After five years in Florida, Shannon Wells vows she'll never move back to the Region.
"I hate the snow and cold," the Merrillville graduate said. "I'm staying in Florida the rest of my life."
The former Pirates volleyball star, part of coach Amy Beckham's run of success in the 1990s, makes a few exceptions, returning home on occasion to see family, mom Bobbi and brother Zac. In a few weeks, Wells, the associate head coach at the University of Florida, will be back in town to conduct the NWI Elite Camp on June 11-12 at Merrillville High School.
"When Amy asked me, I was so excited to be back in the gym at Merrillville," Wells said. "Amy had the vision to bring a bunch of coaches in and make it not just for Merrillville, but the surrounding communities. Volleyball is the fastest growing sport in the country. The level of play in the area has gotten so much better. The athletes are stronger, they have a higher volleyball IQ. Kids are learning things at seven or eight that I wasn't learning until I was 12."
Wells didn't come by volleyball first as an athlete. She didn't play club at an early age. Even so, she was a natural who stood out from day one, starting as a freshman.
"She was one of those girls I thought would play basketball until she gave volleyball a shot and now she's doing it for a living," former coach Amy Beckham said. "She came to camps early on and we knew that she was good. She knew the game. She had an understanding, a vision of the court, that you just can't teach. We had so many wonderful girls but we had very few who I could yell at and didn't shut down. Shannon was one of then, even as a 14-year old. She was tough enough to take it."
That toughness ran in the family with Bobbi, a single parent raising four kids, and Zac, a three-sport star at Merrillville who coached baseball and football for the Pirates before moving on to Homewood-Flossmoor.
"I hung out with him and his friends," Shannon said. "I wanted to be what he was. I've been around (sports) all my life. It's your extended family. I'm here because of all the coaches I've had, back to Amy. All those influences, it truly takes a village. I fell in love with the (coaching) profession. My other brother Jeremy coaches as well, Pop Warner and T-Ball, so when we get together, all we do is talk coaching."
Wells had stints at Southern Indiana, where she was inducted as a player into the school's hall of fame in 2013, Morehead State, Winthrop and Mississippi State before catching on with Mary Wise, the winningest female coach of all time, in Gainesville in 2014. She aspires to be a head coach at some point but would have to be knocked out by the offer in order to leave the Gators.
"I absolutely love my job," she said. "It would take something really special."
The rigors of the job keep Wells busy year-round so she doesn't get home too often. She usually makes it back around Christmas-time but didn't last year with the Gators' run to the national championship game. Several family members traveled to Kansas City to support her and the Gators.
"I was telling her in a text that a lot of her ex-teammates, my ex-players were all in group text, messaging throughout the game," Beckham said. "These are kids, women now, I hadn't heard from in years. It was fun catching up."
Beckham saw the camp as a chance to provide high-level tutelage for local players and coaches alike. Due to impending changes in NCAA rules that will limit colleges from traveling beyond 50 miles for camps, this will be a one-time deal.
To help keep camp costs down, Wells will be bunking during the visit at her brother's house, which will become the nerve center for the group of visiting coaches from Illinois, Wofford, Southern Indiana, IU Northwest and South Suburban.
"We want to promote it as a great opportunity for Northwest Indiana," Beckham said. "Not many coaches who have coached for a national championship have come up here. It's a great benefit for kids who want to get better, to get their name known in case they're good enough to play for one of these schools."
For more information or to register, visit www.merrillvillepirates.com.