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Social dynamics in Israel are shifting all the time. What was once deemed unacceptable becomes part of everyday life. However, there are still some changes that take the country by surprise. Such was the case when Shira Haelion was named coach of Hapoel Tel Aviv men's basketball team in Israel's third division, the Liga Artzit.
The media's interest did not have so much to do with her personally, but was rather concerned with the fact that she is a woman. It is of course rare for a woman to be named coach of any men's team. But in Israel it has never happened before.
Before this landmark promotion, Hapoel had been doing poorly in the league, having lost three games in a row by an average of 28.6 points. Their coach, Ilan Kovalski, gave up the reins himself, which left the team in a difficult situation with the season just beginning.
For Shaul Eisenberg, Hapoel's owner, the decision to offer Haelion the job was an easy one.
"Shira is very talented," Eisenberg told The Jerusalem Post. "She coaches first and foremost because she loves the game, and she is capable of going very far."
Haelion, 27, is still an active player with Hapoel Tel Aviv women's team, but says it was always her dream to coach a men's team, even though she didn't think it would come so quickly.
"I was very surprised when they called me for the job," Haelion told the Post. "The last coach left for his own reasons and the management was looking for a change. At first they only asked me to do it temporarily, but then we won the first game and they asked me to stay longer."
On top of coaching Hapoel and playing in the women's first division, Haelion also coaches two junior women's teams out of Ramat Hasharon.
She is very busy, but finds the time to manage it all.
"There are no morning practices, which makes it easier, but I'm definitely still swamped and it is not easy," Haelion said. "When I took the job with Hapoel, I decided to take a month to see if I can do it."
Haelion has now coached Hapoel in two games, winning the first and losing the second. She expects to make a decision regarding her coaching future by the end of November. For now, though, she is staying with the team, saying that most people have been very supportive and would like her to continue.
"Having me in charge is something unique, it's a break from the usual, so it's seen as a good thing," says Haelion. "For me, I go with my intuition and I will decide what to do on my own instinct. With everything you do in life, everyone else has their own opinion, but most important is what I think. I believe in myself."
Haelion attributes her success to a lot of different people involved in the sport.
"I don't have one specific role model," says Haelion. "Every coach I see, I take something away from. I like to study and I want to study."
However, Haelion does say that if one person did have the greatest impact on her, it has been Ramat Hasharon assistant coach Galit Musai.
"She has taught me to be a human being first," says Haelion. "She has taught me about the better qualities of being a coach and not just about the tactics on the court."
Now that the storm has died down over Haelion's appointment, it remains to be seen whether it will pave the way for a real change in Israeli sports.
"I know a lot of women coaches who are very good, and they just need the opportunity to show what they can do," says Haelion. "I hope to see more female coaches in the future. They can do it."
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