ETBU trio prime example of Title IX success
By TYLER CLIFTON email@example.com
June 15, 2012 at 10 p.m.
Natalie Prather, Janae Shirley and Lyndsay Mashe know they have a lot in common, but there may be even more similarities between the ETBU coaches than they might even realize.
All three competed for the Tigers in their respective sports, are head coaches in their 20s and even have their husbands serving as assistant coaches at the university.
What might not be evident is how the threesome is one shining example of how the passing of Title IX has been successful after its first 40 years of existence even though there is still work to be done.
"I don't know if it's because I'm young, female or both, but I've had parents who were concerned whether I could coach the guys," said Prather, ETBU's cross-country coach. "I do all the recruiting and am a personal trainer who creates workouts for men and women, but I often sense some hesitation."
What people don't know when meeting Prather is how they're dealing with a strong-willed individual, the oldest of 10 children who coaches her younger sister and has another who is 10 along with four brothers and three other sisters where she often played the role of "second mom."
Prather, who celebrated her birthday four days ago, is a Marshall resident who was home schooled and got into cross country through 5K runs she participated in with her dad. She graduated from ETBU in 2008 and was an All-American Southwest conference runner in 2006 while lettering all four years.
Triathlons are her forte, and Prather recently completed her first Iron Man event. She also ran the Boston Marathon in 2010 and will do so again in 2013 after re-qualifying.
Prather's husband Michael is the Tigers' assistant men's basketball coach, and the two have formed a bond through their profession. The former Natalie Bach said the two feed off one another.
"It's good to have him around, because we have a lot in common, and he's nice to have around for advice and vice versa," Prather said. "We confide in each other and are passionate about similar things."
Prather labeled her father Nathan as a man wise beyond his years as a self-proclaimed "daddy's girl." Her mother Lisa is also one of the biggest role models in her life, and raising 10 kids should explain it all.
ETBU's softball team had to patiently wait for its name to be called when the NCAA Division III playoff brackets were announced in 2010, but once the Tigers received an at-large bid, things seemed to fall into place, including nine straights wins where a loss would've sent them home.
The Tigers defeated Linfield 5-4 in Eau Claire, Wis. to capture the school's first national championship and the first softball title for the American Southwest Conference. Not bad for Shirley, a former Midland College outfielder and ETBU's left fielder from 2003-05 who was only in her third year as a head coach.
Shirley, whose maiden name is Schlabs, grew up in the Texas panhandle town of Hereford, where she played all sports. Softball was new to the school and played as a club sport her sophomore season before joining the University Interscholastic League her junior and senior years.
"I remember not even having a field at the time, and football was big of course like it is all across Texas," Shirley said. "We had tons of championships in volleyball, so we began getting respect for it, and I think it carried over to ETBU. Our women's programs here aren't looked down upon like some schools, where football and men's basketball are given preferential treatment. We're big on those sports too, but we have a different standard here the university has placed emphasis on which allows success for all of us."
Shirley assisted now Athletic Director Kent Reeves from 2006-07 before being promoted to head coach and currently has a 164-60 career record in five seasons (including her 100th career victory against host Mississippi College in 2010). It wasn't always an easy path, as there were plenty of skeptics at first.
"I don't think I'm inferior to anyone, but I feel people might have seen me in a certain way, such as male colleagues who might have seen a young, female coach and wondered whether she was their equal," Shirley said. "The championship solidifies what I'm capable of doing, but in college it's not as much the coach as it is recruiting and building a team. We had the right kids at the right time and just clicked."
Shirley felt the team's championship was aided by the performances of previous groups, leaving their all on the field with "blood, sweat and tears." She said ETBU's support was evident upon returning from Wisconsin in 2010 with several former players and alumni epitomizing the school's family atmosphere.
There's plenty of help when it comes to Shirley's assistants, Bill Galloway and her husband Guy. Galloway isn't the typical assistant, as he has 934 wins and 16 30-win seasons after starting the softball program at Texas A&M and coaching the Aggies and Louisiana Tech.
"Not many coaches get the pleasure or are lucky enough to have a Hall of Famer sitting right next to them," Shirley said. "He's experienced it all and is definitely a mentor, and we learn from each other. Guy is a great person to have around, because he keeps me calm and is definitely a person I can trust."
Shirley's mother Charla is one of her top female role models, especially when it comes to respect and she is constantly picking Galloway's brain about how softball has progressed from when he first started coaching.
"I know how much things have changed the last 40 years from when Coach Galloway first started things at A&M and from his days at Louisiana Tech," Shirley said. "It was certainly a different time period, and it's cool to share ideas with him and talk about when the transition to equality started. Things were lopsided for women at one time, and there is a lot of respect and pride in how far equality has come."
Coaching volleyball at her alma mater was the furthest thing from Mashe's mind when growing up outside of Denver as well as in Manhattan Beach, Calif., and she wasn't different from any other girl when it came to playing her game and not letting what she might not have enter her mind.
"Title IX to me means women having the same opportunities as men," said Mashe matter of factly.
Mashe moved to Longview her sophomore year of high school, where she was an All-State setter at Pine Tree and also played one year of varsity basketball. Her college career began at Panola College, where she received back-to-back all-conference accolades.
ETBU called, and Mashe continued her solid play and helped lead the Tigers to the third of three straight ASC titles while being named all-conference as a defensive specialist/libero in 2003 and as a setter in 2004, where she's third all-time in assists at ETBU with 1,524.
Mashe took her first head-coaching job at Atlanta, where she led the Lady Rabbits to an area-round playoff berth and 24-10 record before taking over at ETBU less than a year after she graduated in 2005.
"Atlanta was a tremendous opportunity right off the bat for a young coach," said Mashe, now entering her seventh season. "I had coached four years of club volleyball and felt I was ready for the challenge."
There was a pleasant surprise last Oct. 6, when Mashe learned she had secured her 100th career win as Tiger coach.
Mashe played for the East Texas Juniors and now runs the team with husband Kris, whom she met while competing in outdoor tournaments at the Courthouse Athletic Club in Longview. The current team of graduating seniors had endless talent was with the likes of White Oak's Abbey Bybel, Hallsville's Darby Graff and Kaci Jackson and Pine Tree's Whitney Ford on the same team.
"I have such a great working relationship with Kris, as we met while performing a passion of ours and always have fun together," Mashe said. "He's so important to our system through coaching and recruiting, and it's wonderful to have family around, as our son Brady has turned into a gym rat."
Mashe joins Prather and Shirley as three headstrong women who are definitely leaders – not followers.