"Don’t be content with being average. Average is as close to the bottom as it is to the top."
This quote, from an unknown source, is written on the left-hand side of a dry erase board in a classroom at West Hall High and epitomized by the English teacher at the head of the classroom — volleyball coach Sharon Qualls.
Correction, former volleyball coach Sharon Qualls.
The creator of the West Hall volleyball program is retiring from coaching after seven years of being anything but average.
"I’m not getting any younger," Qualls said, "so it’s time for someone young and a little more energetic to come in and take over the program."
Qualls said that as an afterthought to the real reason she is hanging up her clipboard and whistle.
"It was mostly a family decision," she said. "I got married last May and I want an opportunity to spend more time with my family."
Qualls, who was known as Sharon Delp for much of coaching career, has also been called upon to help raise the academic standards at West Hall by helping to start an International Baccalaureate program at the school. The International Baccalaureate, or IB, is similar to the Advanced Placement Program, except it is recognized by colleges all over the world. According to Qualls, many colleges will automatically accept students who have gone through an IB program because of the intense curriculum in all subject areas.
"(Because of the IB program) I’m going to need more time to devote to the classroom," she said. "It’s difficult to maintain rigor in the classroom and coach at the same time, so with the new program coming in it’s just a good time for me to step down."
In her coaching tenure, the Atlanta native who graduated from North Clayton High, not only started the Lady Spartans’ volleyball program, but also led her teams to five 20-win seasons, five state tournaments, one region title and one state Final Four appearance. Qualls has also been named Region 7-AAA Coach of the Year four times.
"I think I demanded high standards for my program," Qualls said, "athletically, academically as well as personally and I tried to model that for the kids."
Qualls attributes her team’s successes to her scheduling — the Lady Spartans regularly played Class AAAA and Class AAAAA teams prior to beginning region and subregion play. She also noted that in four of the past five summers she has taken her team to the Harris Play Camp where they have scrimmaged against some of the best teams in the state.
"She was a very good coach," said West Hall senior volleyball player, and Qualls’ daughter, Whitney Delp. "She planned out good practices."
Delp went on to say that her coach knew what to say to get the team prepared and that anytime they were down she would, instead of ranting and raving in a huddle, look at her team and say, "I don’t have to say anything, you know what to do."
Qualls admitted that she is extremely competitive, but that she understood that there are different kinds of victories and that sometimes wins in life are even more important that a win on the court.
"I like to win; I mean, if you’re not going to be in it to win you don’t need to be in it," Qualls said. "But it’s also about being able to say the right things to (the team). Knowing when it’s time to pat them on the back and when it’s time to give them a good, swift kick in the rear. Knowing when you need to really discipline them and knowing when you need to pull them aside and give them a morale pep talk."
Qualls’ ability to decipher between competition and compassion was, according to her players, one of the more endearing qualities about the coach.
"(Coach Qualls) knew how to get on our level, but we respected her," said former player and 2003 West Hall graduate Whitney Chappell. "She talked to us without talking down to us."
"She always used to say, ‘It’s never wrong to take the high road,’ said 2005 West Hall graduate, former Times All-Area Player of the Year Rachel Ecke. "She’s definitely the best coach I’ve had."
"She prepared me for school and life better than any coach or teacher did or could have," said Chappell. "It’s going to be tough to fill her shoes."
Laurie Ecke, former assistant to Qualls, said, "She (Qualls) always let them know that she had tremendous expectations of their character both on and off the court."
"Coach (Qualls) would help me through things in high school," said Chappell. "She would tell me, ‘Maybe this decision wasn’t right, but I still support you.’"
Rachel Ecke also noted that her former coach’s penchant for encouragement is what led to her receiving a college scholarship to Brenau University, where she is a junior outside hitter for the Golden Tigers.
"She has been my mentor with volleyball and life," Ecke said. "She started me off with volleyball and never gave up on me even when I couldn’t serve it over the net."
Qualls said that she will miss the adrenaline rush of competition the most post-retirement, but will also miss the family-like atmosphere that comes with coaching.
"Volleyball is extremely exciting," she said. "There is nothing like being on the bench when your team is playing at its peak and operating like a well-oiled machine, but I will also miss the comraderie.
The former coach hopes that whomever steps in to fill her shoes will place a high value on integrity and sportsmanship.
"It’s about learning to lose and win graciously," Qualls said. "I hope we can continue to be a program that’s respected for that ... that’s important to me."