When Maryland basketball coach Brenda Frese gave birth to twin boys last month it made national news and she took a couple of weeks off. “I read where Brenda has a nanny,” Pittsburgh coach Agnus Berenato, a mother of five, said. “I still don’t have a cleaning lady. Are you kidding me? I never took maternity leave. I wonder what I was thinking.”
That really says more about the changes in women’s basketball than it does about working mothers, including the two high-profile coaches in town this weekend for the Spokane Regional of the NCAA Tournament.
When Berenato, 51, started a family 25 years ago, there was no one to report her every move. No one knew if she sat in a black leather office chair on the sidelines, as Frese did at home games this year until Markus William and Tyler Joseph were born Feb. 17.
And back when Berenato got into the business – first for a year at the high school level, then at Rider University from 1982 to ‘85 and then at Georgia Tech until 2003 – there wasn’t money for a nanny or cleaning lady.
“When I think back 28 years, I made $7,000 to $8,000 and also coached volleyball,” she said. “It’s a lot different, but the pressure is a lot different. Now it’s big time.”
Frese, 37, earns a base salary of more than $200,000 a year, which allows her to hire some help in addition to her nearby in-laws – and splurge for a massage after Maryland’s arrival in Spokane.
“You find that you’re not going to have time for you,” she said, “so you’ve got squeeze those moments when you can.”
The pregnancy forced Frese to quit traveling to road games in December.
“For our team to really go through an entire pregnancy with their head coach is the special dynamic,” she said. “I think that’s something that our young girls and women, someday as they go through it, will remember for the rest of their lives.”
Frese said the reaction from the basketball community outside Maryland has been a pleasant surprise.
Berenato talked to Frese when Pitt and Maryland played in November.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously,” Berenato said. “Don’t feel guilty about what you are doing. You can do everything you want to do, you can have it all.”
Berenato was one of 10 children growing up in New Jersey. Her father died when she was in seventh grade. “When you see your mom do that and everyone pitch in and help, anything is possible,” she said. “My husband’s family had eight kids. I told him we can have as many kids as he wants, but I’m working. We just did it as a team.”
As might be expected, the gym was a playground.
Her oldest child, Theresa Marie, 25, “is into clothes, fashion design,” Berenato said. But “the other four are gym rats. They came to practice all the time.”
Andrew, 23; Joey, 19; Clare, 17; and Chrissy, 14, had turns as ball boys and girls, working the ‘96 Olympics in Atlanta and multiple NCAA Tournaments.
“You miss a lot, but I don’t take that too seriously and neither do my kids,” Berenato said. “When I’m with my kids I’m all about my kids. I don’t get to everything, but they don’t get to all of my games. We support each other from afar.”
Her children are all in Spokane for the tournament.
“She doesn’t have any hobbies,” Theresa said. “She has her work and her family, and they’re very intertwined. We get to travel all over the world. Every four years she takes her team so every player gets to go once. This summer we’re going to Greece and Rome.”
And basketball is a shared passion. Clare, a junior, receives recruiting letters; Joey’s team just lost in the Elite Eight of the Division II tournament; and “Chrissy dominates her school leagues,” her sisters said.
The Frese twins will have to wait years to get to that point.
Maryland freshman Marah Strickland said their birth made the team closer – “just having the babies around, watching Coach be so motherly with them and taking care of them. And it definitely feels like we get to be their big sisters, so that’s lots of fun.”
But even with all the excitement of the big stage, cautions Berenato, life isn’t perfect.
“The lows are lower than the highs are high,” she said, “because you suffer together.”
It’s a family thing.