It’s a pretty typical setup among the coaching ranks of the local high school sports leagues:
Men coach boys’ teams, and either men or women coach girls’ teams.
Rarely though do women coach boys’ teams, but one female coach is doing her part to rewrite the norm.
Brie McDonnell is the boys’ junior varsity basketball head coach at Brooklyn Technical H.S., Fort Greene. Now in her third season, she has built the program into one of the top teams in the Brooklyn II division of the Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL).
Only a small handful of women coach boys’ teams in the PSAL, but that barely fazes McDonnell, who is solely focused on ensuring her JV players are fully prepared to make an impact on the Engineers’ varsity team when they become juniors.
McDonnell’s ties run deep to the Diocese of Brooklyn. Her mother, Theresa, went to elementary school at St. Stanislaus Bishop & Martyr, Ozone Park, and her father, Brian, attended Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, before moving on to Fordham University, the Bronx.
Playing sports has been a lifelong passion for McDonnell, currently a parishioner at St. Joseph’s parish, Kings Park, L.I. She starred as a shooting guard on the basketball team and a midfielder on the soccer team at Commack H.S., L.I.
She chose to continue her soccer career at Adelphi University, Garden City, L.I. Upon her graduation in 2011, she received her first coaching job at Adelphi as a women’s soccer assistant while attending graduate school there. She later was a women’s assistant soccer coach at LIU Post, Brookville, L.I., while teaching at Huntington H.S.
When she was hired as a health teacher at Brooklyn Tech for the fall of 2014, there were immediate openings for boys’ and girls’ basketball junior varsity head coaches. She was slotted in as the head coach of the boys’ team, marking the first time she would be coaching boys.
“There’s such a competitiveness,” said McDonnell, who is also Brooklyn Tech’s assistant varsity boys’ soccer coach. “I have to tell them (her players) to leave the gym, which is actually a joy because they have such passion for it.”
She said she enjoys the JV level since it’s more of a teaching and learning process. Her goal is to instill the fundamentals of the game in her freshmen and sophomore players so they are ready to contribute immediately at the varsity level.
“A lot of them have not played basketball on an organized team before,” McDonnell said. “They’ve just played in the park, so their basic fundamental skills are usually not there.
“Our goal at the end of sophomore year is for them to have an impact on varsity. JV is all about fundamentals, and if they can have those, their impact on varsity will be there.”
Sophomore power forward Finn Kleckner said McDonnell has taught him mental toughness and what it means to be a contributing member to a team.
“Her competitiveness translates to everyone on the court,” Kleckner said. “In timeouts, Coach is always adamant about what she wants from the players, and that always gets everyone fired up. Because she is so competitive, she demands that from everyone on the team.”
During her first season, there were times when McDonnell would be the only female in the gymnasium during tournaments or big games. Though she herself was unfazed by this based on her competitive nature, she noticed she was being treated differently early on, and it was quite the eye-opening experience.
“When coaches and refs would come up to me after and shake my hand, they’d say, ‘You’re doing a wonderful job with them,’” she said. “It kind of took me by surprise. Did you expect me not to be doing that? You didn’t do that to the other coach. They just didn’t expect much from me walking into the gym.”
As she proved herself on the court and her team became a consistent competitor within the league, she started earning the respect she deserves.
“They don’t shake my hand and say that anymore,” she said. “I take that as a sign of respect now that I’m as equal to the other coach.”
Through it all, McDonnell does not spend much time dwelling on the magnitude of her situation. It’s strictly business as she prepares her players for the next level by teaching them the fundamentals of the game.
“It’s rewarding; it’s not an intimidating thing,” she said. “These boys are great; they’re respectful. They listen to you. If you have a passion for the game, they’ll respect that right back.”
While she may view it as simply doing her job, McDonnell is a pioneer coach, paving the way to encourage other women with a passion for sports to join the coaching ranks – whether it be coaching boys’ teams or girls’ teams.
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