Mary (Coleman) Hambly is one of the most decorated players in Illini volleyball history — but now she’s better known as the wife of Illini volleyball coach Kevin Hambly. Mary Hambly returned to Champaign in 2004 to become an assistant to then head coach Don Hardin, bringing Kevin with her; she remains active in the program as its summer camps director. A Chicago native, Hambly’s resume includes a season playing in a now-defunct U.S. professional volleyball league as well as overseas. She and Kevin have been married since 2004, and they are the proud parents of two daughters, 4-year-old Quinn and 2-year-old Maura.
See why we think Mary Hambly is a Chambana mom to know.
Q: How excited are you about all the buzz surrounding Friday’s matchup between the Illini and defending NCAA champion Penn State (7 p.m., Huff Hall)? Do you remember a match this anticipated in your playing days?
I don’t remember a match having this much buzz around it as a player or during my time coaching. (Editors note: both teams are in the top 10 of the national NCAA volleyball rankings.) I think the coolest part of all of the hype is that the community has been the driving force behind it. People were asking us about how to get tickets months before there was even a thought of promoting it as “History at Huff.” We have always had such great crowds at Huff Hall but this match has reached a level of interest that I have not seen in my years involved with the program. It is really exciting.
Q: How is being a mom different than being a coach?
As a coach, you have other assistant and head coaches helping you decide the best path for your athletes. As a parent, there isn’t a lot of consultation. You don’t get the benefit of working with someone like a Head Coach who has 25 years of experience with all types of coaching situations. You might read a few books and get some unsolicited advice but then it’s just sort of figure it out as you go. I will say that there are also some very rewarding similarities. You get to watch the players you recruit grow and mature and struggle and figure things out just like with your kids. I have known our seniors — Laura DeBruler, Hillary Haen, Johanna Bangert and Nicole Kump — since they were 15 years old. It is remarkable to see how they evolve and grow as players but more importantly as people. Seeing each class graduate tugs at my heart because you remember first meeting them and their families and all the things you have been through together. You feel a very strong attachment to each player because you watched them grow up the last six or seven years. It is very powerful and very special.
Q: As the “coach’s wife,” you must do a lot of parenting on your own. What are your strategies for getting through those times?
I’m very lucky to have my family just a few hours away in Chicago so the kids and I visit them frequently; especially when Kevin is taking an extended trip. I also have some of the greatest neighbors you can ask for. Pat (MiMi) and Jerry (GiGi) Barham always seem to sense when I’m at my breaking point and invite us over for a play date. They always have a cup of tea waiting for me and toys ready for the girls. I don’t know what I would do without them. My other saving grace is Mother’s Morning Out. Since Kevin travels mostly on a Thursday – Sunday schedule, MMO is a way for me to break up the week by dropping the girls off a few mornings so I can have some time to myself. I look at those mornings as ‘my weekend’ sometimes. Lastly, the friends I have made here have really pulled me in to their community. Some of our play dates are the brightest part of my week and is just what I need to get through those days when bedtime can’t come soon enough!
Q: Do you have any advice for parents interested in getting their daughters involved in athletics?
I think just getting outside and playing with your kids can lead to great things by keeping it fun. My parents are Irish immigrants and they weren’t aware of the different organized sports until I was in about the fifth grade and never pushed me to play anything I didn’t want to. Even when I was playing in college my dad always asked if I had fun at the end of a match. I really appreciated that because I knew a lot of players whose parents were very critical — it took the fun out of it for them. Starting organized sports later than most didn’t set me back because I had been so active in just playing games with my brothers and sisters like running bases and dodgeball. From those backyard games I learned to be competitive, aggressive and tough while developing athletically — all the things that are important in playing sport at a high level. We would love it if our daughters were involved in athletics but we try not to push them. Our oldest is more interested in music and art at this point and we love that. Our youngest seems to be more interested in watching and playing sports so we facilitate that when we can. With them being around volleyball so much, it will be a part of their lives in some capacity — I’m curious to see if they embrace it or not.
Q: What are your favorite things to do with your family away from the volleyball court? When we get that rare Sunday together and the weather is cooperating, we love walking to West Side Park in the morning and then heading over to eat lunch outside downtown after the girls have had their fill playing. We also love spending late afternoons at Sholem Pool in the summer. Eisner Park, (the space ship park as my girls like to call it), and Clark Park are favorite stops as well. We make it a point to visit those parks a few days a week.
Q: You must have no problem finding a babysitter — except for game nights. What do your girls think of the team?
Quinn and Maura are crazy about ‘the volleyball girls’ as they call them. Maura likes to pretend to be either Jazmine (Orozco), Bartschy (Michelle Bartsch) or Rachel (Feldman). She has me pretend to be ‘Daddy’ and we play catch back and forth and then she runs around the house and pretends to do weight lifting exercises. It cracks me up. Quinn sees the players as an audience to perform one of her songs or dances to. They let her choreograph some type of dance that she has made up. What great sports! The players are all so great with our kids. I couldn’t think of better role models for our kids to be around while growing up.
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