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Baranek: Coaching moms juggle joy with judgment

Ryann DeJarld McAuley listens her mother Jennifer DeJarld who is head coach for Mighty Macs Mother McAuley Wednesday September 19th

Ryann DeJarld, of McAuley, listens to her mother Jennifer DeJarld who is the head coach for the Mighty Macs at Mother McAuley, Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 in Chicago, IL. | Gary Middendorf~For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 22, 2012 6:19AM



If the phrase “The best of times and the worst of times” is the perfect definition for a human condition, it’s coaching your own children.

The best of it is that you not only get to see your child grow as an athlete from the best seat in the house free of charge, you get to make all the calls and get paid for it.

The worst of it is that you face the daily challenge of switching back and forth between being mom or dad and being the coach. You have to watch what you say around the house in regard to the team and its players. And, worst of all, you have to deal with the haters.

It’s a kaleidoscope of demands and emotions that are magnified to the highest degree on two of the biggest volleyball stages in the state, Marist and Mother McAuley.

At Marist, Natalie Holder coached her oldest daughter, Ashley, on the varsity level for three seasons. Her youngest daughter, Taylor, a senior, is in her third season on the varsity.

At Mother McAuley, Jen DeJarld’s oldest daughter, Ryann, is a sophomore playing on the varsity. Her youngest daughter, Jane, is a freshman playing on the JV.

From 2005 to ’11, going back to DeJarld’s first season as head coach, she and Holder combined to win 445 matches and take four teams to state. There’s not much to hate there. But people manage.

Holder has been dealing with the “She’s favoring her daughter” crowd since Ashley became a starter as a sophomore. The whispers went viral at the end of her junior season, when we chose Natalie Holder as our coach of the year. The comments section online at the bottom of the story were about as hateful as one could find.

Most, if not all, of the haters used pseudonyms. Presumably, they were disgruntled parents and relatives of kids who either were cut or not playing regularly. But who knows when people go the cowardly route and don’t put a name behind their opinion?

At any rate, Ashley Holder went on to have a stellar career at Marist, earning Player of the Year Honors in 2011. She’s happy, healthy, and playing and studying at the University of Akron.

Natalie Holder, I have to say, was remarkably strong during the worst of it. She stayed classy, never lashed back, and even when I asked her specifically about it Wednesday wanted to let it rest in peace and said nothing bad about her detractors.

She did, though, express how grateful she was that most of the criticism was aimed at her, not her daughter. It helped in the mom-daughter talks.

“I just kept trying to remind her that it was never about her,” Holder said. “The anger was about me and the staff and the decisions that we made. Still, for my daughters to hear things and see things (like that), to them, I’m their mom. My girls have had to toughen up as far as trying to keep all of that separate.

“The sad part is that they learned very quickly that when people are angry they do things that can be very, very hurtful. They learn it more quickly than most people who don’t until they’re adults in the working world. It was very hard as a mom to watch them struggle with the hurt part of it.”

For DeJarld, who is the godmother to Holder’s son, Brent, a freshman at Marist, it was a preview of what she could be facing over the next few years. In fact, she expects it.

“I just feel like there is always going to be criticism,” she said. “Whether or not they deserve to be on the court, people are going to say, ‘Oh, it’s politics.’ But you know what? I’ve cut my baby sitters before, friends’ kids. No coach in their right mind is going to play a kid with lesser talent than a kid with more talent. No coach does that. Claiming politics is such a copout. But people are going to say what they’re going to say.

“The hardest part for Ryann is feeling, ‘Well, if I play badly, if I have an off day, people are going to come down even more.’ But you can’t worry about that. You just have to move on and move forward. She’s really done a good job of handling the pressure, and she’s surrounded by really great teammates and friends, and that’s a good thing.”

So, said Natalie Holder, was Ashley. And so is Taylor, who is sharing the setting duties with Ryann O’Mara. When Marist’s season ends in November, it will be the end of a long, sometimes magnificent, sometimes arduous journey for two sisters and their mom.

Holder said there are no regrets.

“I wouldn’t have traded it for anything,” she said. “All of the frustration, the heartache, was worth it because of the joy that came out of being able to see my daughters hug each other on the court at state with all of their other volleyball sisters, and to be up front and be a part of that is irreplaceable.

“For me, to see their joys and to watch them struggle in a gym and then be successful, those memories that are so positive far outweigh anything we had to go through.”



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