The Power of One

Sarah Lemanski (in white) coaches the University of Pittsburgh High Voltage. (Sarah Lemanski)

Sarah Lemanski (in white) coaches the University of Pittsburgh High Voltage. (Sarah Lemanski)



I’ve been telling people lately that in the twenty three years that I’ve played competitive sports, I never had a female coach.  I realized that’s actually a lie.  I had one.  When I was six years old I tried out for U9 Little League.  I was the only girl at the thirty-five person try out.  There was one female assistant coach of the A-team who decided to go to bat for me (hah!), and I made the A-team.  I was pretty terrible that year, so much so that my parents actually bribed me to swing the bat, but over the next two years I developed confidence.  I made it to the the top of the batting order, I played every position in the infield, and in my third year, I made the All-Star game. 

The All-Star game is its own story: one that I wrote about for college essays, one that my dad still loves to tell, one that helped me to define my spunk and determination as a female athlete.  I was the only girl to make the All-Star team.  And since there were only men who coached the league, there were only men coaching the All-Star game.  They put me in left center field and at the bottom of the batting order.  I had a pretty good game overall, but the last time I stepped up to the plate, I hit a home run.  I can still remember rounding third base and feeling super that I had rocked those coaches’ ideas of how a girl would play in their game. 

Now I think back: what if that woman, whose name I do not know, hadn’t been coaching and hadn’t pushed for me to make the A team?  Without her in my corner, I might not have ever played baseball again after that season.  I might not have played another sport side-by-side with men until college ultimate many years later.  I might not have learned at that early age that I could compete with boys, that I could be equals with them, that I could work hard and be dedicated enough to one day be celebrated as an All-Star along side them and have a pinnacle moment of sports success. 

Now I coach the University of Pittsburgh’s women’s ultimate B-team — High Voltage.  We just wrapped up our first year ever, and at Sectionals during a circle of “I’m sweet, you’re sweet” one of my players told me how I had become a role model for her.   Others chimed in that they saw me as someone who would go to bat for them.  It was a big moment for me.  My one female coach, though she was an assistant and her role in my life was within one season twenty years ago, believed in me in a way that impacted who I would become for the rest of my life.  Now it is my turn to make the same type of impact.

We cannot overlook the power of a female coach and the need for female role models in our sport.  Females at the helm will not only inspire girls and women to stay with the sport and gain confidence and strength, but it will also serve our boys and men to be exposed to women they can look up to, respect, and learn from.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from my own story, it’s that small actions can have big impacts; as a community, if we create opportunities for women to show up as leaders and women take those opportunities to act, we will change future generations of athletes in big ways. 

Sarah Lemanski started her playing career at West Virginia University in 2008.  She currently plays for Pittsburgh Hot Metal and coaches the University of Pittsburgh's second women's team, High Voltage.  She is Hot Metal's gender equity representative in the Pittsburgh community.