April 17, 2009
DeKalb, Ill. - Years from now, a former Huskie women's basketball standout might be roaming the sidelines at a women's college basketball game.
However, it won't be current NIU head coach Carol Owens or assistant coach E.C. Hill. It could be senior Shari' Welton, who recently attended the Women's Basketball Coaches Association's (WBCA) "So You Want to Be a Coach" workshop.
The program, which provides minority female basketball players a sneak peak at the coaching profession, was held April 3-5 during the WBCA National Convention in St. Louis, Mo.
The goal of the program is to increase the number of minority female basketball players who aspire to coach and prepare them for entering the coaching profession.
Welton knows how special an opportunity she was given and tried to make the most of it.
"It was a great experience and I really learned a lot about coaching," Welton said. "I met a lot of very interesting people and getting the chance to network with professionals in the business was very special."
"All the girls in the program with me were really nice," said Welton. "I got a good feel for what the coaching profession is about and the networking was very beneficial."
The highlight of Welton's weekend was viewing a panel discussion featuring the Final Four head coaches at the Hyatt Regency. Welton was in awe as Connecticut's Geno Auriemma, Lousiville's Jeff Walz, Oklahoma's Sherri Coale and Stanford's Tara VanDerveer answered questions just a few feet away.
However, Welton's experience got even better when another famous coach made an unexpected appearance.
"[Tennessee head coach] Pat Summit walked in the room and all of us couldn't believe our eyes," said Welton. "She was bidding on items for Breast Cancer Awareness and we were all taking pictures of her. It was almost too good to be true to be in the company of some of the best coaches in the country."
The workshop, which began in 2003, has been extremely successful. Twenty-nine members of the Class of 2005 have already landed jobs in the field of athletics.
At the end of each season, the WBCA Board of Directors encourages all WBCA head coaches to nominate minority female athletes who have an interest in coaching women's basketball.
Every applicant needs to have exhausted their final year of eligibility at a four-year institution or graduated within the past year. In addition, a potential applicant's head coach has to nominate them and be an active WBCA member.
Welton was grateful for Owens' nomination and was pleasantly surprised to see how respected her former coach was amongst the coaching elite.
"When I got down there and said I played for Coach Owens, everybody had such high praise for her," said Welton. "She would deny it, but she is a superstar in the WBCA."
Each candidate is selected based on their academics, contributions to women's basketball on and off the court, professional resume and a written recommendation from their head coach. Once selected, participants have the opportunity to gain insight and coaching philosophy from some of the most experienced coaches in women's basketball.
"You're within reach of so many coaches down there and they know how serious you are about joining the profession," said Welton. "I had the first chance to meet such highly-respected people and was able to get contact information from so many coaches."
This year, participants were given the opportunity to go to the WBCA High School All-American Game presented by Nike, watch NCAA open practices and even attend the Women's Final Four games at the Scotttrade Center.
Upon completion of the workshop, each participant has their resume placed on the WBCA's Career and Resource website, which lists candidates who have a desire to work in sports.
Welton's passion for basketball got her interested in the coaching profession and she sees coaching as a way to break into the competitive sports industry.
"I have a passion for basketball and I want to have an impact on the game after I'm done playing," said Welton. "I'm trying to become a graduate assistant at a program and use coaching as a stepping stone to get where I want to go."
The Calumet City, Ill. native, who holds the all-time scoring record at Thornwood High School, still aspires to be a sportscaster and has worked as an anchor at the Northern Television Center the past two years. Welton is currently in the application process for an internship at ESPN this summer.
"My dream job is to work for ESPN," said Welton. "I'm in some producing and editing classes right now and I've gained great experience working at the NTC the past couple of years."
Known as a defensive stopper, Welton saw action in 51 games in two seasons at Wisconsin before transferring to NIU after the 2005-06 season. After being required to sit out the 2006-07 campaign due to NCAA transfer regulations, Welton started 57 of 58 games over the next two seasons for the Huskies, averaging 7.7 points, 4.1 rebounds and 27.3 minutes per contest.
The versatile, 5-foot-7 guard filled the stat sheet over her two seasons in DeKalb, compiling 86 assists, 50 steals and six blocks.