Anyone who has been in sports for any length of time wants to be able to go out on their terms.
Ashland University head softball coach Sheilah Gulas is doing just that.
Gulas, also AU's Assistant Athletic Director/Senior Women's Administrator, announced her retirement on Friday (Feb. 3) morning, effective at the end of the 2017 softball season. That will be at the end of her 21st season leading the Eagles, and the end of a 31-year head softball coaching career at the collegiate level.
"I just knew that when I was ready to start slowing down, that it would be time to go," Gulas said. "I've given my heart and soul to this program at Ashland for over 20 years, and as a career over 30 years.
"I'm very comfortable now walking away and letting someone else take charge."
"There is no way to adequately summarize Sheilah's career in a couple of sentences or several paragraphs," said Al King, Ashland Director of Athletics. "For over 20 years, Sheilah has embodied everything we've talked about in Athletics – Accent on the Individual and molding student-athletes into successful citizens. The young women who have come through this softball program have enjoyed success on the field, in the classroom and in the community, and that's due in large part because they've had an exceptional role model as their coach."
Gulas enters the 2017 season needing just one win for 900 in her career (899-464-1, .659), and seven wins for 700 victories at Ashland (693-342-1, .669). She is 47th all-time in NCAA history at all levels in coaching wins.
Prior to coming to Ashland, Gulas was the head coach at both Wittenberg (1991-96) and Allegheny (1987-90).
At Ashland, Gulas has gone 20-for-20 in the way of winning seasons, while coaching six AU Hall of Famers, making 12 NCAA Division II postseason appearances and winning five Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships. She has been named GLIAC Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009 and 2010).
In Gulas' second season at Ashland (1998), she led the Eagles to a school-record 53 wins (53-6) and a season-ending ranking of No. 3 in the country. Ashland has won 40 or more games five times under Gulas' tutelage.
"Sheilah built this softball program into one of the elite programs in the country," King said. "Insiders in NCAA Division II softball knew that each year Ashland was going to be one of the top teams in the conference and region, and could contend for national honors. It's not easy to have a program like that and maintain that level of success as a small school in the Midwest. That takes a tremendous amount of work – it's a 12-month job and a lot of time away from family and home.
"We owe her a large thank you for the way she's represented this university. She's been a loyal employee who has unselfishly dedicated herself to making those around her better. We are all better off for knowing her and working with her."
Gulas was announced as Ashland's head softball coach on Nov. 5, 1996. Asked if she thought then that she would be at Ashland for two decades, Gulas said, "Absolutely not. And probably about midway through the 20 years, there was a point where I was thinking about walking away. When (my husband) George retired, I was like, 'You know what, I think I could go, too. And he kept saying, 'You're too young, you're too young.' So I kept plugging away."
Gulas added the responsibilities of both Assistant Athletic Director and Senior Women's Administrator at Ashland in the summer of 2015.
"For the last two years, Sheilah has also served as our Senior Women's Administrator," King said. "For years, she's been a leading figure nationally in softball. That same well-respected voice has helped our teams and student-athletes in the SWA role. She brought the same passion and energy to that position she did to her coaching. I can't thank her enough for what she's done administratively over the last two years."
In December 2016, Gulas was announced as a member of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's (NFCA) 2017 Hall of Fame class. She and the rest of the class will be inducted at the 2017 NFCA Convention in Las Vegas, Nev., on Dec. 8.
"Look at the players Sheilah has recruited and coached," said King. "Look at her former players who have gone into coaching. Ashland isn't the only organization that is indebted to Sheilah. College softball is, too. There's a reason she's going into the Hall of Fame this year."
Looking ahead to her final season leading Ashland, Gulas said, "I'm looking forward to seeing this young team get out there and improve every single day. I'm enjoying practices, I'm loving working with the team. Many of the other coaching obstacles, I'm not so concerned about. I just want to see them grow the best that they can. It's all about being in the present moment, and I just want to enjoy every moment I have with this team."
Ashland's final regular-season game is scheduled for April 28 at Brookside Park. The 2017 GLIAC Tournament is May 5-7, then there are potential NCAA postseason games. The date of Gulas' final game in the dugout is yet to be determined, but when that happens…
"It's always hard," she said. "It's hard every year, because you look at those kids and you look at those seniors and you see the look in their eyes. There's always that last game. You just have to look at the team, look at the people, and I look to the future. Ashland is a special place, and all the current and former people in the program will hold a special place in my heart."
Following that last game, Gulas is looking forward to spending more time with family, and all the added freedom that retirement brings.
"I'm excited to just not have a schedule," she said, "to look at the day and not have somewhere that I have to be. There are a lot of places and special people that we want to spend time with. I think the most important part now is to cherish the moments, and live day to day. See what the next day brings, and that includes this season and making it the best that we can."