Widener coach Chris Carideo (above, in 2018) and his wife, Stephanie, had to juggle taking care of their two young children while working from home last spring. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Christy Selagy (@ChristySelagy)
It started out as a fairly normal meeting for the Philadelphia Area Small College Coaches Association last week—coaches giving updates on their teams’ seasons (or lack thereof), some idle chit chat, swapping stories. And then, in the background, something about… dinosaurs?
Yes, dinosaurs, and it was coming from Widener head coach Chris Carideo’s younger son, Carson, who will turn three next month. As Carideo excused himself for a moment, other coaches started sharing stories about juggling their kids and work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Really, who among us hasn’t heard or had a kid, partner, parent, pet, or someone or something else interrupt a meeting while working from home during the COVID era? That’s just the way things are now, especially for coaches who more or less had their basketball worlds shut down for a while.
“During the whole call, Carson was playing nicely by himself,” Carideo said. “And then, of course, when it was my turn to talk, he decided he just wanted to start screaming and yelling. He loves dinosaurs, so he’s screaming, ‘I’m a T-Rex, I’m a T-Rex’ at the top of his lungs when it was my turn to talk.”
Side note: Carson started shouting about T-Rexes when he heard his dad say that.
Before the pandemic hit, Carideo’s older son, C.J., was in school during the days; of course, COVID shut down in-person school for C.J., now five years old, last spring. Stephanie Carideo, Chris’ wife, is an assistant coach with Penn’s women’s basketball team, so she also found herself back at home when the Ivy League began shuttering their programs.
In addition to his coaching duties, Chris is also an assistant athletic director at Widener. He’s in charge of facilities, making sure any third party events on campus go smoothly and have the proper paperwork, but the pandemic made that part of his job moot. With campus shut down and the basketball season over, Chris also transitioned to working from home.
“[Stephanie and I] were ships passing in the night for however long, and then, all of a sudden, it came screeching to a halt and all of us were home. It was kind of surreal,” Chris Carideo said. “It was actually fun and enjoyable for a change for about a month, but then it was like, ‘Okay, some adult interaction would be great.’”
Rosemont head coach Barney Hughes and his wife Carolyn also had to adjust to having the whole family home at once. Their children, Bobby and Molly, now four and two years old, had been in preschool and day care prior to the pandemic, so losing that stability was a shock.
“Those initial weeks when you’re managing work and the kids and everything else, it’s just survival mode, just pure survival mode,” Hughes said. “Get the kids occupied so that you can jump onto this call or so that you can make this recruiting call. My wife and I were both working much later into the night than we probably wanted to, just so we could manage things.”
It didn’t take long for the family to decide to leave their home in Fairmount and stay with Carolyn’s family in Marmora, New Jersey. The house had more space for the kids to play, and was close to the beach for summer excursions. And having Carolyn’s parents around to help take care of the kids during the day didn’t hurt, either.
Rosemont coach Barney Hughes (above, in 2017) and his wife, Carolyn, often worked late so they could take care of heir kids while working from home. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
For Holy Family head coach Ryan Haigh, he was often on his own with three kids during the day. His wife, Jamie Haigh, is a third grade teacher and still had to physically go in to work, despite her class being virtual. That left Ryan and the kids—Brynley, six, Conor, five, and Dillon, three—at home during the days.
Now that in-person schooling and daycare has resumed, Ryan is constantly juggling their drop off and pickup schedules. Although Brynley is in school five days a week, they aren’t full days; Conor and Dillon are out of the house two or three days a week for a few hours at a time. There have also been a few times where the schools close for two weeks to observe COVID safety protocols, which leads to Ryan helping Brynley with her online school while Jamie is nearby teaching her class remotely.
“Luckily, my schedule was so flexible. I kept thinking, ‘What are these other parents doing that work regular jobs?’” Ryan Haigh said. “After a while [Brynley] figured [online schooling] out, but you have to almost sit next to them the whole time to make sure they’re doing their stuff. It was crazy.”
Since Haigh has started going back to campus, he typically drops off the kids and another family member will pick them up. Extended family has also helped the Carideos and Hugheses juggle work and kids.
The Widener team was cleared to begin practices on Jan. 23, though Chris still doesn’t spend much time on campus—he’s limited to half an hour before and after practices and an hour before and half an hour after games. Penn’s women’s basketball team just started having small group workouts a few weeks ago, so Stephanie has started going back to campus, too.
Though Chris and Stephanie’s schedules haven’t overlapped much in the past year, their parents and a few neighbors watch the kids when needed.
“It’s actually way more manageable this year than it was when there was no COVID,” Chris Carideo said with a laugh. “When there was no COVID and [Stephanie] was going for Ivy weekends and they’re gone for three days at a time. They went to Hawaii last year and I'm in full season and working 10 hours a day. It was much harder, much harder. So this year has not been nearly as bad.”
That’s not to say things have been easy for the past year. In addition to worrying about taking care of their actual kids, the coaches were also focused on helping the kids on their teams. There were team Zoom meetings, but those got old quickly. After all, when you’re spending much of the day in virtual classes and meetings, do you really want to tack on another one or two hour session?
Division II and III programs didn’t have as clear a path back to games or practices as D1 did. The Holy Family team spent almost a full year—360 days, to be exact—without setting foot on the court. Because of the City of Philadelphia’s restrictions and the always-changing situation, Ryan often didn’t have any substantial information for his players.
Rosemont had briefly practiced in the fall before COVID put them on hiatus; the team is hoping to have some form of practice this month, but nothing is definite.
“I think one of the things we’re used to in coaching is we’re answer people,” Hughes said. “We like to have the answer. We like to have the solution. We like to be able, if there’s a problem, here’s your answer… You come up to a tough spot in a game, here’s what we're doing, here’s the plan. You’re constantly doing that and looking at the world that way and COVID has laughed at you consistently and said, ‘Oh, you have plans? You want to try to do this? Well, we’re going to throw this knuckleball your way.’”
And another knuckleball life threw Barney and Carolyn? Their third child, Billy, who was born on March 1. They hadn’t thought about or planned on having another child, and, if they had, they wouldn’t have chosen for it to happen amidst the pandemic.
But, ‘I didn’t expect that’ has become a common reaction to many things in the past year, whether that’s a surprise pregnancy, recruiting remotely, juggling parental responsibilities, or a dinosaur interrupting a Zoom meeting.
None of the three coaches hesitated to say things have been tough, of course, but they’ve enjoyed the extra time with their families. And they, like most other people, are ready to regain at least a small sense of normalcy. Something as small as playing a game or getting on the court for practice makes a huge difference.
“[The time at home with my kids] was fun, but … I’m a person that cannot sit around, so I definitely was itching to get back to some normalcy and just having some things on our schedule, just even in terms of just going into work,” Haigh said. “You almost look forward to it again. I love what I do. I don’t even look at it as work. You were missing being around the guys on the team, and just the camaraderie and conversations you have with them. As much as I love my kids and being home, I definitely was missing being around my other kids and my players.”