In the fall of 2000, Peter McCormick approached his wife, Jill, and asked her a question that every husband should feel comfortable enough to ask of his wife.
"Where are you most happy doing a job?" was the simple question that wasn't so simple to answer.
At the time Jill had a full course load at UC Berkeley, carrying 15 units on her way to earning a master's degree in Athletes in Academic Achievement. At Santa Rosa JC, Jill was the women's head coach in water polo and the head coach for both the men and women in swimming and diving. She was the head coach for swimming and diving at Piner High School. She also was teaching a journalism course at Piner.
Oh, one other thing, Peter and Jill had two boys, Lucas, 2, and Jack, a couple of months old. Her plate wasn't full. It was overflowing. In the interest of sanity, something needed to change.
"I'm most happy when I am on the pool deck," answered Jill, who swam for Piner and then at SRJC, a record holder at the time in the backstroke.
Fine, Peter said. Chase your bliss. I'll take the kids.
Jill took the questions from other women.
"I was asked, 'So you're going to be gone for the next five days (at meets and recruiting)? How do you do that?'" McCormick said. The inference contained in those questions was clear to McCormick. What kind of mother was she to leave her children? She didn't love her kids and she was a bad parent and she was selfish and she didn't understand she was placing the family at risk.
Said McCormick, "I had one woman tell me if she were to leave her kids with her husband, the house would burn down."
McCormick said she was feeling the sting of a cultural bias. She thought long and hard about her decision. For if she believed the innuendoes and accusations, it would have driven her away from the sport she loved.
"I think bias is a big deterrent that keeps women coaching at a higher level (college)," McCormick said.
Dr. Donna Lopiano is one of the foremost experts on gender equity in sport, having testified about Title IX before three congressional committees. Lopiano spoke on the subject Wednesday night at Sonoma State. McCormick's story was all too familiar to Lopiano.
"She is absolutely right (about a cultural bias)," Lopiano said. "There's a tremendous amount of social pressure on mothers in this country."
McCormick concluded she wouldn't be a bad mother if she became a full-time faculty member and coach at SRJC. When the school hired her in 2002, she had resolved her internal dilemma, yet stares or questions persisted. She was successful and it had nothing to do with being on the pool deck. Lucas, now 15, is a Piner freshman who swims and runs cross country for the school — when he's not acting. Jack, 13, is an eighth-grader at the Piner Olivet Charter School, a cross country runner and an actor as well.
SRJC was at the state meet last spring in Southern California. Peter surprised her by flying down with the boys to Monterey Park and meeting her poolside as SRJC's men's swim team won state for the first time.