Portions of Content Courtesy of NFHCA
Photos Courtesy of Severna Park Voice and Missy Meharg
USA Field Hockey celebrates the life of Lilian “Lil” Shelton, a legend of the game who touched countless lives over the past decades as a coach at Severna Park High School in Maryland, who passed away on January 24, 2021 at the age of 90.
Shelton was not just a coach, but also an immeasurable mentor and inspiration to young athletes across the Old Line State and East Coast. University of Maryland Head Coach Missy Meharg was not just a fellow mentor of the game, but also a close friend and neighbor to Shelton for many years, often sharing a cup of coffee on Sunday mornings and talking about the game together.
“When I first became coach at the University of Maryland, Lil was the president of our coaches’ association, said Meharg. She made it clear with a sense of excitement and responsibility how important my role was for the game's visibility and development of the coaches."
After relocating to Severna Park, Md. in 1971, she began her lifelong career as a physical education teacher the following school year. It was here that she began to heavily advocate for the advancement of girls’ sports and equal opportunity. While her career began in softball, a fateful visit to the school’s closet found her face-to-face with a pile of aging field hockey sticks.
“When we started, we played on the front lawn of the school because there was nowhere else,” Shelton told the Baltimore Sun in 2011. “The girls loved the sport and we begged for it to become a varsity sport. Title IX had passed in 1971, and that helped me. I’ll never forget the day they gave us our kilts and shirts for the team. It was 1975, and I think we went 5-5 that first year.”
In the ensuing 37 years along the sideline, Shelton registered a 544-60-10 coaching record with the Falcons, in addition to 31 Anne Arundel County titles, 29 regional championships and 20 state championship banners. To date, under her guidance, Severna Park High School remains at the top of the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) list for most state championships. Her coaching record rests currently sixth on the NFHS’ most-wins list with an 84.5 winning percentage.
“The numbers speak for it but she is just a pillar of tradition and teaching through sport,” continued Meharg. “She was a huge believer in playing the second team first so that the older girls would be there and support them and then play the varsity game after.”
Her illustrious career propelled her into multiple honors and Hall of Fame inductions over the years, including Severna Park High School (2008), Anne Arundel County (1997) and National Field Hockey Coaches Association [NFHCA] (2001). In addition to these honors, she was also named Coach of the Year several times over by a variety of organizations and news outlets.
As the landscape of sports changed, Shelton sought to capitalize locally by founding USA Field Hockey Member Club SPark Field Hockey Club, as well as co-founding the Field Hockey Coaches Association of Maryland and Maryland State Games (now the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association State Championships).
As Meharg reminisced, everybody knew who Lil was in the community, not just as a coach but for having impacted the lives of at least three generations of athletes across her career. It showed in the days following her passing, where Meharg noted that community members came to pay their respects to her family, in addition to the celebration of sport culture that Lil helped carve.
It was a sure sign of a lasting legacy that will be felt for decades more.
“Our relationship together was just honoring the game and always working at the game. The coaches were teachers and she was just so powerful in how she led generationally the same way. Less was more.”
As her obituary describes, the Big Sister program entrenched by her saw experienced high school student-athletes mentor newer ones in sports, socially and academically. It also describes Shelton as someone whom, “instilled confidence, sportsmanship, and leadership in young women that benefits them throughout life.”
Also according to her obituary, in lieu of flowers, donations can be given in her honor and memory to the following organizations:
Earleigh Heights Volunteer Fire Department
Severna Park United Methodist Church
Susan G. Komen Foundation