Lewis: Loyola’s Kellie Kennedy balances motherhood, coaching _lowres

Advocate photo by ZACH BRIEN -- Kellie Kennedy, Loyola University New Orleans' women's basketball head coach, sits on the bench with her four-year-old daughter Raleigh before a game against Belhaven University. Kennedy, who is the winningest coach in program history, is also a parent.: Saturday, Jan 23, 2016.

Loyola women’s basketball coach Kellie Kennedy is a distinctive minority in her profession. She’s a mom.

To be precise, she’s the mother of Raleigh Kaiis Kennedy, who will turn 5 in April.

“At our convention, there are meetings for men coaching women’s basketball and African-Americans,” Kennedy said. “But I don’t think I’ve ever seen one for moms.

“There must not be too many of us.”

Apparently not. Although exact statistics are not available, on the collegiate level, it’s believed to be less than 10 percent. The reasons are varied, but none of them deterred Kennedy.

“I know this is the best thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “It’s one of those things you can’t understand how great it is until you do it.

“It’s awesome. It really is.”

Raleigh is a constant presence at Loyola home games, being collectively tended to by friends, ex-players and parents of current players.

And although Kellie admits to sneaking peaks to make sure where her daughter is, it must not be too distracting.

Saturday’s 71-62 victory against William Carey was the Wolf Pack’s ninth in a row, raising their record to 15-3 and 10-0 in the Southern States Athletic Conference.

Loyola is ranked No. 24 in the NAIA. Earlier this season, Kennedy became the winningest coach in the program’s history.

“Raleigh isn’t that much into the games, but she’s learned about winning and losing,” Kennedy said. “Fortunately, we haven’t been losing very often the last couple of seasons.

“But when we do, it helps to give me perspective the really important things in life.”

Kennedy, who was an assistant at Tulane for eight seasons before coming to Loyola in 2008, had always taken a motherly attitude toward her players.

But she’d always known she wanted a child of her own.

And after she turned 40 and found herself unattached but with her biological clock ticking faster than Marissa Tomei’s in “My Cousin Vinny,” Kennedy decided the time was then.

She considered adopting, as her sister had done, along with some other coaches.

Ultimately, though, she decided to use an anonymous donor (“I’ve got his picture. He looked like he was about 18.”).

The first try was a hit, which, considering the cost of in-vitro fertilization and the fact that Kennedy was 42 at the time, was fortunate.

Except perhaps for the timing.

Kennedy was eight months pregnant late in the 2012 season, and during an NAIA tournament game a rival radio announcer said during one tense moment, “They better give that woman a time out or she’s going to have that baby right here.”

“My ankles were so swollen I was wearing flip-flops,” Kennedy said. “Maybe I could have waited a couple of months.”

Just becoming a single mother at a Catholic school, regardless of the timing, might have given some women pause. Kennedy did not inform any of her superiors until she was pregnant.

But there were no issues.

“We’re a Jesuit school, and I guess they’re a little more liberal,” Kennedy said. “We have a very supportive and inclusive campus environment.

“They made me feel very good and who I am and what I represent.”

Still, there are the challenges of mixing coaching and parenthood.

Obviously women in all professions do so, but Kennedy points out, coaching is something that can’t be left at the office.

“Your team requires so much of your time and energy,” she said. “It’s both emotional and physical.

“It’s not just the games, but practice, and recruiting trips, and the phone ringing at any time of the night. I wind up just about every night in bed with a laptop.”

And although Loyola is an NAIA school, Kennedy said with the exception of fewer recruiting trips in the summer, the time demands are the same.

“I don’t have anyone doing video edits for me,” she said, “So it probably evens out.”

The time demands, Kennedy holds, are a major stumbling block for female coaches in all sports — not just basketball — to having children.

But for Kennedy, the maternal urge overcame any of the negatives.

And, she believes, it’s made her a better coach.

“It’s changed the way I see things,” Kennedy said. “My team says I’m softer now because I have the perspective of a mother.

“Maybe it has smoothed out some of the edges. I feel more at ease, more patient and not so single-minded about coaching.”

For now, Raleigh is oblivious to all of that. She prefers to color during games rather than watch the action and is more interested in playing T-ball this spring than improving her dribbling skills.

“I thought I wanted a boy who would play basketball and football and all that stuff,” Kennedy said. “But God gives you who you’re supposed to have.

“And that little girl is exactly that for me.”

No arguments about that.