Former Mancos High School volleyball coach enjoying retirement life
It wasn’t easy to walk away.
But it was time.
After retiring from teaching, and coaching the best season in Mancos High School volleyball history, coach Ramona Shepherd hung up her whistle in August.
Shepherd, 56, or Mona, as her students and players call her, had been involved in volleyball in some fashion basically all her of life, including as a coach for 30 years. Coaching in Oregon and Colorado, Shepherd’s teams saw eight state tournament appearances, she was named District Coach of the Year five times and coached in the Colorado All-State game three times. Shepherd was an assistant to former Montezuma-Cortez coach Lindy Mortensen in the 4A All-State game and twice the head coach of the 2A game.
Perhaps her greatest coaching accomplishment came in the 2011 season. Although Mancos didn’t win the San Juan Basin League regular season title, it swept through six postseason matches en route to the district and regional tourney championships. It was the first time MHS had won districts and regionals outright in the same year.
“Every year, I encourage the kids to see if we can make some history. It’s something to be really positive about,” the retired coach said. “That was great to have that happen. That was significant.”
Shepherd ended her coaching career at the 2A State Tourney in the Denver Coliseum, a place the Lady Bluejays were regulars at during Mona’s 11-year tenure as head coach. She was also Mancos’ head coach in 1988 before coaching Dolores High the next two seasons. Shepherd returned to teach in Mancos in 1990 and was the assistant varsity volleyball coach from 1991-99, before taking over as head coach again in 2000.
Overall, Shepherd spent 22 years coaching and teaching in southwest Colorado. But the Newburg, Ore., native began her volleyball life where she grew up. Shepherd excelled on and off the court in high school, and played setter at hometown George Fox College (now university).
Mona met Durango native Gordon Shepherd at the Newburg college, where he played basketball.
Now, 35 years of marriage, three college graduate sons and three plus decades of being educators later, Gordon and Ramona Shepherd are retired.
Even though the Shepherds taught in southwest Colorado for more than 20 years, the husband and wife never worked together in the same school district.
While the teaching couple is relaxing and having fun at the moment, the opportunity to teach together in another state is enticing.
“If something really good comes up, we might teach,” said Shepherd, who deals blackjack part-time for fun at the Ute Mountain Casino in Towaoc. “We may go somewhere else. Maybe another state like New Mexico, Arizona. Maybe we’ll do something totally different. Now we get to kind of have fun.”
Meanwhile, MHS volleyball goes on. Shepherd’s two-year assistant Caroline Glover is now the head skipper. Glover had mixed feelings at first, but Shepherd felt Glover was ready. Shepherd’s blessing gave Glover the confidence she needed.
“Last year during the season, I knew she (Shepherd) was thinking about retiring from teaching. I wish I had a couple more years from her coaching alongside her. I was unsure last year taking on the varsity position,” Glover said. “Volleyball was hard for her to give up. She just felt like it was better for her. She said she felt Like I could handle it. We thought it was a good year for me to take it over.”
So far this season, Mancos has a winning record with a group of girls that are primarily underclassmen. Glover has taken what she learned from Shepherd in her coaching.
“I was glad to have a couple years with her. I learned a lot from her. Learning from her was great. I tried to soak in as much as possible,” Glover said. “Volleyball the last couple years has become a position oriented game and she saw that. That was the things I asked her. ‘What do you look for in a player’s skills?’ She knew the small things in placing players in the best positions. That’s why she had the best teams out there.”
One of the most skilled players Shepherd coached for four year at MHS was outside hitter Aimee Johnson. The four-year varsity starter was a team captain and played in the 2011 senior All-State game. Johnson’s career playing for Shepherd has transitioned to the collegiate level. Johnson currently plays outside hitter at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling. She was a leader both on and off the court for the Lady Bluejays.
Johnson and Shepherd’s relationship extended both on and off the court as well. The two met when Johnson really became interested in volleyball in middle school.
“She offered me opportunities to come to open gym at the high school. She offered me at different times to go to different camps. That’s how I got to know her,” Johnson said.
When Johnson made it to MHS, tragedy struck. Her mother died of cancer.
“I was an emotional wreck. I was a big head case at that point,” Johnson said. “She (Shepherd) really helped me with my attitude and focusing on the game. She really helped out a lot with that.”
From that point on, Shepherd and Johnson had a special relationship beyond volleyball.
“She was not just my coach, she was my best friend. Nothing could tear us apart. I miss her to this day,” said Johnson, who is majoring in radiology.
Shepherd and Glover share a deep friendship as well.
“I really felt like we became friends. She’s a great person to be around,” Glover said. “We got close because you work so closely together and travel together.”
Shepherd will continue to enjoy dealing blackjack and traveling with her husband. Whether or not Shepherd will bring back her volleyball whistle, that remains to be seen. But the old coach would be lying if she said she didn’t miss it at times.
“All the girls that played for me, were great kids and they worked hard,” Shepherd said. “I felt I did a good job if kids kept playing (in general) after high school. That’s something I’m proud of. The 12 years (at Mancos), every year was a good year. I cried after every year it was over.”
A good coach, a good friend, a good mentor, a good teacher, a good wife and a good mother, indeed makes a good Shepherd.
STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald