Coaching Nun Hits Big Time at Marquette

Associated Press

The new women's basketball coach at Marquette had a 108-39 record at Canisius, but life was never like this. The media has discovered Sister Maria Pares, the only nun coaching a Division I school.

Sister Pares has been featured in the New York Times, USA Today and Sports Illustrated and is booked for an appearance next month on "The Late Show with Joan Rivers." What would it be like if her team was winning?

"The last couple of weeks have been absolutely, positively crazy in my life," she said.

"I was in Buffalo for 13 years. We won a lot of games and did a lot of things and we didn't get much of any kind of recognition.

"All of a sudden it's sister this and sister that. Does sister do this, does sister jump through the hoop, does sister swing her tail?" said Sister Pares, who coached five seasons at Canisius and 13 at Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart.

"I started to worry about the kids. They're the team and I'm the novelty. A lot of them have been interviewed and the first question is, 'What's it feel like to be coached by a nun?' " she said.

"But for me it's OK because I never made anything of it. I've always just been me," she said.

Sister Pares, 45, a member of the Order of St. Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, coached Canisius simultaneously with Sacred Heart, where her teams were 229-10 and had a seven-year unbeaten streak.

Now she's trying to turn around the struggling program at Marquette, a Jesuit school in its second year in Division I. The Warriors started 1-9 before they won the Canisius tournament in a homecoming for Sister Pares. After 24 games, they were 8-16.

Before that dismal start, she said she had never lost more than two straight games. Part of her secret is discipline.

"If you don't do it her way, you don't play," said senior co-captain Beth Ayers. "She put the five people out there who play the way she wants to play. It doesn't matter who you are or how many points you scored last season."

When Sister Pares asked her team for advice on whether she should appear on the talk show with the acid-tongue Rivers, her team told her that "you could intimidate Ali."

Still, she had reservations about appearing with the acid-tongued Rivers, but decided she would.

"I represent myself, Marquette and my order and I do not want to be stationed in our post in Africa after this," she said.

Sister Pares does not wear a habit nor is she a low-key coach. During a recent game, she chewed on some red licorice left on the scorer's table and punched the air with her fist when something pleased her.

Among her coaching favorites are Tom Davis, Bobby Knight and Hubie Brown, whom she met at a coaching clinic.

She screams occasionally at officials and even called a timeout in one game because she thought one referee needed a rest. During the timeout, she said, she begged for a technical foul.

Like Knight and Brown she speaks her mind. Recently she was quoted in a Chicago newspaper as criticizing parental pressure on coaches and players.

"I've been saying that for about 1,000 years," she said. "I particularly say it to fathers of kids who are pressuring me. 'Sometimes you guys give me so much grief maybe it would be better if I recruited an orphan.' But that's all that was said.

"I live and die with my quotes, but I've been saying it for so long that I can't believe that all of a sudden someone thought it was printable."

She admits that the "nun thing" was disturbing at first but says "it's gotten to be a novelty."

"I think I understand it better. I was very reluctant to go along with it. But if this is a way to help let people know that Marquette's women's program is alive, well and kicking, if it has be done with the nun image, then fine.

"We'll do it."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World