The only thing Eldon native Ann Gulshen ever needed was an opportunity.
The only thing Eldon native Ann Gulshen ever needed was an opportunity.
After pleading for years for a chance to represent her school in athletics, Gulshen was finally presented that option as a senior at Eldon in the fall of 1975. Title IX, federal legislation that declared public institutions must present equal opportunity for women, was implemented at the school and Gulshen did not let that opportunity go to waste.
As one of the first women to play sports for the Mustangs, a volleyball coach was soon born that became one of the top five winningest coaches in the state of Missouri. Over the course of 29 years as a coach for Eldon and Camdenton, Gulshen compiled 704 career victories with numerous conference and district titles and also reached the pinnacle of achievement with a state championship as well.
That career was honored and recognized on Wednesday afternoon in Springfield when Gulshen was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame. Not too bad of a resume for someone who simply just wanted a chance to compete.
“Speaking of opportunity, to be here at a luncheon honoring women’s sports is more than I could have ever imagined,” Gulshen told a room of an estimated 800 people in attendance at Wednesday’s Hall of Fame ceremony.
“The opportunity to play sports was not always available to young girls like myself. To be on a team, to have a coach, teammates and a uniform was just a dream for most of us,” the coach went on to explain. “But through the efforts of thousands of women, our voices were gradually heard and Title IX forever changed the landscape of sports… None of those battles were easy and some are still ongoing, but I had the opportunity to work with some pretty fantastic administrators and am so grateful to have had their support as a young coach.”
However, the coach that helped bring volleyball prominence to the Lake area originally had a different path in mind. Gulshen graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in physical education and did not intend on coming back to Eldon, but her father Vic Luetkemeyer- the Eldon High School Principal- suffered a heart attack. Gulshen’s mother Jane, a first grade teacher, asked her daughter to come home while her husband was recuperating and an opening for a volleyball coach soon became available.
“It was not what I originally had planned in my life, but I fell in love with the kids I worked with,” Gulshen said of the program she would lead for the next 16 years. “The kids in Eldon- I knew those kids, where they came from, their families and their work ethics and I think that helped my early success.”
Gulshen took the reins at Eldon in 1980 and admittedly knew little about the sport at the time, but felt she was capable of taking on the challenge. She dedicated herself to making sure her knowledge of the game matched her passion for it as well, whether it was attending team camps or anything else she could do to help her teams succeed. At the same time, the coach also had high expectations of her players and emphasized teamwork to get her kids to believe in the same goal.
When the young coach had the privilege of watching a Final Four for the first time and the atmosphere it created, there was no lack of motivation to meet that challenge and be one of those teams fighting for a state championship.
“I learned right along with the kids. I just knew I wanted my kids to experience that excitement for women’s sports so that was our goal every year,” the coach said of the Final Four. “I came at a time when there were a lot of kids that were eager to work hard and were just great kids so we built the program.”
And the foundation for success was established immediately. In Gulshen’s first season at the helm, the Mustangs won the first of 16 consecutive conference titles in the coach’s tenure and the first of 15 district championships.
“It was completely beginner’s luck. It was not because I knew what I was doing and I made a lot of mistakes along the way,” Gulshen recalled with a smile. “It just so happened that we won… and it was so exciting and people really rallied behind us. From there, we thought that was fun so let’s do it again and again and again.”
And the success did not stop there. Eldon went to eight consecutive Class 3 Final Fours from 1986 to 1993, finishing second twice (1988 and 1993), third four times (1986, 1989, 1990 and 1992) and fourth in 1987. The Mustangs also reached the very top in 1991 and defeated a St. Francis Borgia team that had already claimed four state titles by then.
“It was a dream come true. I was so excited for my kids and I think maybe it was the first time a public school had won a Class 3 state championship,” Gulshen said of that special day. “We knew it would be difficult and they worked all year long with that same goal in mind so I was happy for them that it worked out.”
By the time Gulshen stepped down as Eldon’s head coach after the 1996 season, the Mustangs had piled up 407 wins while she was patrolling the sidelines. Then, another family situation eventually led the coach to Camdenton when her father passed away.
With a mother that had priorly passed away and a husband working near Camdenton, the coach had to make a switch in 1997 with two young children to look after. Gulshen stepped away from coaching for a year, but took over the Laker program the following season and sought to establish the same success she enjoyed at Eldon.
In her 13-year tenure with the Lakers, Gulshen led the program to four conference championships, three district championships and three of her teams were just one win shy of reaching the Final Four as she accumulated 297 more wins before retiring in 2011.
“We kind of did the same thing we did in Eldon. We tried to develop a program and I had some fantastic kids in Camdenton and we had a lot of success,” the coach remarked. “It was really due to their work ethic, their sportsmanship and playing as a team.”
These days, the coach can be found helping out as an assistant with her original program and the Lakers and Mustangs have met on the volleyball court every year since 2012. Rest assured, though, each school holds a special place in her heart.
“It was always fun to beat Camdenton because they were a big rival when I was in Eldon,” the coach said of the two sides who were both members of the Tri-County Conference at one time. “When I went to Camdenton, it was great fun to go back to the Eldon Tournament I started and to win that tournament as Camdenton Laker… They continue to play each other and I cheer for the kids.”
And Gulshen did not hesitate to point out that this honor was not about her, but all those kids she had the privilege of coaching and the assistants she got to work with.
“It is unbelievable to be here. I feel like an impostor,” the coach said with a smile. I’m just up here representing all the fantastic kids I got to work with and also the coaches that coached alongside me. They did a lot of work and are up here with me so it is about all of us and not about me.”
But Gulshen’s legacy does not stop there. Some of her former players have gone on to enjoy coaching careers of their own whether it be Eldon’s Melinda Wyre-Washington who has won multiple national championships with NAIA Columbia College or Eldon’s Laura Baucom who was coaching her alma matter last season alongside Gulshen.
Baucom described her former coach as bold, brave and courageous and a strong advocate for female athletics. Ultimately, it was what made her a good coach and just one of many reasons why she, along with a number of other former players, were happy to be in attendance at Wednesday’s ceremony.
“I’ve known Ann since her first volleyball team in Eldon because my sister played on that team and I was in the stands watching… I can remember Ann coaching my sister and now coaching my daughter last year. It is just amazing,” Baucom said.
“I’m always amazed at how she can turn an average athlete into a great volleyball player. Coaching is hard, but she knows how to help kids win and she makes it look easy when we win and it is not easy,” she added. “Being my coach, my teacher, my mentor and my friend, she just helps you raise girls to be good people.”
For Gulshen, all the girls she has coached are practically family and the family has grown quite extensively over her three decades in the sport.
“To be able to coach those type of kids and then be able to coach their kids has just been a real honor. To watch them grow and find success in whatever they are doing is just like being a mom and it is the best feeling in the world to have coached those kids,” she stated.
“What I hope they know is how much I love them. They have filled my life with so much joy and I am just so proud to have been their coach. That is what I want them to remember.”
Ultimately, it all began with an opportunity and in her closing remarks, Gulshen emphasized what any woman can be capable of if they simply have a chance to succeed.
“Dreams do come true,” she said. “So here is to strong women. May we know them, may we be them, may we raise them.”