Every summer for the last 15 years, Lisa Howe has traveled down to her home state to attend the Texas Shootout, a national tournament where she and other coaches would recruit some of the country’s best talent.
But when the annual showcase rolled around two weeks ago, Howe wasn’t in Houston. For the first time in nearly two decades, she didn’t have a college team to recruit for. She wasn’t too disappointed.
“When you have a 5-and-a-half-week-old here, you really don’t want to go to Houston for the weekend,” Howe said. “I’m happy that I get to immerse myself in raising our child right now. I miss soccer. I miss working with the team. But I am not an unhappy person.”
More than six months ago, Howe left her job as Belmont’s women’s soccer coach just a week after she disclosed to her team that her partner, Wendy Holleman, was due to have a baby.
Neither Howe nor Belmont has said what happened. Initially the school announced Howe’s resignation. A day later, Belmont changed its tune, saying the two parties reached a mutual agreement to end Howe’s employment there.
Members of Howe’s team said their coach was fired after she came out. Students, alumni, politicians and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender groups spoke out as several protests occurred on campus. Mike Curb, a music business executive whose name is on Belmont’s business school and basketball arena, asked that Howe be offered her job back. (Howe will meet Curb for the first time this week, when she presents him with the Ally Award at the Nashville Pride Festival on Thursday.)
In January, Belmont president Bob Fisher announced the school had added sexual orientation to its antidiscrimination policy. This came amid national coverage of Howe’s story and the push for a city ordinance that would require any company or business that contracted with Metro government — including Belmont — to have in place an antidiscrimination policy that includes gays and lesbians. The bill ultimately passed, but the state legislature and Gov. Bill Haslam recently
“It’s frustrating, and I don’t understand why the Republican legislators say they want small government and then turn around and strip the city’s laws and continue to make government larger,” Howe said. “I think we are on a downward cycle right now.”
Howe said the state overturning the city’s nondiscrimination law won’t affect Nashville the way it will those on the political right who advanced it.
“I think in the long run they will lose their position, or they will take a different stance on that issue, before it really hurts me or my family,” she said.
In May, Howe flew to San Francisco to receive the Justice Award for Courage and Perseverance from the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Just weeks earlier, Howe’s family grew when Holleman gave birth to Hope Janice Holleman-Howe. Hope is a healthy 10 pounds, 8 ounces and “is just growing.”
“We’re exhausted, but sometimes we sit down and talk about how fun it is or how much fun we’re having doing this together,” Howe said. “I can see why people want to start families. It’s just this bond and nurturing thing that you go through together that, gosh, it is just the greatest experience.”
Holleman is a physical education teacher at the lower school of University School of Nashville. Since 2008, she’s also coached soccer at USN, after serving as an assistant at Belmont for Howe.
Soccer and Howe have long been inseparable. She played for Division II Barry (Fla.) University, leading the school to its first national title in 1989. She then worked her way up the coaching ranks, going from high school to NAIA to Division I. After 10 years of building the soccer program at Jacksonville (Ala.) State, she took the job at Belmont in 2005.
Howe still gives the occasional soccer lesson, but she isn’t currently applying for any Division I coaching jobs.
“I do enjoy being out there. It does make me miss coaching,” she said. “Maybe some time will go by and I’ll redefine myself as a high school coach or a club coach, and I’ll get into it that way. But right now I define myself as a Division I women’s soccer coach. Those opportunities aren’t right around the block.”
Instead, she’s working on a website that will promote her services as a consultant for businesses or organizations. She’s open to public or motivational speaking and plans to speak at a couple colleges in the fall.
As for Belmont, Howe hasn’t made much contact with those at the university. The Bruins’ new women’s soccer coach, Heather Henson, coached at Atlantic Sun Conference rival East Tennessee State. Howe and Henson have known each other since high school, both growing up in the Dallas area, but they haven’t talked lately.
“I think it’s probably because we are just so, so busy,” she said. “I wish them all the best, and I hope Heather does well with this group that she has. I hope that she just gets the program as successful as she can make it.”
Many of her former Belmont players visited Howe and Holleman in the hospital or at their house after Hope was born. Howe also sent a congratulatory email to baseball coach Dave Jarvis when the Bruins won their conference tournament last month. She still talks to “close friends” within the athletic department but said she hasn’t spoken to any athletic department administrators.
“My friends from Belmont, we continue our friendship,” Howe said. “We don’t really go back and discuss anything that happened around December.”