Joanne Palombo-McCallie. Credit: Courtesy of Joanne Palombo-McCallie

Heather Richards knows what it is like to be in a minority.

She has coached the Old Town High School girls basketball team for nine seasons and rarely has she coached against a team with a woman coach.

There are very few women coaches in the Bangor area, although Marisa Kelley was hired to coach the John Bapst girls this past season and will begin her second year this fall. Christine Davis was the girls coach at Bangor Christian, but she has stepped down due to a work commitment.

Bangor, Brewer, Hermon, Hampden Academy, Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island all have men coaches and Orono hired Derek Sinclair to replace John Donato.

University of Maine women’s basketball coach Amy Vachon wants to change the landscape by encouraging more girls and women to get involved in coaching. Vachon will host the “Pass it Forward” women’s coaches clinic from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Augusta Civic Center in her hometown.

After learning that just 21.1 percent of the state’s high school girls basketball teams have women coaches, Vachon established a virtual workshop 14 months ago with five women who are also well-established basketball coaches at the college or high school levels to address that issue.

In 1975, the first year of the Maine Principals Association-sponsored schoolgirl basketball tournaments, 51.1 percent of the coaches were women.

With COVID-19 restrictions relaxed, she expanded it to a clinic and the featured speakers will be former UMaine, Michigan State and Duke University women’s basketball coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie and Nicole M. LaVoi, Ph.D, who directs the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota.

LaVoi researches the lack of representation of women in coaching and gives talks about gender and sport, along with the recruiting and retaining women coaches.

Brunswick native McCallie was the 2005 AP National Coach of the Year and has 646 career wins and 21 NCAA Tournament appearances in her 28 seasons between the three schools.

There will also be a clinic breakout session involving former UMaine player Ellen Geraghty and ex-Purdue University player Erika Valek, who are mental health counselors and former college assistant coaches who played professional basketball overseas. Valek was drafted by the WNBA’s Detroit Shock.

Geraghty and Valek will focus on sharing a vision and goals, and developing team chemistry.

Former Bowdoin College and University of Southern Maine assistant Toby Martin, who played professional basketball in Germany after playing for Maranacook Community School in Readfield and at Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, will lead a breakout session about individual training and improving player skills while also building confidence and basketball IQ.

Martin directs basketball performance at PRIME360.

“This clinic is for any female who is coaching or has a desire to coach basketball at any level,” Vachon said. “We want to get more females involved in coaching.”

Palombo-McCallie said three-time America East Coach of the Year Vachon is not only an exceptional coach who has led UMaine to two America East Tournament championships and NCAA Tournament berths, but she also is passionate about increasing the number of women coaches in the state. She also wants to teach them about the sport, how to create a positive team atmosphere and to supply them with a support group of coaches.

Palombo-McCallie, who has dealt with mental health issues as chronicled in her book “Secret Warrior: A Coach and Fighter, On and Off the Court,” said it is important for women coaches to accept their imperfections.

“You don’t have to be right all the time. We all have our issues,” she said.

Richards said one of the reasons you don’t find as many women coaches is because they start families soon after starting their coaching careers, and they don’t return.

Richards also said that with the summer programs and the need to be involved in the feeder system starting at the youth level, it can be like coaching 24/7.

Vachon, who won a state Class A championship as the head coach at Catherine McAuley High School in Portland in 2011, has 75 women already signed up. Richards, who is one of them, said she is really looking forward to it and that it will be extremely valuable.

Richards said she has seen a drop-off in the number of women coaches in recent years and hopes this helps change that trend.

“I’d like to coach against more female coaches,” Richards said.

Vachon pointed out that women can be intimidated by the large number of men coaches and one of her goals is to have them “feel comfortable” to be in the coaching world amongst the men.

Richards said even though the vast majority of coaches in the Penobscot Valley Conference are men, they have been “very supportive” of her.

The cost of the clinic is $130 and attendees will receive lunch, a copy of Palombo-McCallie’s book and a swag bag full of different items.

Anyone interested can obtain information by emailing passitforwardwbb@gmail.com.