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To play or not to play: Female athletes give up sports to attend four-year schools

Also: Las Positas College welcomes new women's basketball head coach
Caleb Theodore
Caleb Theodore is the head coach for the Las Positas College women's basketball team.

Caleb Theodore, the former Modesto area prep basketball star, has done what hes needed to do to get into the college basketball coaching ranks.

He has worked as an assistant and beaten down the doors of coaches through e-mails, hitting pretty much all levels of college basketball.

He finally found a spot as an assistant at Cal-State East Bay, where he was part of a staff that led the Pioneers to a historic season.

Now that he's been hired to lead the Las Positas Community College women's basketball ranks -- his first as a head coach -- he has gotten his priorities set, of which the toughest may have nothing to do with performance on the court.

Theodore is tasked with building a program in an area where not many female athletes opt for junior college over four-year schools, even if it means not playing competitive athletics any longer.

In the affluent Tri-Valley (think East Bay Athletic League), there is more pressure to go to a four-year school right after high school even if it means sacrificing their ability to play sports.

"I don't look at it like a challenge," said Theodore of building a program from the ground-floor. "I understand what the stigma is in the area. This is a chance to build my portfolio. I came here to build a program and I know the significance at this level of developing players. When I got here, I had zero players and now I have eight."

Theodore certainly has the basketball chops. He starred in high school at Big Valley Christian College Prep in Modesto, then moved on to William Jessup University in Rocklin, helping the team reach the second round of the NAIA Div. I Men's Basketball National Championships.

After he graduated in 2015 with a degree in Psychology, Theodore wanted to take his chances in professional basketball. After going to showcases around the country for a few years, trying to gain exposure, Theodore found a spot in the Prva A Liga, the top-tier league of the Basketball Association of Montenegro.

After a successful rookie season where he averaged 15 points a game, COVID hit and that ended his playing career.

"COVID shut down international basketball," explained Theodore. "I decided to go back to school."

Theodore ended up with a master's degree from the University of the Pacific. Some experiences coaching at area schools brought the thirst to become a coach.

"I reached out to a number of places," explained Theodore. "I went hard and reached out to every D-I, D-II, and NAIA school in California."

Shanele Stires, at the time the Cal-State East Bay coach, reached out and Theodore found a spot on her staff. In that 2021-22 season, the Pioneers finished 24-3 in the regular season, 15-1 in conference, and a semi-final appearance in the NCAA D-II Western Regionals.

Stires then left Hayward and took the head coaching job at Cal Poly.

Around the same time Theodore heard about the opening at Las Positas, contacted Athletic Director James Giacomazzi -- also the men's basketball coach -- and was offered the women's job.

"(James) has given me the chance," said Theodore. "What (the staff) wants to do is empower women. We have a program to do that and that's what we want to sell."

In this area that's a much easier thing to say than do. It's just not the route local female athletes take for a post-high school athletic career.

"That is very accurate," said Dublin High boys basketball coach Tom Costello. "It is that way across the board and I am not sure why that's the case."

Costello knows a bit about JC athletics, as he played at Chabot before heading to San Francisco State. He played for his late brother Tony at Chabot before Tony went on to build the men's program at Las Positas before his passing. Las Positas honored Costello by naming the court Tony Costello Court following his passing.

The LPC Tip Off Classic was renamed the Tony Costello Tip Off Classic, in 2014.

Tom, the younger brother, looks at high school girls skipping JC athletics to go straight to a four-year school as a missed opportunity.

"The finish line is the same whichever road you chose to get there," said Costello of earning a college degree. "It seems like there a lot more that want the direct route."

And when he's asked by high school athletes about going to a JC and playing or straight to a four-year school as student only?

"My advice is always play as long as you can," said Costello. "If you have any inkling that you want to play, there is going to be an opportunity."

Tom Fletcher coached at Livermore High and then at Las Positas for five years, first as a men's assistant, then the women's coach for five years the second through fifth years of the women's program. He sees both sides.

"I did think that was a little bit of a stereotype when I was first recruiting," said Fletcher of the "skip athletics in favor of just being a student" idea. "But I did get a feel for that. Like it was the lure of a four-year school, and it was a step down to go to a JC."

Fletcher had a great time coaching the Las Positas women's team and looks back at it with fond memories.

"The school really supports the athletics," said Fletcher. "I never had a bad thing to say about the (Coast Conference). It was professional all the way."

Fletcher also sees a potential change in the women's game.

"I remember a lot of the guys wanted to play in the NBA and were willing to do whatever it takes to get there," said Fletcher. "Now, maybe with the popularity of the WNBA, some of the girls may feel the same way."

Of course, its tough to tell what time will bring, but I have seen for years now that EBAL girls with some good talent give up on athletics and went straight to a four-year school.

I am right there with Costello that an athlete should play for as long as they can. It's tremendous to extend your athletic career and build memories close to home. You are only young once -- take advantage of it and leave no regrets.

For more information on the Las Positas Women's Basketball program, visit the Las Positas College website.

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