Fri. Jun 9th, 2023

Sally Craig, center, gathers with captains Catherine Bunting, left, and Parker O’Shields, right, after winning the tournament.

Staff Reporter
Sally Craig, center, gathers with captains Catherine Bunting, left, and Parker O’Shields, right, after winning the tournament.
She took two steps backward.
That made it easier to digest the entire scene.
The two-step maneuver enabled her to completely enjoy the thrill of her student athletes’ achievement and ensuing celebration.
The members of Sally Craig’s Selbyville Middle School girls’ volleyball team had more than earned the right to whoop it up.
They had just captured their second consecutive (and third overall) middle school girls’ Central Delaware Association volleyball championship, sponsored by the Delaware Association of Athletics Directors (DAAD).
The emotional reaction took place on the Smyrna High School gymnasium floor on Friday, Nov. 4.
The Selbyville Middle School Indians, whose program began in the fall of 2015, had emulated their Indians’ predecessors of 2018 and 2021. They were also celebrating the program’s fifth undefeated season, equaling their predecessors of 2015, 2016, 2018 and 2021.
Watching her student-athletes explode with a sense of great accomplishment, Craig — the architect of this sporting masterpiece — could feel the emotions stirring within.
“It’s really hard to describe how I feel when I see [our team’s] players celebrating,” said Craig, who is retiring as the team’s bench boss. “They are so happy. They’re on top of the world. I feel so proud of them, so happy for them!
“These are moments they’ll hopefully remember all their lives, and tell their children about,” Craig added. “They’ve worked very hard to accomplish this, and it’s paid off. After we finish our 10th match of the season, and we’re undefeated … we all want to go out and celebrate together.”
The Indians defeated Holy Cross (25-14, 25-6) in the first round of this year’s tournament. In the semifinal, they solved Sussex Academy in three sets (20-25, 14-25, 25-11), then conquered Caravel Academy in the finals (25-9, 25-9).
Dedication, hard work and support
The din of triumph is loud.
The victorious cheers are endless.
Five undefeated seasons, three state titles and a 67-3 won-lost record have earned and annually awakened the continuing echoes of jubilation at Selbyville Middle School in Selbyville.
Craig, who built this initiative from Day 1 with assistant coach Bill Croal, and since 2021 with IRHS alum McKenzie Johnson (Class of 2018), said she believes that a combination of factors have enabled the Indians to become one of the best middle school volleyball programs in the state of Delaware.
“The dedication of our coaches, the hard work of our players, and the great support from their parents have made this team a powerhouse in Delaware,” said Craig. “Without the commitment from all three, SMS wouldn’t have a won-lost record of 67-3, and wouldn’t have won three” titles.
Craig subscribes to a simple, yet sometimes hard-to-achieve coaching philosophy that empowers a team to be a family.
“We respect each other, we support each other, and we believe in each other,” she said. “It’s about cooperation, and about working together as a team. It’s also about being loyal to each other, and being positive and encouraging. I tell our student-athletes that, no matter what your skill level might be, you have something to contribute to the team.
“The single most useful lesson that I’ve learned as a coach is that a team must work together as a well-oiled machine,” added Craig. “Individual skills are important, but if the team doesn’t work together, they’ll self-destruct. I feel it’s very important for the players to realize that they must put the team ahead of themselves to be successful. ‘There is no I in team’ is something they hear often.” It means, she said, that “the team comes first. We encourage each other, believe in each other, support each other, and play as a team.”
Selbyville Middle School’s victorious girls’ volleyball history
Sally Craig did not inherit this powerhouse when she began teaching special education at the school in 2003. In fact, quite the contrary — there was no volleyball team at the school.
Craig did inherit an after-school volleyball club that had been created by Barkley Heck.
“It was very informal,” recalled Craig. “We’d meet once a week in the fall and spring when the gym was available.
According to Craig, IRHS boys’ volleyball head coach Jim Barnes became involved with the club when his eldest son, Michael, attended SMS.
“Our numbers varied from year to year, and in 2013 we had 50 students in the club,” said Craig, who taught special education for 10 years and physical education her last five years before retiring from teaching in 2018. “The students were definitely interested, and adults with volleyball experience were totally into it!”
