Twenty It Is: Lillian Shelton Announces Retirement

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By Colin A.J. Murphy

When asked for her thoughts on coaching the Severna Park field hockey team to the state championship for a record twentieth time following the Falcons’ 3-1 defeat of Bethesda-Chevy Chase in the 4A title game at Washington College on November 12, Lillian Shelton flashed her infectious smile and quipped, “Well, it’s a nice, round number, so that’s good.”

As it turns out, it is the number Coach Shelton will settle on, as she announced on November 18 that she will retire from her position as Head Coach of the field hockey team at Severna Park. Her decision brings and end to probably the most successful coaching career in Maryland and United States high school sports history. No Maryland coach has more won more state titles in any sport, and no coach in the country has more won state titles in field hockey.

“There is no one who can compare or will ever be able to compare to what she has done at Severna Park with that program,” said Head Girls Lacrosse Coach Carin Peterson, who played under Shelton at Severna Park. “Whether it’s her record or her coaching style or the type of person she is, she’s just tremendous.”

The only coach in the history of the field hockey program at Severna Park, Shelton built the program from scratch, starting with the school’s first team in 1975. It took only four seasons for Shelton to put together a championship team, as the Falcons won the school’s first state title in 1979. From that point forward, Severna Park field hockey established a winning standard unparalleled by any other in the state, culminating with the team and Coach Shelton’s twentieth state title in the November 12 win over BCC. No school in Maryland has won twenty state titles in any sport, and the next closest school in number of field hockey state championships is BCC with 13.

Peterson, herself a coach of multiple state championship lacrosse teams, went on to describe how, for all the recognition Shelton has received for her role as a motivator and inspirational force in the lives of her players, she is likewise an incredibly diligent coach with a masterful knowledge of field hockey, someone whose competitors aspired to emulate.

“She just knows her stuff,” said Peterson. “She’s always one step ahead of everybody else. In the later part of her career, other programs in the county, South River, Broadneck, the private schools, started catching up to Severna Park, and that’s because of Lil Shelton.”

All the while, Shelton has been a powerful presence in the lives of so many girls and continues to make a lasting impact both on and off the field for those who have played for her.

“We were all really close with Coach Shelton,” says Joanna Kiser, who played under Lillian Shelton on the ’05 and ’06 state championship teams. “She considered us all her grandchildren, and I think she does that with a lot of the girls, and a lot of the girls feel like she’s their other grandmother. She’s such a kind, warm-hearted person, and she just loves field hockey.”

Her love for the game helped establish a culture of winning over almost four decades of field hockey players. After quickly building a championship-caliber program, playing for Coach Shelton at Severna Park became an honor in itself, something that hundreds of players saw as their chance to be part of something great. The sustained success of the program created a drive to win with every fresh crop of players rising to the varsity level.

“These kids have been around here for years,” said Shelton during an August practice this year. “They’ve seen Severna Park field hockey, and then they finally get on the team, and they want to do the best that they can.”

Kiser, for one, agrees that the greatness of Severna Park field hockey is something that Coach Shelton represents, serving as a constant motivator in practices and games. “She was so motivational,” said Kiser. “Everyone knew that we had won so much in the past, and that there was a standard that we all had to live up to.”

In getting her players to consistently compete at such a high level, Coach Shelton kept the focus on the girls and their aspirations and development as athletes.

“She always had the best interests of the athletes at heart,” said Severna Park Athletic Director Wayne Mook. “From having bagels for breakfast for her girls on game days to working on the fundamentals during practice, her enthusiasm for the game of field hockey was always outstanding. She treated her players with the utmost respect and in many ways was like a mother/grandmother to them. Her warm smile and desire to have her field hockey program stand out among the best in the country will be sorely missed.”

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