, heh.

If she's correct, then there's only one group of girls who will truly get things done during this weekend's state championships at Mohegan Sun. They would be the Whalers, the lone team among the eight finalists to trumpet an all-female coaching staff.

Introducing head coach Holly Misto and the rest of the gang: Arianna Dolock, Missy Parker, Sue Beil and Danielle Ferraro. They personify the word "empowerment," something of a buzzword now, except for this:

Empowerment is real.

And it is best illustrated by the unspoken pangs of constant effort, of showing up every day, if for no other reason than not just to proclaim women strong, but change the way the world perceives that strength.

"I think our kids have five unique individuals to look up to," said Parker, a forever Whaler, also the school's head softball coach and assistant volleyball coach. "We've all taken different paths in our lives. Holly is a doctor. Sue works in a hospital. I work in a school. They see that women can do anything. They see it because five of us are doing something different. To me, that's the best part of having an all-female staff. You show them all the options of what women are capable of and how strong they are together. A lot of times, females will put each other down instead of encouraging each other."

Inasmuch as the following is true — this country works best when we include everyone of all colors, religions, ancestries and orientations to learn with, play with and learn about each other — sometimes, we seek comfort from the more familiar. That's what this group of New London girls get every day. People of the same gender who aren't asking anything they haven't done before in their lives.

"Our coaching staff is able to relate to the kids. We're real to them," Dolock said. "You know whatever we are asking of them, we've already done 10, 15, 20 years ago. The power of empowering them and seeing them grow, we keep seeing it. Sue and Danielle played for Holly and I (at a previous coaching stop) and now they're getting into coaching. That's one of the greatest compliments I've ever had as a coach. A wonderful feeling."

The kids, too, see the byplay. Misto is rather entertaining during games, frequently wheeling around with streams of consciousness — sometimes aimed at her coaches, sometimes to no one in particular. If you didn't know they all really like each other, you'd doubt they'd ever make Mr. G's a postgame habit, laughing the nights away.

"I came into the program knowing all the kids. I started with them when they started basketball," Parker said. "Spencer (Roman), Tai (Pagan) Da'Jah (Uzzle) were all 8-years-old when I started coaching them. Two years ago when Arianna and I came on the staff, it was an immediate bond, almost as if I had known them just as long. Certain people you just connect with. We all fit together like a puzzle. They're amazing people that truly care."

Dolock: "A great friendship. These are some of my best friends in the world. We go through so much together. More than just basketball. It's year round. We treat each other like sisters and the girls pick up on that."

Perhaps even more impressive: They've become Whalers even though they're not all from New London. They can be hard makers in the 06320, quite reluctant to let outsiders through the door. If you're from here, you are family. If you're not ... keep it moving.

Except ...

"Well," Parker said, "If we're being honest ... winning has certainly helped. We're Whalers. We want to win. You come in and you can win? That opens the door. The knowledge they've brought here, how could anybody not respect it? The commitment they've shown opens the door even more. They didn't just get a toe in. They're Whalers now."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro


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