Two years later, in 2015, the Indian River School District Board of Education approved volleyball teams for all three of its district’s middle schools (including Georgetown and Millsboro). More than 40 students tried out for the SMS team in its inaugural season.
That was also the year that coach Croal joined the program as an assistant mentor.
“Between the two of us, we’ve promoted the sport of volleyball and provided learning opportunities for players,” said Craig. “Some examples of what we achieved include the IRSD Volleyball Academy, summer camps and open gyms. The interest was and still is there! The girls love the game, and are eager to learn more and improve.”
The school’s student-athletes hit the ground spiking in 2015.
“We started playing and winning, one-by-one,” she recalled. “I never focused on that. I never put pressure on the team to ‘go undefeated.’ The wins just kept coming. Then I said to Coach Croal, ‘You know, we just might go undefeated this year!’ And we did!” she said of the team posting a 10-0 record. “It was such a natural high. It was thrilling and exhilarating. I was so happy for the players. It meant so much to them.”
The Indians also posted 10-0 won-lost marks in 2016, 2021 and 2022, and were 9-0 in 2018. They were 8-2 in 2017 (losing 2-1 to Millsboro Middle School and 2-0 to Chipman Middle School), and 9-1 in 2019 (losing 2-1 to Millsboro Middle School). They did not play during the COVID-19 pandemic season of 2020.
“When you think about it, very few teams do go undefeated,” said Craig, who was named SMS Teacher of the Year in 2012. “It’s something that our entire team of players, coaches, parents and school are very proud of. To have gone undefeated five out of seven seasons is amazing, and credit should go to the entire SMS volleyball family,” which, she noted, includes “the players for the hard work they put in, the parents for the sacrifices they made, the coaches for their dedication, and the school’s administration and staff for their support.”
Résumé of a championship-winning coach
Sally Craig was born in Parkersburg, W.Va. After graduating from Parkersburg High School in 1969, she attended Marshall University as a freshman, transferred to West Virginia University as a sophomore, and earned her bachelor’s degree in physical education at WVU, with a minor in special education, in 1973. In 1983, she earned her master’s degree in instruction at the University of Delaware.
As a student-athlete herself, she played volleyball at Parkersburg High School from 1966 to 1969 as part of the Girls’ Athletic Association. There were no interscholastic sports for girls at that time. As a freshman at Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., she played on the Thundering Herd volleyball team. When she transferred to WVU, the school did not have a collegiate volleyball team. (That was prior to the enactment of Title IX, the federal civil rights law that resulted in more teams for women.) In 1973, she was awarded the West Virginia University Intramural All-Campus & Sorority Athlete of the Year.
She also competed for her USVBA (United States Volleyball Association, now known as USA Volleyball) travel team in Newark, Del., winning state titles in 1981, 1982 and 1983. She also helped win regional titles and Maryland State flags in 1982 and 1983. In addition, Craig has competed for the Chesapeake Region Volleyball Association of the USVBA on three masters’ volleyball teams that traveled to Memphis, Long Island and Hawaii for national tournaments.
She began her teaching and coaching career at Glasgow High School in Newark, from 1974 to 1984. Her teams made three DIAA Volleyball State Tournament appearances, finishing second in 1978 and fourth in 1979 and 1980. In 1984, her squad was the Blue Hen Conference Flight A Champion after going undefeated in conference competition. That year, she coached in the first annual Blue-Gold All Star volleyball match.
She also taught and coached at Glenvar High School in Roanoke County, Va., from 1988 to 1993 and 1996. In 1992 and 1993, she was named Pioneer District Coach of the Year after her teams went undefeated and captured the Pioneer District championship. They were also ranked first in the Pioneer District Tournament, finishing as Region C runner-up and in third place in the Virginia State Volleyball Tournament. She also coached at Glenvar Middle School from 2001 to 2003. Craig has served on the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA) State Volleyball Committee since 2004.
She proudly cited those who have made a profound impact on her career as a teacher and a coach.
“Throughout high school, my twin sister Sue [Bowser] and I loved playing sports,” said Craig. “And because volleyball was our favorite, we’d pass the ball around and push each other to become better players. Sue lives in Virginia Beach, and we often played on the beach and would compete against each other in USVBA tournaments. She was also a very successful volleyball coach in Chesapeake, Va. We were fortunate to compete on the same regional USVBA Masters Teams, traveling to Memphis, Hawaii and Long Island for national tournaments. She always motivated me to work harder and push the limits.”
