Coaches come and go in high school sports and they leave a wide range of impacts along the way.
Tenures have trended toward being shorter for myriad reasons, and a changing world presents challenges that coaches in previous eras never had to deal with.
Then there are some coaches who are throw-backs and gritty survivors mixed into one – coaches who remain true to what they believe in and stick firm to a philosophy that stands the test of time.
Denham Springs High coach Shelly LaPrarie fits into the second category, but an inevitable crossroads has arrived.
DSHS principal Kelly Jones announced Friday that the Lady Jackets’ longtime coach will retire as the school’s coach, ending a memorable 20-year run in one of the state’s most demanding jobs in girls’ basketball. She made the decision a few weeks ago and informed her team on Friday.
“I want to have more time to spend with my dad,” LaPrarie said, calling her retirement a personal decision that was partly family related and partly just the right timing.
“He lives in North Louisiana and I lost my mom about three months before (The Great Flood of 2016) and I want to be up there with him as much as I can be. I’ve been teaching for 30 years, and this just felt like the perfect time for me to be able to make this move.”
LaPrarie’s final season ended Thursday with a 37-34 loss to Fontainebleau in a Class 5A first-round playoff game. That was a small dose of bitter to a career full of sweetness as LaPrarie built on the tradition that her friend and longtime right-hand woman and confidante Brenda Loe had established.
LaPrarie came to DSHS in 1996 as Loe’s assistant and the Lady Jackets went back to the state semifinals after winning a state crown the year before. When the freshman high school opened, Loe stepped down to help with that transition and handed the keys to the program over to LaPrarie in 1998.
Since that transition, LaPrarie guided the Lady Jackets to 496 victories, 18 playoff berths, 28 postseason wins since 2004 and six trips to the state semifinals since 2006.
The last state semifinal trip was in 2016 when Denham punched through and played for the state championship, falling to Mt. Carmel, 59-48.
A native of Delhi who began her teaching career in 1991, LaPrarie was quick to heap praise on Loe.
“Being her assistant for two years and having her with me all along has been a huge part of any success we’ve had,” LaPrarie said.
As LaPrarie’s tenure evolved, her teams were known for hustle and defensive toughness. Through the years, LaPrarie adjusted styles based on her ever-changing personnel. Resiliency was regularly a hallmark of LaPrarie’s tenure, never more so than when the 2015-16 team roared back into the state spotlight after missing the postseason the year before.
Not only did Denham return to familiar territory in the playoffs the next season, the Lady Jackets racked up a 30-4 record – one of the best in LaPrarie’s tenure – and blitzed through District 4-5A to win the league crown with a 9-1 record.
The players from that team and most of the dozens of others she has mentored are what LaPrarie said she will remember.
“Being able to work with them and the love I have for them are what has made this such a great thing,” she said. “There are so many kids who still come back and just want to hug your neck. They’re still part of this program and that’s why you do it – those relationships.”
Relationships that have been a two-way street along an awful lot of avenues.
Jones lauded LaPrarie’s career and the way she operated behind the scenes.
“Shelly will be greatly missed on multiple levels,” Jones said in the press release. “She has been a true asset on our campus, always willing to lend a hand to other programs and teachers. The success she has had as a coach goes without saying, but also the way she ran her program was top notch. She did things the right way – a real class act – and I never had to worry for a minute about that program in her hands. She gained so much of my respect in the way she has handled her retirement. Shelly informed me of the decision a few weeks ago, but was adamant that no one know until the season was over. She wanted to ensure that the focus would remain on her team and athletes, and not on her, until the final game was played. It’s definitely a bittersweet announcement: A sad day for us because we will miss her, but also happy for Shelly to be able to retire at 30 years of service and be young enough to enjoy this time in her life.”
It hasn’t only been Denham that the 51-year-old LaPrarie has impacted.
In a parish known for basketball coaching giants, LaPrarie carved her own permanent niche among them.
“My first reaction was that Denham Springs will be different without Shelly and will never quite be the same,” Albany coach Stacy Darouse said. Her mother, Jo Ann Smith is one of the coaching giants who was a contemporary of Loe’s. “Shelly has done just a tremendous job. Her work ethic and success are just a true testament to how great a coach and person she is. Livingston Parish will miss her.
“Any time you can do the things she has done, that’s just amazing. In this day and age, when a lot of coaches jump from one job to another to find a better situation, she’s been the opposite of that. Just the level of commitment speaks to the kind of person she is.”
Jones said that an announcement will be made at a later date in regards to the acceptance of applications for the vacant position, which figures to be attractive to coaches from around the state.
Randy Rosetta is the Managing Editor of 4-5ALockerRoom.com.
You can reach him at (225) 999.0667 or RandyR@LivingstonParishNews.com.
Follow on Twitter: @RandyRosetta