It is hard to believe that a Coach Rice could happen, when Betsey Rice had so few role models or coaches to mentor her. Growing up in her small hometown of Higganum, Connecticut there were no physical education classes or athletic teams for girls in her elementary or middle schools. For high school she traveled to nearby Middletown, where once again there were no athletic teams for girls; only the boys had the opportunity to play on school sports teams. The girls did have physical education classes, but they consisted mainly of calisthenics two days a week. Coach Rice says girls’ opportunities in the 50s
were to be cheerleaders for the boys teams and dance, usually ballet.
Coach Rice’s mother had been an inspiration for her: She attended college in the 1920s, with the unique opportunity to compete in tennis and intramural basketball, and she developed into a semi-pro golfer. She graduated magna cum laude with a double major in French and math. Betsey told her mother she did not want to be a cheerleader but wanted to play basketball. So Betsey made a deal with the boys basketball coach in eighth grade. She came into school early two mornings a week, and he taught her all the skills and rules of basketball. She became a cheerleader, and from the sidelines she watched how the game was played, observing the skills of the boys and the strategies used by the coaches. On Saturday mornings you could usually find her playing pickup basketball with the boys.
Coach Rice recalls, “In high school my dream was to become a physical education teacher and coach because I loved sports … and wanted to give girls the opportunity I never had.” She attended Marjorie Webster Junior College in the Greater Washington area, which trained young women to become physical education teachers and coaches of a variety of sports. The college developed many educators and leaders in girls athletics—among them, our own Girls Lacrosse Head Coach and PE Teacher Kathy Jenkins. “Private schools from all over would come to our college to recruit their future teachers and coaches,” Coach Rice says. She participated in field hockey, basketball, and swimming and was named the 1962 Outstanding Athlete. After graduation she transferred to American University, where she continued playing field hockey and basketball and competed on the swimming team. She captained all three sports and was named the 1964 Female Athlete of the Year. After college she continued competing in field hockey, playing on the Washington and Southeast teams and in seven International matches.
From her first teaching and coaching job at Sidwell Friends, a powerhouse in girls sports, she saw the St. Agnes School athletic program develop from its early stages—only playing four games per sport—into the girls sports powerhouse that it is today.
Coach Rice met and married her husband, Ed, a math teacher and fellow coach, at Sidwell Friends. In 1969 Mr. Rice accepted a position at Episcopal High School, and Coach Rice decided to stay home for eight years to take care of their young children, Adam and Christine ’89. In 1976 she started substituting and then teaching part time at St. Agnes School. A few years later, Headmistress Joan Holden hired her to teach physical education classes; coach the eighth grade field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse teams; and coach the JV basketball team. She also assisted Marsha Way and Kathy Jenkins by coaching the varsity field hockey and lacrosse goalkeepers.
Coach Rice was now on the ground floor of girls athletics at St. Agnes with Gudrun Callahan, Kathy Jenkins, Marsha Way, and Alix Fellows. “We taught and coached together for 30 years,” she says. “We had the same philosophy and were technicians in our coaching. We all believed it was important to build strong fundamental skills at the middle school level.” She strongly feels, and it has been supported by years of success, that the coaches’ diligent dedication to the development of their average athletes as well as their strongest athletes is one of the key elements of our girls athletic program’s success. Coach Rice says, “I remember when the UVA lacrosse coach came to watch and try to recruit Maggie Vaughn ’86; she couldn’t believe that so many great players and teams developed at such a small facility.”
In the spring of 1991 Coach Way told her that if she wanted to coach her own team, varsity basketball and varsity volleyball both needed new head coaches. Coach Rice took on both teams. She met with the volleyball coach at Georgetown University to learn skills, drills, and new strategies of this fast-moving sport. The Saints volleyball team developed into one of the strongest in the ISL, finishing all but one year in the top three or four of a 15-team league. “I loved this sport because it teaches so many life skills,” she says. “Especially learning to react to adversity in a positive way and total support of teammates. I was never satisfied; I was always looking for ways to improve my teams by talking with college coaches about new techniques and strategies.”
Coach Rice found coaching both sports to be very time consuming, so after two years she stepped down from varsity basketball and began a new career as the throws coach for the varsity track and field team. Her athletes, both girls and boys, were very successful during her tenure, winning many league and state titles. She received an APT Summer Study Grant to travel to Spain, where she and her husband coached at the Denia Track Club. She recalls, “We were asked to introduce and coach the field events to theirrunners ages 12-17. All of our coaching sessions were done in Spanish!”
In 2006, her final year as head volleyball coach, she achieved a career milestone—winning her 300th match. It was especially meaningful because the match was played at Episcopal High School, where she had been living since 1969. Her volleyball team also became the ISL AA Co-Champions that year, which allowed the Saints to hang that banner on our gym wall.
Where is Coach Rice now? After retiring in 2009, she and her husband lived in nearby Vienna, Virginia, watching their son, Adam, coach his teams at Flint Hill and their grandchildren, Isabel and Edward, compete in sports. Presently, Coach Rice and her husband live in Lafayette, Louisiana near their daughter, Christine ’89, and 3-year-old grandson, Michael.