November 10, 2003

No time for part time

By Eric Rangus

"I really don't know what you would want to write about," Laura LeDuc says self-deprecatingly, stepping into the stands at the Woodruff P.E. Center for an interview just before a practice of the Emory women's soccer team.

Lots of stuff, actually.

The fact that the team concluded its regular season schedule on Saturday, Nov. 8--her first as a part-time assistant--and currently is awaiting a possible bid to the NCAA Div. III tournament is perhaps small reason enough.

The fact that this year marks a return home for LeDuc is another, perhaps even better reason. She graduated from Emory in 1990 after earning eight varsity letters in three sports (track, swimming and soccer) and being awarded the Bridge's Trophy for the University's best overall female athlete. Her bachelor's degree in music makes for an interesting sidenote.

The little known fact that LeDuc is the only employee of Emory's athletic department with a law degree is pretty neat, as well. Then there is the fact that LeDuc is just nice to talk to. (That part isn't really newsworthy; it's just a bonus.)

Up until this fall, LeDuc spent the last five years as head soccer coach at Agnes Scott College. She also was the school's assistant athletic director, its compliance coordinator and, for the last two years, assistant swim coach. From 1998-2001, she was head basketball coach.

Stepping down from a head coaching job to take an assistant's job without moving up a division is not a common career path, but for LeDuc, mother to a 4-month-old baby boy, a step back made perfect sense.

"I had been working 100 hours a week over there," LeDuc says. "It came to the point where I could not see where my work life ended and my personal life started. I had so many hats, and I knew it would be impossible with a newborn. That's a hard thing about going into collegiate coaching as a female."

Prior to LeDuc's positions at Agnes Scott, she was an assistant swim coach at St. Francis (N.Y) College and Pepperdine University, both Div. I universities, and Div. III Carnegie-Mellon.  

"You have to make these tough choices, but I think it's worked out really well," she says. "I enjoy being back at my alma mater. There is just a special feeling knowing I was here in the program's first year. I enjoy seeing the fruits of what we did back in the late 1980s."

For two of her three years on the field with the Eagles, LeDuc's coach was Michael Sabatelle. He still is, and when LeDuc decided to resign her position at Agnes Scott, one of the first people she called was Sabatelle, asking him to keep her in mind if he needed an assistant.

"I was most definitely excited," Sabatelle says, recalling his first conversation about LeDuc joining his staff. "She was focused, determined, a team player," he says, ticking off the qualities that made her a good player--all qualities that make a pretty good coach, too. "She'd do whatever it took to make her team successful. There is a long list of things she has done to help the team this year."

LeDuc's new position continues what has been a fruitful partnership through the years. After one year at Michigan State, where LeDuc played varsity soccer, she transferred to Emory in part because of academics but also because she would have the opportunity to play more than one sport.

She played the defensive marking back position for the Eagles, not a glamorous role (she registered just one goal during her collegiate career). In track and swimming, though, LeDuc received more of the spotlight, earning all-conference honors in both. She even held the school record in the 5,000-meter run for time. "It was a little over 19 minutes," she says. "It's not very good; they beat it now by two minutes." (Actually, the current Emory record is 17:26.31.)

Because of athletics, LeDuc never really had a chance to take a breath in school (although she graduated with a 3.41 GPA), not that that was a bad thing. "I think I do better when I have pressure on. My schedule didn't allow me to mess around. It was all business, all the time."

LeDuc has rarely--if ever--done one thing at a time. She graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1995, going to school while serving as assistant swim coach for both the men and women at Carnegie-Mellon. Practices were at 6 a.m. After they were done, she'd walk the few blocks from the pool to Pitt and go to class.

Both of LeDuc's parents are lawyers, but that's not the reason she went to law school. She wanted the law degree because she hopes to move eventually into athletics administration, and the education helped LeDuc a lot when she was Agnes Scott's compliance coordinator, responsible for ensuring that the school's athletic department followed the NCAA's rule book.

"Instead of interpreting Georgia state statutes, I was interpreting NCAA rules and regulations and every once in a while having to write what were basically mini-briefs trying to get kids certified as eligible," LeDuc says. "You have to make your case the same way a lawyer would make a case."

LeDuc has some courtroom credibility as well. After a year coaching the swim team at Pepperdine, she moved back to Atlanta and worked for a year in the DeKalb County prosecutor's office. After that, she spent a year as a legal consultant, then took the coaching job at Agnes Scott, where she was very successful. In five years leading the Scotties' soccer team she compiled a 41-39-3 record and is the only soccer coach in school history with a winning record.

While her three years as basketball coach were not as successful, LeDuc is proud of them because she was coaching a sport with which she was not that familiar, and the experience was great for learning.

But even while coaching at Agnes Scott, LeDuc kept some ties to Emory. She sang the national anthem at a couple of playoff games Emory hosted. At the time, LeDuc also worked as general manager for the Atlanta Classics, a women's soccer franchise that predated the WUSA's Atlanta Beat. Sabatelle was the team's owner.

When the franchise folded, upon the creation of the WUSA, LeDuc moved over to the new league. She began as a volunteer but eventually became a paid employee, serving as a stadium announcer and coordinating gametime audio and video production.

This season has been one of transition for LeDuc, and not just because she has a front-row seat in a crash course in parenthood ("You'd be amazed at what happens to your brain and body when you are sleep-deprived," she jokes.)

LeDuc works between 10-20 hours a week for the team and attends all practices, but she doesn't travel, though she says her travel plans may change once her son gets older. LeDuc telecommutes a great deal, too, helping from home with recruiting and other administrative odds and ends.

"This first year has been great," LeDuc says. "I've wanted to hang back and see how the program has been running. Now that I have an idea about what the character of this team is and what their goals are, I think I'll be even more of an asset over the next couple of years. I'm planning on staying around as long as Mike will have me."