Melissa Dhondt is a basketball coach, much like any other. She’s intense, driven, and cares deeply about her team. Only one difference: She is coaching the Chadwick Cardinal boys team.
“As a girl, I just felt it would be different, more challenging,” she said.
After spending last year as the assistant varsity girls and JV girls coach at Morrisville, she landed a teaching job at Chadwick, then suddenly, a coaching job opened.
“When they finally said one of them was going to be head boys basketball, I was like, ‘Oh, this is fate,’” Dhondt said. “’This has to happen.’”
Happen it did, and now Dhondt is leading the Cardinals, who had to get used to their new coach.
“They told me, ‘You have a woman coach,’ and I thought they were joking,” said senior guard John Hicks. “I got to the first practice, and they weren’t.”
“It took a couple of weeks during the summer to get them to really kind of buy in to the fact that, you know, a coach is a coach,” Dhondt said.
A basketball player since she “was little,” Dhondt always said she wanted to coach a boys team, which was usually met with thinly veiled skepticism.
“Most of them were supportive in that, ‘Yeah, sure, you can do thing,’ kind of thing,” she said.
And for a while, it looked like they were right.
Dhondt studied massage therapy in college, and worked in that field for nine years after graduation.
“I kind of thought my athletic career was kind of done and over with,” she said.
But while doing that, Dhondt worked with the semi-pro football team the Southwest Missouri Venom. That, combined with a return to basketball coaching at the Boys and Girls Club, re-lit the coaching fire.
“I really was like, ‘I can still do this,’” she said. “I’m still young enough, let’s do this.’”
Then came the job at Chadwick.
“There was some raised eyebrows, but I don’t think there was, ‘Hey, this is a woman we’re trying to hire to coach men,’” said Chadwick principal David Aldrich. “There was never any of that.”
Dhondt’s work ethic impressed administrators, who looked past the relative oddity of a woman coaching boys basketball.
“If she’s the best person to coach the boys, she can coach the boys,” Aldrich said.
At the end of the day, that’s what she’s doing: Coaching, and her team responds.
“She’s just a coach, I’m just a player,” Hicks said. “That’s just the way we look at things.”
“We have the trust and we have the respect,” Dhondt said. “I have a good group of guys.”