Having Lunch With a Legend

By Anne Phillips, Head Coach, William Smith College @heronlax

As you might know from reading last week’s post on Behind the Whistle, US Lacrosse has named the walking path at its headquarters “The Chris Sailer Trail,” in honor of the National Hall of Fame and Princeton University women’s lacrosse coach. In conjunction with the dedication of the trail that surrounds Tierney Field, in Sparks, Md., 11 former collegiate coaches, including former William Smith Lacrosse Head Coach Pat Genovese, were honored with plaques along the trail on Oct. 21, 2017.

Photo courtesy of the author

As the IWLCA membership has grown, the average age of the members seems to get younger every year. Most coaches will only know about the “Trailblazers” by reading about their contributions to our sport and to our profession. I feel very fortunate to know one of the Trailblazers, Pat Genovese. Pat retired from coaching after 43 years at William Smith and has left an indelible mark on the William Smith Program. Pat is on campus regularly at various events, but especially at William Smith lacrosse games. I feel very fortunate to know her and I can pick up the phone and have lunch with her anytime. In honor of Pat, I invited her to lunch and asked her some questions that I thought would be of interest.

Pat began her coaching career at William Smith College in 1971. This was her first year coaching experience and salary:

Pat started coaching in 1971 at 22 years old. She was hired by William Smith College to coach field hockey, tennis, basketball and lacrosse. She was also a PE teacher and taught canoeing, downhill skiing, volleyball, tennis and swimming. She had never played a majority of these sports, including field hockey and lacrosse. Her only exposure to lacrosse was watching the men’s game at Cortland. She coached by trial and error and “just tried to stay one step ahead of my students.” Her first year at William Smith her Field Hockey team was 4-4, her basketball team was 7-1, her tennis team was 3-3 and her lacrosse team was 1-1. Her salary as a full-time teacher and coach was $8,500.

In 1971, did she ever believe it would be possible to make a living as the coach of a woman’s sport?

No. When Pat was first hired at Williams Smith, it was not her intention to stay 43 years. Pat received her undergraduate degrees in Pre-Med and Physical Education. Her short-term goal was to coach and get experience teaching. She was planning to stay at William Smith for only two years after being accepted at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia, intending to continue her education in the medical field. Shortly after she began at William Smith, Pat injured her Achilles tendon and as a result she deferred her acceptance to medical school. Though her medical school plans were put on hold, she pursued a Masters Degree in Sports Psychology at Ithaca College in the interim. While Pat was coaching, teaching and attending Ithaca, she was surprised by the remarkable growth of Physical Education and Women’s Athletics at the collegiate level.

Pat is one of the few coaches to coach their entire career at one institution, William Smith College. Her successful career spanned four decades. Here are the most five most rewarding experiences in her career:

  • Being a part of a progressive program at a women’s college.
  • Working with extraordinary student-athletes who graduated from William Smith and went on to be extremely successful in both their personal and professional lives.
  • Always being challenged and loving the philosophy at the Division III level.
  • Having great mentors and working with committed and supportive colleagues and administrators.
  • The William Smith program’s national recognition and team accolades.

Pat was not only a Trailblazer in Women’s Lacrosse, but also in empowering women in athletics. Title IX had an impact in the beginning of her career and its impact definitely changed over the course of her career.

Hobart and William Smith College conformed to Title IX before it was mandated, which was very progressive, and allowed William Smith to be a step ahead of the rest. While Title IX was impactful, it was definitely gradual. A memorable change was meal money which increased from $1.00 to $2.50. We were able to purchase uniforms and not compete in physical education cotton tunics. We traveled in school buses instead of vans, which players often had to drive. We had a locker room, but had to fight for doors on the bathroom stalls. The argument was that the men didn’t have doors, so why do the women need them? Assistant coaches were finally employed by the college, as they had previously been volunteers who were given housing and food instead of pay.

At one point, the college hired a consultant to get advice on how to brand the Athletic Departments, Hobart for the men and William Smith for the women. The consultant’s advice was to combine Hobart and William Smith Athletics Departments. The women of William Smith Athletics refused and were determined to keep pushing for equality. Pat pointed out that Title IX equity issues continue to be a challenge in women’s athletics today. However, by the end of her coaching career, the William Smith Lacrosse Team had their own first class locker room, an endowed spring training trip, top of the line practice gear, uniforms, impressive practice and game fields, as well as two assistant coaches, one full-time and the other part-time.

Over the course of her coaching career, Pat enjoyed great professional success. Personally, she was married and raised four children. How did she successfully balance her professional and personal life before “day care?”

“I was young and thought I could do it all.”  Pat admitted that she was a very competitive “type A” person BEFORE children. She quickly mellowed. Pat made it a point to separate her personal and work lives. When it came to her children, she lived by the mantra: “love them, clothe them, feed them and read to them.”

At that time, day care wasn’t really an option, however, an unexpected woman came into Pat’s life and allowed her to continue coaching while raising her family. Mrs. Achilles was much more than a “nanny” to the Genovese family. She helped Pat and her family for 22 years, staying with them until her youngest child was a senior in high school. “She read to them, played sports with them, became an intricate part of all of our lives, and she still is today, at the age of 96.”  With the help of Mrs. Achilles, and her husband Carmen, Pat was confident her four children were well cared for.

How many of her former players became high school and college coaches?

Over 50 have become high school, club or college coaches. Many assistants have gone on to become head coaches at Cornell, George Mason, Notre Dame, and Lehigh (field hockey). Former players are currently head coaches at Colorado College and RPI.

What advice would she give a first-year head coach in 2017??

“There is so much to share,” Pat said. She hopes to attend a future IWLCA Annual Meeting and offer a Round Table session for new coaches.  

Pat Genovese and her family

One thought on “Having Lunch With a Legend

  1. I remember way back in 61′ the “Smithies” either practicing or playing on the William Smith quad. Many legends of lacrosse followed Francis “Babe” Kraus from the schools I fondly remember as Colleges of the Seneca. Pat Genovese stands with giants of our game.

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