CINCINNATI — Alison McCarthy worked on her basketball skills during football practice.
She wasn’t on the field with her father’s Holmes teams, but while they practiced, she was shooting, dribbling and dreaming alone in the darkness of the fieldhouse.
“It just became a passion of mine to really try and be a really good basketball player,” McCarthy said.
Jarelle Redden recognized that same passion several years later. By then, McCarthy was Redden’s counterpart with the girls basketball team at Woodward. He approached her with an idea that shouldn’t be but is still foreign – a woman coaching boys basketball.
Not just that, but a white woman coaching with an all-Black team.
“I’m a firm believer that a coach is a coach,” said McCarthy’s dad, Jeff. “A white female coaching in a largely Black program with Black coaches is very unique. You don’t see that very often. But to me, it’s just wonderful she’s doing it. It’s wonderful she’s been accepted into that program and it’s wonderful she can contribute.”
“As a staff member on an all-Black staff, you gain a different perspective,” McCarthy said. “Believe me, I get the looks, I get questions, I get the head turns, like what is she going to do exactly, what does she bring to the table for these young men? Honestly, I can say that I bring what they need for the moment.”
"Coach Mac," as she’s known at Woodward, contributes everywhere for the Bulldogs. From working with the post players to helping out with math homework at 2 a.m., she does it all.
“I’m just a helping hand whenever someone needs a helping hand,” McCarthy said. “Whatever I’m asked to do to help these kids succeed, I’m OK with that.”
Her hard work hasn't gone unnoticed among the Woodward players.
“Having her around has made me a more complete player,” said junior forward Keleise Frye. “Pretty much whenever we need something, if we call her, she's more than likely to do it."
The challenges at Woodward are far different than the ones at McCarthy’s previous coaching stops. She began her coaching journey at age 23 after a storied career at Holmes and then Northern Kentucky University. Her first coaching job was at her alma mater before stints as the head coach of the girls teams at Simon Kenton and Beechwood.
“If it takes me being seen in that light, from any way, then it enables to view people in a different way, be they white or Black, I’m OK with that,” McCarthy said. “It’s not my intention. I’m here to coach basketball. It doesn’t matter they’re boys or young Black men, it doesn’t matter to me. What matters is being able to impact their lives in a positive way.”