It’s still early in the season, but the Lincoln High boys’ basketball team is 4-0, features the state’s tallest lineup, and the downtown Portland school is expected to be a contender for a state championship in Oregon’s 6A division.
The Cardinals are also the only boys’ varsity squad in the state led by a female coach.
Her name is Heather Seely-Roberts, and she’s not only a successful coach, but a wife, mother of five and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Two large sources of her joy in coaching this season are her sons — 6-foot-6 Moroni and 6-foot-8 Malachi — who both have college scholarship offers and plan to serve full-time missions.
For her, living the gospel of Jesus Christ has helped her find happiness and success in all aspects of her life.
“It’s been a total blessing because it has helped me to center my priorities,” she said. “I’m hoping that I’m a positive example of someone that the Savior would want to be representing Him.”
Pathway to coaching
Seely-Roberts discovered her passion for basketball when she was 10 years old. She went to an Oregon State women’s basketball game and came away with a player’s autograph.
“That’s when I decided I wanted to play and coach basketball,” she said. “That’s all I wanted to do since I was 10 years old.”
She went on to play basketball at Crescent Valley High School in Corvallis and one year at Lewis and Clark College before attending Oregon State University and getting her first high school coaching job.
Seely-Roberts stepped away from school and coaching to serve a full-time Latter-day Saint mission in Houston, Texas. Upon her return, she graduated from Oregon State and began coaching girls basketball.
Much of her coaching style and philosophies were greatly influenced by her high school coach, Craig Ellingson. During her first year of coaching, she often called him two or three times a week with questions.
“He taught me a lot about coaching and how to treat kids. He always treated us girls like athletes. Other places I went would treat girls and boys differently,” she said. “I appreciated the fact that he pushed us hard.”
Seely-Roberts was a girls high school varsity basketball coach for 16 years at four different schools before becoming the women’s coach at Southern Virginia University for four years.
At that point, she started to notice that her two growing sons had potential to be good players and decided she wanted to coach her own kids.
“I thought that would be really fun,” she said.
Coaching boys basketball
At that time, there were no women coaching boys basketball in Oregon. Seely-Roberts attended summer hoop camps and discussed her idea of coaching boys with anyone who would listen — “This is what I’m thinking of doing, what do you think?”
“Some would say, ‘Oh, that would never work. ... Other people were like, well, I don’t know why it wouldn’t work,’” she said.
One athletic director suggested Seely-Roberts apply to smaller schools in Oregon, which proved fruitful.
Seely-Roberts accepted the position of head boys basketball coach at Yamhill-Carlton, a school with 300 students and a 3-12 record the previous year. She is believed to be the first woman to coach a varsity high school boys team since the 1930s, according to the Oregonian.
The first season was rough with only four wins, but prosperity came in the second year as her twin sons joined the program as freshmen. The team went 16-11 and reached the playoffs.
During the pandemic in the latter part of 2020, the Oregon School Activities Association postponed high school basketball until May. With much prayer and contemplation, the family moved to Moab, Utah, where she accepted the boys basketball coaching job at Grand County High School for one season.
It turned out to be a blessing. The Red Devils went 22-4 and finished fifth at the Utah 3A state tournament. Moroni made the Deseret News all-state first team and Malachi was named to the second team.
“We loved it and it was a great experience for the kids,” Seely-Roberts said.
Following the season in Utah, the family returned to Oregon in time to play the shortened spring season. This time Seely-Roberts and her sons led Yamhill-Carlton to a 13-4 record and a 3A state championship. Moroni was the 3A Player of the Year and his brother was first team all-state.
Within weeks, an administrator called and offered Seely-Roberts the head coaching job at Lincoln High, a 6A school in Southwest Portland with 1,600 students that had only won two games the previous year.
It meant another change, but after much prayer, she accepted the job.
Preaching commitment, hard work and being coachable, she turned around the program with 18 wins in her first year.
Seely-Roberts is quick to credit her family for supporting her in her dream to coach basketball.
Her husband, Jason Roberts, operates his own business, which she says allows her to be a school teacher and basketball coach. They met while serving as missionaries in Texas.
Jason, who stands 6-foot-7, played basketball at Ricks College (now BYU–Idaho), BYU–Hawaii and Oregon State.
“I married him for breeding purposes,” Seely-Roberts said with a laugh. “He’s a big basketball player. That’s just what we do in our family.”
The couple’s oldest three children are shorter in height because they were adopted. Manti and Mosiah were adopted from the Marshall Islands. Their daughter, Micah, was adopted from Vietnam.
All five children were given “M” names after figures in the scriptures to make them unique.
“We wanted them to be given a name of heritage or someone that they could look up too and be an example,” said Seely-Roberts, who serves as a Sunday School gospel doctrine teacher in the Newberg 1st Ward.
Latter-day Saints at Lincoln High
Moroni and Malachi stand out at Lincoln High for more than their height.
The twins are currently only two of three Latter-day Saint students attending the school, and their parents appreciate how they stand tall for their faith and beliefs.
Playing in Utah was nice because everyone already knew how to pronounce their names. That’s been different in Oregon, but explaining their names has provided opportunities to talk about the Church, their values and beliefs.
Others have also learned about Latter-day Saint values from the coach’s list of team rules.
- No practice, games or team functions on Sundays.
- No swearing.
- “P.L.A.M.” — “Party Like a Mormon”, which means the strongest beverage you can drink is root beer, Seely-Roberts said.
The team includes Catholics, Jews and non-religious players.
“We bring it up in a way that’s not offensive and respectful of everyone’s values,” she said. “I think everyone can espouse the values I’m teaching.”
Playing for coach mom
One tricky part of coaching her children has been leaving what happens on the court in the gym.
It’s difficult for Seely-Roberts to instantly switch to mom-mode when loading into the car. She admits she has been guilty of harping on her boys about mistakes after hours, but hopes she is improving.
She also doesn’t allow her boys to play the “mom card” when she gets after them in front of the team. Sometimes she will have her assistant coaches address concerns or work directly with her sons.
“I don’t want them to not want me to be their coach, so I try really hard,” she said. “I try to treat them the same as everyone else. I probably ride them harder than the other players because I expect more of them. I have tried to make a conscious effort to make sure I leave it on the basketball floor.”
What is it like for the boys?
“It’s all we know,” Moroni said. “We’ve grown up in the gym with her and being around the game with her, so it’s normal for us.”
“When we’re playing basketball, she’s coach; when we get in the car and drive home, she’s mom,” he said. “We have this fine line between coach and mom.”
The boys respect what their mother has accomplished in a field where few women coach.
“It’s been cool to see,” Moroni said. “She doesn’t back down. ... She’s made the game better for female [coaches].”
One of her best coaching traits is developing trust and rapport with her players, but it goes even deeper in the family, her tallest son said.
“You always know she loves you no matter what,” Malachi said. “Not everyone may have that, so we’re grateful that she loves us.”
The twins each have scholarship offers to play basketball at several smaller schools, but plan to serve missions next year and hope to one day play at the Division-I level.
Seely-Roberts hopes those who read her story will not be afraid of discouraging critics or changes in life. She looks back now and knows if she had been reluctant to find a boys’ coaching job she would have missed out on some memorable experiences with her sons.
“You have to not listen to people that say it can’t be done. You can do things if you set your mind to it and have the right purpose in mind. Heavenly Father will help and guide you,” she said. “There is nothing to replicate what I’ve gotten to experience with Moroni and Malachi. How many moms get to be with their kids at school and coach them — my kids may not like it all the time — but it’s been such a huge blessing to me, for our family and our relationships.”