As Rhonda Low saw it, the time was right.
Cathedral High School’s boys volleyball team is in good hands, Low said – with the right person ready to be the head coach and move the program forward.
Partly because of that, Low – who for more than two-and-a-half decades shaped Irish boys volleyball and Indiana boys high school volleyball in general – decided to retire as the program’s coach. She leaves a legacy that goes far beyond Cathedral.
“The program’s in a very good place,” Low said. “We’re growing. Volleyball is the fastest-growing team sports in America, and that’s being reflected here at Cathedral.”
Low in recent years has battled cancer, and is in remission a second time.
“The body has done a great job in this remission but it’s not giving me back the energy I need to coach,” Low said. “I just felt like I can’t give the guys the energy in the practice. I would get halfway through and start dragging my butt. I’d have to really yell at myself to pick it up. It’s selfish if I stay on.
“Mentally, I was preparing [for another season], but I had to be honest with myself. The boys deserve somebody who can give them their best and my best is not good enough right now in my mind.”
Tyler McClure, a setter on the Irish’s undefeated 2007-2008 state championship teams who has been coaching in the program for 8 seasons, will succeed Low. The state of Indiana’s Most Valuable Player in 2008, McClure led the Irish to a fifth-place national finish as a senior.
“He’s as Cathedral volleyball as anybody I can think of,” Low said of McClure, who served as freshman and junior varsity coach at Cathedral before serving as an assistant varsity coach last season. “He has seen the insides and outs. He knows how we’ve run it. He’s got some great ideas of improvement.
“This was a good time to step out of his way. The program is on an upswing. They’re going to have a youthful, focused, energetic, goal-oriented, teaching coach in Tyler McClure.”
Low said she will remain with the program, assisting McClure.
“I’m going to step away as much as Tyler wants me to and I’ll stay in as much as Tyler wants me to,” she said. “I’ll help in any way he wants and I’ll stay out of anything he wants. I want to make sure I don’t hinder his growth and development. He’s the head coach and I’ll support him in his decisions – as he has with all the years he’s been with me.
“If I’m allowed, I’ll stay involved with it as long as I’m a benefit. If I’m not a benefit, I’ll stay away so it can grow.”
It’s fitting that Low’s focus upon retirement was on the program and the future. That has been Low’s focus throughout her tenure as Cathedral coach – that and helping establish boys volleyball in the state of Indiana.
She was wildly successful at both, establishing the Irish as a state power that won a state-best nine Indiana Boys Volleyball Coaches Association state title from the 1994 inception of the IBVCA and the Cathedral program.
She retires as the winningest coach in IBVCA history.
Low, who helped found the IBVCA, served as its president from 1994-2006. The organization speaks yearly with the Indiana High School Athletic Association about becoming a sanctioned sport, and Low said that gets closer to reality every year.
“The commissioners like what we’re doing,” Low said. “We run it as if it were an IHSAA sport. We’re ready when they absorb us. We’re very excited that we’re in that growth pattern. The state’s in a great place. Cathedral’s in a great place. I couldn’t be more proud of the people that helped maintain and helped me stay strong in the fight for boys volleyball.
“It’s nice to look back and say, ‘These boys have an opportunity and I had a small part in establishing the organization and tying to keep the door open for all of these guys.’’’
Low said that always was the goal – opening doors.
Low said the IBVCA came about because of a promise made to Indiana boys volleyball pioneer Mel Young, who coached one of the state’s first boys volleyball teams at Richmond High School. Low was among five coaches who promised Young a five-year commitment to boys volleyball.
“I believe in your word is your bond, so I guaranteed five years,” she said.
When Young died of a heart attack shortly thereafter, Low became a leader in growing the sport and served as the association’s president for more than a decade. She coached the Irish more than two and a half decades, changing the lives of many players and helping establish what is now one of the state’s fastest-growing sports.
“I wanted to coach where there was a challenge and boys are a challenge,” she said. “The opportunities for boys that weren’t available yet were interesting to me. When I was in high school, I wanted to be somebody who would open doors to others for something that I didn’t get in high school. I was before scholarships and high school basketball so I wanted to be a part of something that helped others.
“The girls [volleyball] was already well established and the boys didn’t have anybody really fighting for them – especially here in Indiana. I didn’t see anybody stepping up, especially after Mel passed away. It seemed like something the boys needed. There was a challenge there, to learn how to become better men and to learn how to fight in a positive way.”
Consider that challenge met – in a memorable and successful career that leaves a legacy that goes far beyond Cathedral.