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October 5, 2006
By Erin Post
Sue Duprat rattles off a list of accomplishments she values most during her 27 years as women's basketball coach at St. Michael's College, and not one of them involves winning championships or setting records.
A 100 percent graduation rate for four year members of her team. Fifteen former players inspired to become coaches themselves after school. And the countless number that parlayed the myriad skills they developed playing collegiate basketball-things like discipline, self control, and the ability to set personal goals and follow through-into fulfilling lives.
Playing basketball helped her team members to go on and "do what they wanted to do with their lives," Duprat said. Ultimately, that's what she hoped to accomplish as a coach.
This weekend, Duprat, now the athletic director at Harwood Union High School, will be honored as an inductee into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame for the Division II College Women's Coach category.
More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the ceremony at the University of Rhode Island on October 6, when players and coaches from both the high school and college level will be inducted.
It's an honor to be selected, Duprat said, but she gives quick credit to assistant coaches, staff, and the players she has coached throughout the years, calling awards and accolades "more a reflection of the people you surround yourself with."
"Everyone who coaches at the level I did has a huge ego," she laughed, noting that it's important to realize that coaching "is not all about you" and that success comes as a by-product of doing the right thing, even if it's not the most attention grabbing.
Duprat came to coaching by way of her own enthusiasm for basketball. Growing up in the Burlington area, she played in high school and "fell in love with the sport."
She went on to play at the University of Vermont, where she was a three-sport athlete, and graduated in 1974 with degrees in political science and physical education.
At about the same time she earned her diploma, Title IX, the federal legislation that requires males and females to be afforded equal opportunities at educational institutions, began to change the way universities approached women's athletics.
In 1976, St. Michael's College in Colchester hired Duprat as the first full-time female member of the athletic staff, charging her with getting women's teams off the ground at the formerly all-male school.
Zaf Bludevich, an associate athletic director at St. Michael's who worked with Duprat for over 20 years, credited her with building solid programs that have stood the test of time.
"You could say in many ways that Sue was the foundation of women's athletics at the college," he said.
One of her first accomplishments was to institute a volleyball program, he said. She also had the vision to offer lacrosse years before it was on the radar for most colleges and helped to start many club teams that eventually became varsity sports.
Compared to the three sports initially offered to women in the '70s--field hockey, basketball and softball--the college now boasts 11 women's varsity programs, with about 150 to 200 female athletes competing any given year.
Beyond the legwork of recruiting athletes and securing funds, Bludevich said Duprat played a major role in changing attitudes about female athletes at a time when some women's basketball teams still wore bloomers and skirts. She fought for equal practice time for women's teams, and quietly reminded staff and students that female athletes belonged to 'women's teams,' instead of 'girls' teams.'
"She started to instill a sense of respect, a sense of pride in women's athletics," he said.
Women's basketball took off under her leadership.
According to information from St. Michael's College, Duprat was on the sidelines for nearly 97 percent of the women's basketball games since the program began in 1974.
She compiled a 327-355 career record during her tenure, "becoming only the third women's basketball coach in New England to reach the 300-win plateau."
In addition, she has coached 4 All-Americans, 10 Hall of Fame inductees, and 12 1,000-point scorers over the course of her career.
Duprat retired from coaching in 2003 and took the job as athletic director at Harwood shortly after.
Even though decades have passed since Title IX went into effect, Duprat said it's still important to advocate for women to fill coaching positions, citing statistics that show the number of female coaches at all levels in steady decline in recent years. Part of the blame goes to a sports-crazed American culture that places extreme pressure on coaches, she said, leaving little family or personal time.
"We preach and expound on the virtues of participation and balance [for athletes]," Duprat said. "We don't reward that for coaches."
Ultimately, it's young women athletes that lose out, because female coaches provide role models for girls. At St. Michael's College, she said one goal for the athletic department was to provide opportunities for women to coach.
The same "more must be better" attitude also often carries over from professional sports to the junior high and high school level, Duprat said. For young kids, the goal should not be winning or earning scholarships; it should be about having fun and learning how to get along.
Harwood boasts "fabulous coaches" who make those goals their priority, Duprat said, pointing out that having good people coach is probably the best defense against the pressure placed on student athletes.
That coaching requires more than knowledge of the game is a lesson she learned early in her career, Duprat said. More than anything, being a coach requires empathy, understanding, and the ability to value people for what they bring to the group.
"It's about being a teacher of people," she said. "Not a sport."