Falcons' Lil Shelton more than numbers Girls: After 23 years, Severna Park's field hockey coach closes in on 300 wins, but athletes always have been her first priority.

High Schools

October 12, 1997|By Glenn P. Graham | Glenn P. Graham,SUN STAFF

First, it was a sports reporter who stopped by Severna Park High for a Thursday afternoon chat.

Then a student from the school newspaper came over with a few questions. A little later, another student -- camera in hand -- showed up needing a photo for the school yearbook.

Lil Shelton, the Falcons' field hockey coach for all of their 23 incredible seasons, enjoyed the opportunity to recollect and easily provided a smile, but wondered what all the fuss was about.

What started out innocently enough back in 1975 is now one of Maryland's finest high school athletic traditions -- Severna Park field hockey.

And right in the middle of it all is Shelton, on the verge of her 300th career win -- adding on to all the other impressive numbers she has compiled over the years.

Included are nine state titles, five undefeated seasons, 16 region crowns, 18 county championships and a 54-game winning streak. It has all helped her earn induction into the 1997 Anne Arundel County Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony will take place Oct. 23 at Michael's Eighth Avenue in Glen Burnie.

After her Falcons' 3-0 victory over Arundel on Thursday, Shelton can reach the 300-win milestone on Tuesday with a victory at South River. She currently ranks 15th nationally for career wins in field hockey with a 299-38-5 record.

"She'll tell you it's the girls, but she's the one doing the molding," said assistant coach Sue Behringer, who joined the program in 1990. "It's all about tradition -- that's the nucleus of the program. A lot of what Lil was doing 23 years ago -- the core stuff -- she's still doing today. She's amazing and just keeps going on and on."

So just how did this fine field hockey tradition get started?

"I went into the closet here at school one day just nosing around and found some old sticks," Shelton said. "We started playing intramurals in the front lawn and the girls just loved it. It evolved from that and a couple years later, we got a team."

After new uniforms and sticks were bought, the next order of business for Shelton was finding opponents. It was no easy chore, especially considering she didn't learn they would have a team until three days before the start of the school year.

"There were no other schools in Anne Arundel that played, so we had to swing around the Beltway to find games," Shelton said. "I remember going through the phone book looking for schools to play. I got down to Mount St. Joe's and being new to the area, I didn't know they were only a boys school. I told the man who answered we had a field hockey team and were looking for teams to play and he said, 'I'm sure our guys would love to play.' "

A physical education major at the University of Alabama, Shelton's only experience in field hockey before that was a course she took in the sport to help complete her major.

In the early years of the program at Severna Park, she learned a lot about the game from her more established opponents -- the likes of Notre Dame Prep, St. Paul's School for Girls, Pikesville and Severn. Of the Falcons' 38 losses, 18 came in the program's first three years.

"At first, it was all about learning. The wins and losses didn't matter," Shelton said. "We were the new kids on the block and it was nice for those schools to add us on after school had started."

Other county schools followed Severna Park's lead, adding field hockey to their athletic programs. In 1977, the Falcons played their first night game at Annapolis, and the next year, they turned the corner with an 11-1-1 season.

The first of Shelton's nine state titles came in 1979 when the Falcons knocked off perennial state power Churchill, 1-0, in the final. The first of their five undefeated seasons followed in 1980.

"She's a super coach -- a great motivator. She gets her girls up and believing in themselves," said Chesapeake veteran coach Jerry Raab. "She started her program two years before it hit the rest of the county and it's always been the one to look up to. She's done a lot to promote the sport and it's phenomenal the work she's done."

Senior co-captain Krista Bowerman agreed.

"You just want to go out and do it for her," she said. "She's a great person and always gets us pumped up and ready to play. We're expected to win and she teaches us how to deal with that pressure, how to handle it. It's definitely a lot of hard work, but it really pays off. It's just a great team to be part of with a great coach."

Shelton puts it all in perspective.

"I don't think I've done anything special," she said. "It's just the way I do things and the way I've chosen to conduct the program. I tell the kids, always go for excellence -- mediocrity is not in my vocabulary. If you can attain excellence, it's great. But you have to first aim for that."

National leaders

A list of some of the high school coaches with the most career field hockey victories:

1. Nancy Williams, Long Branch Shore (N.J.), 1971-1997 467-42-41

2. Linda Alimi, West Essex (N.J.), 1967-96 457-55-44

Madelyn Chiomento, Pitman (N.J.), 1954-93 412-105-88

10. Arlene Salvati, Chesire (Conn.), 1969-97 362-68-51

11. Gail Stevenson, Mamaroneck Rye Neck (N.Y.), 1962-92 327-35-26

12. Becky Miller, Toms River North (N.J.), 1969-97 326-97-58

13. Linda Adams, Rochester Eastridge (N.Y.), 1970-97 316-101-82

14. Janice Williams, Akron Central (N.Y.), 1967-95 307-86-36

Lil Shelton, Severna Park, 1975-97 299-38-5

Source: National High School Sports Record Book

Pub Date: 10/12/97

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