Gloucester Catholic coach covers more than the court
Lisa Gedaka is a nurse by day, a basketball coach by night, and a mother of four - 24/7. Although her husband, Ken, likens her to a superhero, "I don't think what I'm doing is so out of the ordinary," Gedaka says. "There are a lot of people who do more than I do. I look at it as being blessed."
Lisa Gedaka is a nurse by day, a basketball coach by night, and a mother of four - 24/7.
Although her husband, Ken, likens her to a superhero, "I don't think what I'm doing is so out of the ordinary," Gedaka says. "There are a lot of people who do more than I do. I look at it as being blessed."
I catch up with Gedaka (geh-DAY-kuh) before a late-afternoon Lady Rams practice at Gloucester Catholic High School, where she just started her 26th season as girls' basketball coach.
The Villanova University graduate also has been a registered nurse for 26 years, working mostly for Holy Redeemer HomeCare in Runnemede.
Her territory is Pitman, Glassboro, and Clayton. Many of the 15 to 20 patients she visits are elderly and suffer from chronic diseases, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure. She sometimes thinks of them like her players - as individuals who need to be nurtured and guided.
"Nursing and basketball are my passions," explains Gedaka, 48, who grew up in West Deptford and lives in Mullica Hill with Ken and their children, ages 7 to 16. Their oldest, Mary, is a junior forward with the Lady Rams; like her mother, she's six feet tall.
Gedaka's height came in handy in the early 1980s, when, as a Lady Rams forward, she helped her team win three state championships. Prowess on the court also earned her a scholarship to Villanova (Mary plans to attend the university as well) and a place in the Big Five Hall of Fame.
"I was an intense player," Gedaka says, flashing a high-voltage smile, which she does often. "I was very competitive."
We're in a classroom on the high school's vintage campus in Gloucester City, waiting for the boys to clear the gym so the girls can start their 21/2-hour practice.
Later that evening, Gedaka will drive to Woodbury Heights to watch Madison, her youngest daughter, play basketball for St. Margaret's Regional School; middle daughter Megan plays for the girls' freshman team at Gloucester Catholic. Son Michael is a first grader at St. Margaret's.
"I was someone who didn't always have the most talent," Gedaka says. "But I worked really hard, which helped me become the player I became. I tell my players, the one thing you can control is how hard you work."
Gedaka knows whereof she speaks. During basketball season, her varsity girls practice daily and play three games weekly. And several times a week, she arrives at practice after finishing home visits with patients.
"I've changed clothes in the car many times," Gedaka says with a laugh.
Patients "have a very high comfort level with her," Carole Noe, her supervisor at Holy Redeemer, says in an e-mail.
"She's very accustomed to working with many different kinds of people," Noe adds. "I'm sure she's drawing on her coaching skills."
The two professions have parallels, says Gedaka, who sees education as essential to both.
"Teaching is teaching, whether it's about a disease process or a zone defense," she says, adding, "but I don't yell at my patients."
She doesn't yell at her players, either - at least not while I'm in the gym. I watch about a half-hour of practice, during which neither Gedaka nor her girls stop moving for more than a few seconds.
The coach is a striking, expressive, tireless presence on the court, issuing a continuous, commanding stream of encouragement. I feel winded merely watching her.
"A lot of people can talk about excellence, but Lisa is continually working as hard as she can to make our kids as good as they can be," says Ed Beckett, principal of the 600-student school. "She works hard to make sure her girls have opportunities if they want to continue playing."
Says Gloucester Catholic athletic director Pat Murphy, who has worked with Gedaka for 27 years: "She has an enormous coaching record here that will probably never be equaled. She makes all the kids on the team feel as much a part of the program as the leading scorer."
Husband Ken, vice president of communications and public affairs for FMC Corp. in Philadelphia, calls Gedaka "a real pro."
His wife acknowledges she does have the occasional bad day. But she maintains her energy with aerobics and weightlifting at a gym. It also helps that she has a supportive husband and family, and is doing what she loves.
"When this is all over, I'll look back and say, 'Gee, how did I [manage]?' " Gedaka says. "But when you're in it, you just do it."