Sheila Boles: A pioneer for women, in Wilmington and across North Carolina ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)

Sheila Boles: A pioneer for women, in Wilmington and across North Carolina ("1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast)
Listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcasts by clicking the links inside this story.
Listen to previous episodes of the "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcasts by clicking the links inside this story.

WILMINGTON, NC (WECT) - Sheila Boles recently joined an exclusive club. Hoggard High School honored the former boys' basketball coach and athletic director by dedicating the new gymnasium in Sheila Boles' name.The Sheila E. Boles Gymnasium  puts her in select company that includes only the legendary Michael Jordan, who is similarly honored at Laney High School, and Coach Leon Brogden, who won a dozen state championships before being recognized at New Hanover High School.

"It's pretty overwhelming when you think about it that way," Boles says when asked about being included with Jordan and Brogden. "The only thing I can attribute it to is that I had a lot of great people around me."

Sheila Boles grew up in Cumberland County, and remembers playing football in the front yard with her father Chuck, who played football for Appalachian State University and pro baseball in the Dodgers' organization. There were not many opportunities for her to play sports in her early school years, but she did play four years of high school basketball at 71st High School in Fayetteville, and was named to all-conference teams.

After graduation, Sheila took 19 hours of classes at North Carolina State University in Raleigh. She then made a decision that would change the direction of her life. She decided to enroll at UNC Wilmington in 1973, just as the school was starting a Women's Basketball program to comply with the recently-passed Title IX. Sheila recalls the story of how she joined the team, and the early days of setting its' foundation, at 7:15 of the podcast.

"I came down here as a freshman and was registering for classes, and there was a big sign in Hanover Hall that said, 'if you are interested in women's basketball show up at this meeting," Sheila remembers. "So, I did, and it was a vote on whether we were going to have basketball or volleyball as the first (women's) sport at UNCW. We all voted and wanted basketball."

Those early days as part of the first Lady Seahawks team were not easy. Sheila says the players wore the baseball team's warmups to play that first year, and did not get their own uniforms until the next season. The team piled in in station wagons to drive to the games.

"I think we all knew that this was not a glamorous thing," she says. "Nobody had been recruited or courted to come here. We knew that the opportunity was special, and we needed to take full advantage of it and set a good foundation, and I think we did."
 
Sheila went on to get her degree at UNCW, and soon landed her first teaching job at Penderlea Junior High School, where she also coached softball, volleyball and basketball. After a stop at Lake Forest Junior High, Trask Junior High School Principal Hugh McManus hired Sheila to coach the boys basketball team. It wouldn't be the first time the two would work together. Sheila went to Laney High School as coach of varsity girls' basketball team, taking the team to the state semifinals in 1986.

Two years later, McManus came calling again. As principal at Hoggard High, he had an opening as the jayvee boys' basketball coach. He hired Sheila there, setting the stage for her to make history the next season as the first woman in North Carolina to coach a varsity boys' basketball team. That part of our interview begins at 15:30, where Sheila looks back at how the process unfolded, that a member of the school board visited her to say he would not support her for the job, and how she put her stamp on the program that won 167 games in the next 11 seasons.

"The first thing was, I didn't even know I was going to get the vote from the (school) board," she says. "It was a nationwide search. It had to go through board approval. I had a board member, who I'm not going to name, show up at my office the day of the vote and told me how much he loved me, but he couldn't vote for me to be a men's basketball coach because he didn't think I knew what I was getting into. At that point, I didn't think I was going to get it, it would be 4-3 against me."

She got it, by 4-3 vote.

"I'm sure there were doubters, because they (the players) were boys and me being a female," Sheila remembers "But that just never came into play in terms of discipline or anything like that. I'm sure there were a lot of dads out there unsure about me coaching their sons and stuff like that. There were some headlines in the paper."

There was success. Sheila's teams won games over well-known coaches across eastern North Carolina. She recollects those times during the podcast as well. The coaching career came to an end, after the 1998 season, when Sheila was diagnosed with breast cancer. She won the battle against the disease, and settled into the role of Athletic Director at Hoggard. That part of our conversation comes at 21:30, where Sheila talks about the switch, her battle against cancer and being a caretaker as her parents struggled with their own cancer journeys.

Sheila retired as Hoggard's Athletic Director in 2009, finally having to walk away from the daily interaction with Viking students and athletes she had enjoyed for twenty years.

"Basically it's every night and every weekend, and I just ran out of gas," she says with the hint of a tear in her eye. "I cried a lot, because I knew I would miss it. I just felt like for health purposes, it was a better decision for me. But I've never really left."

Since those final days as athletic director, Sheila Boles still remains active by serving on several boards in the community. She has also received many awards and honors marking her career that include:

When asked which of her honors is most meaningful, Sheila mentions the recent dedication of the new Hoggard High gymnasium that bears her name.

"Having a gym named after you, that's a community thing," she says. "You know that kids and parents and people you work with thought you did something right."

Sheila shared a great story during our conversation about having to discipline one of her varsity players. It shows the level of respect players had for her as not just coach, but a mentor and a parental figure in their lives. It comes around the 36:00 mark of the podcast. I promise it will warm your heart.

You can listen to the entire interview with Sheila Boles on the free "1on1 with Jon Evans" podcast:

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