The Pine Lakes volleyball tournament Saturday in Pequot Lakes and Pine River wasn't so much a who's who of area volleyball coaches but a who's that.
Of the five area teams in the tournament, Crosby-Ironton and Pillager have new head coaches. Verndale's Kelly Youngbauer is in her third year.
The Staples-Motley Cardinals (Collin Beachy) and Little Falls Flyers (Becky Huot) also have new head volleyball coaches. Seven of the 11 public schools The Brainerd Dispatch covers have coaches with less than four years with their teams.
The reason for the mass turnaround is unknown. With 18 years at Pine River-Backus, Tom Lupella could be considered a relic. He says family time is taking precedent over coaching.
"If coaches have to make a choice between spending time with their family and a sport, a lot of them are picking their family," said Lupella. "It's not worth being away from your family. The family should win. If I had to do it all over again, I would choose my family. But my kids are all grown."
Coaching was something Gina Taylor has always wanted to do. She got her wish when she was hired as the Pillager Huskies head coach.
Taylor and her husband, Craig, have two young boys. She said it was a difficult decision but one her family supported.
"We started practice three weeks before school, then during teacher workshops we would have practice before or after," said Taylor. "Last Saturday I spent all day in Pine River. We have tournaments three Saturdays in September, plus the night games during the week. It's a big commitment. My family is used to that. They're well adjusted."
Because many people aren't getting into or staying in coaching, finding coaches and keeping them has become a full-time job for athletic directors.
The Cardinals are on their third coach in three years. Last year's coach, Lisa Otteson-Smith, had a baby in April and moved to Perham. While she still works in the S-M school district, the 45-mile drive and a newborn didn't make coaching feasible. Linda Card, whom Otteson-Smith replaced, had a daughter getting into middle school and wanted to watch her activities.
That left Cardinals athletic director Glen Hasselberg to once again find a head volleyball coach.
"They weren't lined up at the door wanting to get in," Hasselberg said.
"In this day and age it's a lot easier to not coach than it is to coach, if that makes any sense," Hasselberg said. "Why put up with all that you have to put up with?"
Which brings up the next reason for coaches leaving the games they love -- the hassles caused by parents, players and the community.
"When I was coaching both volleyball and basketball I maybe got four phone calls," said Lupella. "I never really have gotten a lot of hassle until recently.
"One time in 20 years I've had parents complaining that I'm too intense, that I'm putting too much pressure on the girls. That could be true but that's part of building a program and being competitive. You need to have a good work ethic.
"If a girl sets a goal, my goal is to help them achieve that goal and have a positive experience doing it. That's what life is about -- achieving goals. But sometimes you get into trouble with that type of thinking."
Before each season Lupella has his players fill out a goals sheet on things they want to accomplish as a team and improve on as individuals. During the course of the year he reminds players of the goals the players chose.
"Some people think that's too much pressure or too much intensity," Lupella said. "But then if you lose you get fired. If you win and have a good program, you set your expectations high and you remind kids what they need to do to get better and achieve those high expectations and you can get in trouble that way too.
"There just seems to be a lot of hassles associated with a head coaching position. There's a lot of pressure to win and, along with that, you have make everyone happy. My philosophy is the higher the expectations the more trouble you get into."
The pressure to win is what prevented Penny Grimsley from starting her sixth year as a head coach at Pillager.
"I was called in a month and a half before the season started and they told me it was time for a change," said Grimsley. "I wasn't an in-your-face type of coach and that was what they were looking for."
Grimsley said she missed coaching, and couldn't understand how Lupella could be accused of being too intense while she's getting fired for not being intense enough.
"That's not my coaching style," Grimsley said. "I don't like to yell. It's just not me."
First-year Crosby-Ironton Ranger head coach Jill Kovatovich has never held a varsity coaching position before and she had no intentions of becoming a varsity coach. But, with the season almost starting and the position unfilled, Kovatovich is now a varsity coach.
"They asked me to take the position," said Kovatovich. "I felt very unqualified. I coached the younger kids, but never at a varsity position. It helped that my daughter was on the team."
Even though the hassles still remain, and while many coaches have decided it's just not worth it any more, there still are coaches like Lupella, who know that despite recent criticism, they're still needed.
"I have a lot of peace in my heart about this stuff," he said. "It doesn't bother me, even though some of it is pretty nasty stuff. The kids are doing well.
"If I wasn't helping them and the kids were turning away from the sport every year I would step down. But when you have 60 kids out and the kids are supporting you, then you have to stick it out. That's the only way. As long as I have peace about everything, and my health is OK, I'm putting the kids first over the hassle."
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