Coaches and players - sometimes the relationship feels more like family. Thanks to a path through life that brought her back to her hometown, Stephanie Bates feels close ties to the volleyball players she now coaches in Salem, Mo. Especially her younger sister, who Bates wound up coaching. It's one of several satisfying circles in Bates' life. But let's begin with the beginning.
Stephanie Bates came to Drury in 1987. As a high school volleyball player she earned all-state and all-region honors twice. When she came to Drury, Coach Barbara Cowherd recognized Bates' talent and dedication: "She never took the easy way out. Her basic philosophy was that there was not really any reason to do something unless you were going to go out there and give it your best effort." In her sophomore year, with a team that included legendary players like Paula Wohnhas-Wiedemann, Karen (Smith) Copeland, Glenda (Thomas) Ennis, Cathy Lairmore and Ruth Norton, Bates helped Drury win the District 16 title. As a senior, Bates and Thomas were picked for the All-District 16 First Team.
Like most Drury student-athletes, Bates understood a basic truth: "It was pretty clear-cut, academics came first." But the line blurred a little as she moved back and forth from classroom to court. "I was blessed with having a good coach," she says of Cowherd, "someone who understood what it would take to be successful in life and good at things." Such an attitude helped Bates work her way through a tough academic program-a double major in physical education and secondary education and a minor in biology.
At other colleges, the physical education major might have been the easiest part, but not at Drury. Athletic Director Dr. Bruce Harger "takes P.E. very seriously," says Bates. "Lots of people look down on P.E., but because he demanded respect from us, he's taught me to demand respect from others." Nonetheless, during her first semester she had to make "a big adjustment" to find the time for both work and play. "If we left on Thursday for a road trip, and something was due Friday or Monday, we had to do it early, we even had to take tests early. Barb [Cowherd] made us!" As she graduated, Bates was nominated for NAIA Scholar-Athlete and GTE Academic All-American honors.
The discipline she learned at Drury is standing the test of time. Bates returned to Drury for a master of education, simultaneously serving as an assistant volleyball coach. In 1993 she returned to Salem to be closer to her family, including her terminally ill father. She joined the faculty at Salem High School as an assistant coach of volleyball, track and girls' basketball. Moving up to coach, Bates built on the team's success. In 1996 her volleyball team won the state championships, the first Salem championship in any sport. "That was quite an honor around here," says Bates modestly.
Since that pinnacle, the team has continued its success, and Bates has continued to be busy. She's one of only two female coaches in the entire school system, and this is the first year she's been able to give up coaching basketball. Looking ahead to the day when she runs an athletic program instead of being a coach, she's also started working on a master of administration degree. "It probably has a lot to do with why I'm still single," she says wryly.