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Latest Carroll County ‘SHEro,’ Heather DeWees, encourages girls to turn barriers into opportunities

Girls on the Run of Central Maryland has been celebrating “SHEroes” throughout 2020 and the latest Carroll countian to be honored is a longtime coach.

Heather DeWees, who is a coach among many other things, was named a SHEro by the organization. She joins Together We Own It founder Katie Kirby as SHEroes from Carroll.

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Girls on the Run is a nonprofit “dedicated to creating a world where every girl knows and activates her limitless potential and is free to boldly pursue her dreams.” A SHEro is defined by the organization as a female-identified person who is admired or idealized for courage and/or a woman (or man) who supports women’s rights and respects women’s issues.

Heather DeWees
Heather DeWees

DeWees is a Westminster resident and mother of three who graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University. She serves as clerk of the Carroll County Circuit Court, the first female elected clerk of court in Carroll. Previously, she was a teacher for more than 20 years, including at North Carroll and Manchester Valley high schools.

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She has been Manchester Valley’s varsity girls basketball coach for more than a decade but she has been been teaching and cheering girls (and boys) toward their goals for 25 years. She is an advocate for taking healthy risks. After all, it was into risk, her athletic career was born.

She started her athletic career with a disadvantage — she was a girl. And in her small West Virginia town there weren’t many organized sports for girls. So, she played on boys teams. Basketball, baseball, football, whatever they were playing, she signed up. She didn’t always receive a warm reception.

DeWees remembers people holding signs and yelling from the stands to “Get the girl off the field!” She remembers changing into her uniform after school in the janitor’s closet because there was no locker room for girls. She says she was ostracized, bullied and excluded from all-star teams and awards she had worked hard to earn. She continued to fight her way onto boys teams from the time she was 4, until she was a teenager.

Still, she recalls never considering being the only girl on a boys team to be a disadvantage, noting that her father never let her, instead, teaching her to take the negative and turn it into a positive; to use what some would see as reason to quit, as energy to keep moving forward. By the time she entered high school and played on her first girls basketball team, she learned the challenges she faced on the boys teams had prepared her to excel on a girls’ team. She earned a basketball scholarship to Mount St. Mary’s.

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Looking back at her experience, DeWees says she knows what makes a good team. As a coach, she has seen plenty of teams succeed and plenty struggle. She remembers one specific team struggling to win more than she thought their skill level should indicate. There was a disconnect among team members and they seemed to be focused on each other’s differences. So DeWees and the other coaches had the girls write down their grievances anonymously and place them in a box. Once they removed and discussed each note from the box, DeWees told the team, “Now that it’s out, we can move on.” And they did.

One of the core values of Girls on the Run is, “Embrace our differences and find strength in our connectedness.” DeWees has found this core value to be integral as a coach. She said, in basketball, there is one goal. If a team doesn’t work together, it will fail. Finding the commonality and connection between teammates, coworkers, and family members is the only way the “team” will succeed.

Just as it wasn’t fair for her to be the only girl on boys teams until she was a teenager, DeWees knows it isn’t always fair for girls now. Her experience with adolescent girls has put her on the front lines of the unique challenges of girlhood. Many girls today feel a tremendous amount of pressure to be perfect. They shy away from taking healthy risks for fear of failure. They are manufacturing their bodies on social media. They are experiencing cyber-bullying and are struggling to find healthy coping mechanisms to process and move on from negative thoughts and people.

They need a coach. And this coach, this SHEro, has a message for them.

“Life isn’t fair. Stop thinking everything should be fair,” DeWees said. “You have choices. Surround yourself with positive people who care about you. We all have barriers, but don’t view it as a barrier, view it as an opportunity. Don’t give up because it’s hard, dig to get out of it because you never know what’s on the other side.”

Lynn Jore is the Carroll County coordinator for Girls on the Run.

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