The 2014 prep softball season officially came to an end nearly two weeks ago with the playing of CIF Southern Section divisional championship games. The end of the season also marked the culmination of a long and highly successful coaching journey for one local mentor.
Well before the CIF softball finales were played, actually, at the outset of the season, Marina Coach Shelly Luth knew 2014 would be her final season as skipper of the Vikings. She had kept that decision private for a short time, but her plan eventually was revealed during the course of the season.
Entering her 23rd year of pacing and preaching the intricacies of the game of softball along the Marina sideline, Luth decided it was time to step aside. She said she retired as head coach because she felt the Marina program needed "a change and new direction."
Luth's longtime Marina assistant, Coach Michelle Spencer, also hung up her clipboard at the end of the season.
Luth, who turns 56 at the end of the month, said reaching the decision to retire wasn't an easy one.
"Deciding to retire is bittersweet and yes, difficult," she said. "I love the game and most of all, I love coaching kids. However I feel good about leaving the next coach with a returning good team, money in the bank and a great facility."
And a solid, respected program that, each year, is among the top programs in CIF Southern Section Division 1.
Luth started her Marina coaching career 30 years ago, in 1984 as an assistant under then-head coach Susie Calderon. Seven seasons later, she took over head coaching duties in 1991. As head coach, 22 of Luth's 23 teams would qualify for the CIF playoffs. Her teams reached the Southern Section pinnacle twice, winning back-to-back Division 1 championships in 1994-95.
Her Marina teams won, or shared, Sunset League championships in 1993-94-95, 1998, 2000, 2006, 2009, 2010-11, 2013 and 2014.
Luth's final Marina team earned a share of the Sunset title with Huntington Beach in the final week of the regular season. She guided the Vikings into the second round of the Division 1 playoffs last month.
"It's always fun to lead a team to a Sunset League title," she said. "I enjoy putting together a winning team. When you start in February with a certain lineup, you can guarantee it won't be the same in May or June. Kids develop and get stronger as the season goes by and it's incredible to see kids play at their best."
Luth, who said she will continue in her teaching position at Marina, leaves with an overall record of 476-250-3 in her 23 years as head coach.
"My career has been amazing," she said. "The memories are unforgettable. It's been a giant family for 30 years.
"My philosophy is to teach kids to compete at the highest level with intensity, integrity, and character. Softball is a game where you can learn how to deal with adversity. It is very similar to life, some ups and downs, and it's how you decided to handle it. We try to teach sportsmanship, good attitude, personal responsibility which are all life skills and 100% choice. The choice is theirs to be a quality person."
Spencer, 46, was an assistant to Luth for the past 17 years, rotating as first base coach that first season with then-assistant coach Krista York, when the Vikings were at-bat.
Spencer will still teach math and serve as athletic director at Marina.
"It is never easy to decide when to stop coaching because you build a bond with the kids," Spencer said. "There is no good time to call it quits because you are always leaving kids still on the team that you love. I am just so busy as an AD, that I couldn't spend the time out on the field anymore. It was time for someone new to take over."
Spencer said she reached her decision to retire from coaching a year ago.
"I told [Luth] and the kids in the 2013 season that , would be my last year," she said. "I had to give myself a year to prepare because I have absolutely loved every minute of coaching. It was a great senior class (2014) to go out with. The bond and friendship that Shelly and I created in the 17 years is awesome. I am so thankful to her for allowing me to be a part of this. I will definitely miss it.
"Getting to coach and mentor young kids is so much fun. Watching them grow into successful adults makes me so proud. I absolutely love my job, teaching, coaching and AD, and wouldn't change it for the world."
Spencer said the Marina softball head coaching position is open. Resumes are currently being accepted and interviews will be conducted during the summer. Resumes can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
"I am looking to find someone who will be able to continue the winning tradition of Marina softball, and still allow the kids the chance to enjoy their high school years," she said.