DeMizio does it for the kids
Stefanie DeMizio has a simple answer for why she started coaching the moment she entered the teaching profession 17 years ago.
“It’s the kids,” the 37-year-old Niagara Falls native said. “To me, teaching and coaching go hand in hand. It is all about the kids and giving them the best experience they can have at the high school level.”
Growing up, she played basketball, baseball and track and field in high school and travel basketball with the Niagara Falls Red Raiders organization.
“I was always involved in sports and I want to give that back to them too,” the Saint Paul High School graduate said.
At Denis Morris, DeMizio is approaching a decade spent as the head coach of the senior girls basketball team. She moved into the role when she moved up to the senior level with a talented junior squad. She has also coached junior boys basketball, girls slo-pitch, volleyball and badminton.
The time commitment involves practices every day after school and games after school, in the evening and sometimes on the weekend. It is time well spent.
“You build different relationships with kids who are not necessarily in your class, especially for me because I am a French teacher and not every kid loves French or takes it after Grade 9,” she said. “It is a chance for me to bond and be with the kids outside of the classroom.”
Her coaching philosophy is guided by a number of principles.
“Teamwork and equality are huge. I am also big on attendance and everyone has to be there all the time. And we work as a team no matter what our level is. We could be the best or the worst but we all have to bond together.”
Equality is a crucial part of the equation.
“Everyone is equal whether you are the star player or the last girl in and everyone gets treated the same,” she said. “If you miss practice, you are going to get penalized for it no matter where you are on the team. Everyone treats each other equally and we learn from each other.”
That rule is especially important to enforce at the high school level.
“Some girls won’t go on in their sport and this is a good way to teach life skills about how to work as part of a team, how to be around people at the same level as you, or at lower or higher levels in the real world.”
DeMizio’s favourite part of coaching is the bonds that develop with her players.
“It’s the time that we get to spend together and we all have a common interest and love of the sport that we are playing,” she said. “I get to see them carefree and in their element.”
Basketball is clearly her favourite sport to coach.
“That is my passion,” she said. “It has always been my favourite sport: the teamwork it involves; the ability; and, the talent.
“It is a lot of work but I enjoy it.”
Coaching and sports is part of DeMizio’s DNA.
“My father (Carmen) was my coach and he coached my siblings as well. It was alway just part of the family. He coached and everyone was involved in sports,” she said. “He was a teacher as well and I just kind of followed in his footsteps.”
Carmen coached the Saint Paul senior girls basketball team, including the year they won an Ontario Federation of School Athletic Associations AAA bronze medal in 2008. Stefanie was an assistant coach on that team that was led by Nicole Rosenkranz and Natalie Thomson.
Stefanie has adopted several of her dad’s coaching attributes.
“My dad is a very patient man so I try to be like him when I get frustrated. The ideas of all the girls bonding, teamwork and playing together comes from him.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down high school sport and DeMizio misses it.
“This fall we have already missed two months of prime basketball season and my life as a teacher is very different,” she said. “I am missing big time the bond with the kids and I can feel the difference.”
The increased demands of teaching during a pandemic have taken up much of her free time.
“It is a lot more planning and marking and I am teaching a couple of new courses as well,” she said. “It’s weird. It does feel like I have a little more free time because I am used to practising every day and playing tournaments in the evening. It is a void in my life.”
She isn’t sure what high school sports will look like when the pandemic is over.
“I am hoping it is still a thing because I have missed it greatly this last two months and I think the kids miss that bonding experience as well. I am hoping it doesn’t totally disappear but we have to do what is best for everyone’s health and safety.”
She agrees that high school sports are especially important for an athletes who don’t play at the club level.
“They might not make an outside team and this is their outlet. They love basketball and they love being in a group of kids,” she said. “Often it is their one and only opportunity and it doesn’t cost them extra. That is a big factor in our area given the social and economic status of our students.”
DeMizio earned a degree in French from McMaster and attended teachers college at D’Youville. She spent her first year teaching at Saint Paul and is now in her 16th year on the staff at Denis Morris.
Her first introduction into coaching came in the St. Catharines CYO girls basketball house league.