University of Delaware women’s volleyball head coach Barbara Viera also made an imprint on Craig.
“She was very highly respected among college and high school coaches,” said Craig, who met Viera when Craig coached at the university’s summer volleyball camps. “I learned a lot from her during those summer sessions. I was fortunate to have had such a competent role model in my life.”
More recently, said Craig, Croal has had a huge impact on her.
“Bill is so dedicated to growing the sport,” she said. “He’s motivated me in many different ways. He’s a student of the game, with lots of playing and coaching experience himself. It’s been a team effort with us, and the combination has worked like a charm!”
Croal said, “The stars must have been perfectly aligned the moment we met. It has been my distinct honor and pleasure to have been Sally’s assistant volleyball coach for the past eight years. We instantly clicked and have amassed an impressive 97 percent win record,” he said of their 67-3 tally, “and three Delaware State Middle School Volleyball Tournament Championships in six appearances. Our goal from the beginning was to ‘grow the sport’ of volleyball in the Indian River School District. I can say with full confidence that we’ve been wildly successful.”
Looking toward retirement
The championships have been won.
At Selbyville Middle School, McKenzie Johnson will be the new girls’ volleyball bench boss.
In retirement, what will life be for Sally Craig?
“I may be leaving the coaching aspect of volleyball, but I’ll stay involved,” she promised. “This past year, I helped organize a winter travel volleyball club — Coastal Volleyball Club — for southern Sussex County athletes.”
If the Indians ever need her, she insisted, she is just a local phone call away.
“I would never have left the program unless I knew it was in good hands,” she said. “I know Coach Johnson will do a great job. The players love her, and she really knows the game.”
Johnson first met Craig after Croal asked her to help at the Volleyball Academy in 2016.
“Coach Craig is a one-of-a-kind coach and person,” said Johnson. “She will always go above and beyond for anyone. It has been an honor to coach with her and learn how she grew Sussex County volleyball into what it is today. She has a method to all her drills and plays that — looking back now — make so much sense. It takes a special person to teach a middle school student athlete to learn a new sport, and she has that ability.”
Craig and her husband of 44 years, Phil Craig, hope to do some traveling and enjoy the weather next fall.
“My husband has totally supported me throughout my years of coaching,” she said. “He knows how much it means to me, and he’s also been a big help with projects for various teams over the years. He’s an architect, a builder, a master carpenter, so he’s [created] various displays for me to [showcase] things like team members’ photos. He’s always been there for me!
“He’s a real problem-solver,” Craig added. “He built the outdoor court that is behind Selbyville Middle School, and the outdoor court that’s at the Pyle Center. Those were just a few of the things he’s done over the years!”
Craig acknowledged that she’s coached many wonderful young ladies and has been supported by many enthusiastic parents.
“I know I’ll miss coaching, but now I’ll have the flexibility to travel in the fall, play more pickleball, and still stay connected to the student athletes at Selbyville Middle School and Indian River High,” she said. “Volleyball has been a big part of my life, and I love the game. It’s brought me so much pleasure over the years, as a player and as a coach. I love watching the players improve their skills and develop as leaders, on and off the court. I love the fact that they learn so many other things besides volleyball skills — cooperation, sportsmanship, how to deal with adversity, team spirit, leadership skills and pride.”
She said she feels honored to have worked with her players over the past seven years, and to have gotten to know them as individuals.
“I’m hoping that volleyball will play a part in their future,” she concluded. “I’m hoping that lessons they’ve learned on and off the court will help them develop as strong, independent young women.”
Staff Reporter
Mike is a veteran sports journalist, covering generations of student-athletes in Pennsylvania, Texas and Delaware. He moved to the area in 2018 with his wife, Colleen. His passion for people and sports enables him to honor young athletes’ achievements.
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The Coastal Point is a local newspaper published each Friday and distributed in the Bethany Beach, South Bethany, Fenwick Island, Ocean View, Millville, Dagsboro, Frankford, Selbyville, Millsboro, Long Neck and Georgetown, Delaware areas.


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