Former Coach Gary Shirley Will Be Missed

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Published on August 4 2014 2:06 pm
Last Updated on August 4 2014 2:06 pm
Written by Millie Lange

There's no doubt Gary Shirley was a good coach. There's also no doubt he was a good man.

Area sports circles are in mourning today because Gary Shirley, who coached at Kinmundy-Alma and then South Central High School before retiring, has passed away. Greg Sapp and I have known Gary for quite some time, reporting on his baseball and basketball teams.

My memories of him include grabbing the phone every Tuesday and Friday evening at the newspaper office and hearing his upbeat voice saying, hey Millie, how's everything? I can't begin to tell you how many times I would be dead tired writing and gathering all the information and he'd phone and uplift me with his likeable attitude.

When asked about memories of Gary, Greg replied "He was a consistent winner. The thing that stands out to me, regardless of talent, he produced winning teams. There are a lot of former players who have expressed their sorrow over his death and that indicates to me how good a man he has been."

In an article my co-worker at the paper, Dustin White wrote back in 2009, Gary Shirley is a matter-of-fact kind of guy. For that reason, it comes as no surprise when he talks the way he does about his 500th win as a varsity boys basketball coach.

"I don't want to make more of it than it is," said Shirley. "I've kept a job for 26 years. When you keep a job for 26 years, things like this come along once in a while."

Typical Shirley, never one to chat about his achievements. Shirley started his high school coaching career at then Kinmundy-Alma High School in 1983. He didn't start out too well from the win-loss perspective but that soon changed. His first year was a 6-18 record. Then he got the team to .500 at 13-13 the second year. In 1985-86 and 1986-87 he took K-A to regional championships with 20-8 and 24-4 records. He finished his career at Kinmundy-Alma at 89-67. Then it was consolidation as Kinmundy-Alma and Farina-LaGrove became South Central High School.

His first season with the consolidation, the Cougars were 17-7. And over the next 20 years he finished with a 431-133 record at South Central. During that run his teams won eight regional championships and a sectional title. His teams had only one losing record in the 20 years he coached at South Central.

Shirley also was a teacher and taught college prep English since 1981, first at Kinmundy-Alma and later at South Central. Shirley was the coach on the baseball circuit at South Central High School for four years from 1989 to 1994. He had a team that finished 10-5 in 1989-90, 15-3 in 1990-91, 13-4 in 1992-93 and 8-9 in 1993-94. So he had a 46-21 record.

A little background information from Dustin White's article back in the Effingham Daily News. Shirley played baseball in college, two years at Lincoln College and two years at Northwest Missouri State University. He started looking for jobs in Southern Illinois and ended up teaching junior high at St. Elmo for one year in 1977-78. Then a move to Kinmundy came the following year and after three years teaching and coaching at the junior high level, Shirley made the move to the high school.

Shirley told Dustin he "enjoyed what I've done. To say that I love basketball . . . I don't know if that's it. I love the competition and the challenge of getting kids to understand."

Shirley certainly did that, although he would have been the first to say it was mostly the kids.

Shirley's son Ryan posted on Facebook there will be no visitation or funeral according to the wishes of Gary.

"He was a very humble man and in respect of that and his wishes, we will not be having a visitation or funeral. If you wish to honor him, please continue to send the cards with your favorite memories as we would like to compile them into a book to remember him by. If you wish to do something else in his name, please support a charity of your choice or do something for someone in need.

"Life will not be the same without him, but it certainly would not be so good if he hadn't been my dad. I will carry my memories of him always and I know he will be with me every step of the way. It was a true blessing to have him as my dad."

And, it was a true blessing to have known Gary through sports and been a small part of his life. Thanks Gary.