A New Ball Game
It’s a season of change for James Whitford and Amber Stocks-Whitford. Until April 19, the husband and wife were both assistant basketball coaches at the University—James for the men’s team and Amber for the women’s team. But in mid-April, Amber resigned her post, not for any of the typical reasons assistant coaches move on, but for a motive much closer to the heart: Family. The couple plans to start a family, either on their own—“whenever the Lord blesses,” Amber says—or through adoption. They recently began the process to adopt twins and they want to be ready whenever they get the call.
“We’re interested in adopting sibling groups, because James comes from a family of four kids, and I come from a family of four kids,” Amber says. “We couldn’t imagine having been separated from our brothers and sisters.”
Ironically, it was a family affair that first brought the two together—a baby shower for women’s head coach Kevin McGuff’s wife, Letitia. Two years later, they were married. With practices, games and recruiting, life was hectic. “Generally, it was difficult because we didn’t get to see very much of each other,” James says. “Particularly during the season, it can be so consuming.”
Too consuming, they decided, to impose it on their children. “Even when we were dating we felt like one of the benefits of our marriage was going to be opening our home to children,” Amber says. “People would ask us what we’re going to do when family comes, and we said, ‘Oh, we’ll get a nanny. It’ll be fine.’ And we really believed that.
“Then from about the instant he put the ring on my finger and we said ‘I do,’ my whole perception of that changed. Then the thought of bringing children into your home, whether you’ve birthed them or you’ve just been blessed by them, and then saying, ‘Bye, we’re gone, here’s your nanny,’ didn’t sound as good in reality as it did when we were just having a vision of it.”
The decision means a big transition for Amber, who grew up in a basketball family—her father was a coach—and has been involved with the sport since second grade. She played at the University of Cincinnati and coached for seven seasons at the University of Notre Dame and at the University of Tennessee under coaching legend Pat Summitt before arriving at Xavier four years ago. And she loved it.
“I never saw myself not doing it—until marriage,” she says. “The way I perceive my functions, goals, roles and purposes really has evolved.”
That doesn’t mean, however, the decision was an easy one. And while she vows to be the No. 1 fan of both programs, her stepping back from basketball may change a few things around the house. In the past, the couple avoided basketball-related conversations at home, preferring to focus on shared passions like theater, traveling, entertaining and dining out.
But James recognizes he may have to adjust to an increase in basketball conversation.
“When basketball is your whole life, tackling another team maybe isn’t that interesting,” he says. “But if she’s not coaching, it’ll be interesting to see how much she wants that basketball fix.”
To ease the transition, Amber alerted McGuff that she might call for some scouting films to watch. But she doesn’t plan to offer James any advice unless he asks—which she admits might be tough.
“I don’t know,” she laughs. “I might be sitting there with twins balanced on one leg, the remote in my hand, pausing and rewinding film trying to make notes and finish up. Then when he gets in and says ‘How was the game?’ I can just say, ‘Oh. It was great.’”