High School Sports

Obituary: Kapaun coach Alan Shepherd was a dean of City League soccer

Twenty years ago, Kapaun Mount Carmel soccer coach Alan Shepherd taught then-sophomore Jake Greer about doing things the right way.

It was a tough lesson that came after Greer was in a group that cut short a four-mile run during practice. These brutal runs usually came during preseason conditioning and two-a-day practices — or even after a loss.

“There were a few of us who cut it short a little bit. He knew very well that it had happened,” Greer said Saturday. “We had to do it over again. We only made that mistake one time.

“His values, that’s what I keep going back to. He always taught us to do things the right way.”

Mr. Shepherd, Kapaun’s longtime soccer coach, died Friday night after suffering a heart attack.

“He was a longtime mentor and just somebody that always pushed me personally to do things the right way and to do things better. He helped me become who I am today,” Greer said.

Mr. Shepherd, who was 61, is survived by his wife, Beth; son, Ian; and daughters Marissa Cribbs, Ashley, Hayley and Emily.

Mr. Shepherd spent 25 years as the Kapaun soccer coach and was the girls program’s only coach.

“He was a very nice guy, personable, but he was very dedicated to soccer,” Kapaun athletic director John Heise said. “He took soccer very seriously. He was very influential in the growth of soccer here in Wichita. He was very proud of being the soccer coach at Kapaun Mount Carmel.”

Heise informed the boys soccer players Saturday morning. Former Kapaun player Anthony Cantele will step in as the Crusaders’ coach.

The shock of Mr. Shepherd’s death swept through the soccer community.

“You couldn’t ask for a greater coach to coach against,” Carroll boys coach Mike Skaggs said. “He coached the game the right way.”

“He’s one of the founders of soccer in Wichita,” East soccer coach Dylan Gruntzel said. “He’s one of the reasons we have high school soccer.”

Mr. Shepherd and Northwest coach Bobby Bribiesca had a 30-year friendship. They played soccer for 15 years with the Wichita Wheathawks in the 1970s, ran their Goal for Goal soccer camps each summer and traveled each year to a national soccer clinic.

When Bribiesca got the call from Beth Shepherd on Friday night, he shouted, “Are you serious?”

“I’m still crying,” Bribiesca said.

He paused as he cried quietly.

“It’s just so hard,” Bribiesca said. “I just talked to him recently. We had a coaches meeting the other day. He looked good. He was excited about the season. He’s a real good friend of mine.

“You know, we could be best friends, but when we played against each other, we forgot we were friends and just competed.

“I’m going to miss him.”

Soccer was a part of Mr. Shepherd’s life dating back to his early years growing up in England. His father, Bill, played soccer, and Mr. Shepherd went looking for a club team as soon as the family moved to Kansas when he was 9.

Mr. Shepherd, who played soccer at Cloud County Community College, didn’t have a soccer team to play on in high school, so he played for a men’s club team with Bribesca.

Mr. Shepherd started his coaching career at Heights in 1983. He coached the East girls for one season and then took over the Kapaun boys and girls in 1990-91. He coached the Friends men’s program from 1986-1990, the Newman women from 2001-04 and the Friends women from 2005-2008.

Then he returned to coaching Kapaun’s boys.

While at Kapaun, the girls won 12 City League titles including 10 of 11 through 2014. They also won 15 regional titles and finished third in 5A three times.

And while coach of the Kapaun boys, the Crusaders won 14 regional titles and finished third in 2013.The boys won five City League titles and finished second in the league the last two seasons.

He accumulated a vast knowledge of soccer, and because of his passion for the game, he was eager to pass it on.

“I learned so much from just talking to him before games or tournaments or at coaches meetings,” Gruntzel said. “So much knowledge. Regardless if we were playing each other, he was willing to help with things about my team. He wanted to help me and my team get better.

“It was never just Kapaun soccer. It was the game of soccer.”

There’s no doubt that Mr. Shepherd and Bribiesca were deans of City League soccer. Yet there was never any sort of hierachy.

“He welcomed me in,” said Carroll girls coach Greg Rauch, who was hired in 2011. “He and Bobby B. I felt it right away. He’d say, ‘Glad to see you’re doing good things over there.’”

Mr. Shepherd was also quick to tease.

“He could get along with anyone in the room,” said Gruntzel, who was 25 when he was hired at East four years ago. “We went back and forth. I called him old, he called me a baby. We always had a laugh about it.”

Kelli Ragan played for Mr. Shepherd for four years and graduated in 2007. She played soccer at Florida Institute of Technology.

“He’s what I think of, in the Wichita area, the soccer coach of high school,” Ragan said. “When I think of high school soccer, I think of Coach Shep.

“He helped me to become the player that I was. He had a great impact. He was just good at helping us evolve into the players that we needed to be. He allowed us to do that.”

Greer was a senior in 1997 when Kapaun won the Class 5-1A title, Shepherd’s lone state championship.

“He definitely pushed us to give it everything we had, give everything on the field,” Greer said. “It was an amazing season.… He knew how to push everyone’s buttons to get the best out of each and every one of us.”

Mr. Shepherd appeared as a serious coach because during games he kept the same expression. He didn’t scream and yell, but there was an intense look on his face.

Yet he had a quick, easy smile, and his face crinkled with that smile.

“His smile could make you smile, too,” Ragan said. “When he made a joke, it was pretty fun.”

The Carroll boys open the season Sept. 3 against Kapaun, and Skaggs expects it to be highly emotional.

“He and Bobby B are fixtures in the City League,” Skaggs said. “It’s going to be.…”

Skaggs paused, overcome with emotion. He took a deep breath and continued.

“It’s going to be a tough game looking down that sideline and not seeing him there.”

Reach Joanna Chadwick at 316-268-6270 or jchadwick@wichitaeagle.com. Follow her on Twitter: @joannachadwick.

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