Retiring teacher, coach Vance leaves lasting legacy for girls’ sports at HNHS

Phyllis Vance, a retiring Huntington North High School teacher and former coach, stands by a display case of trophies won by the softball team, which she started in 1985.
Phyllis Vance, a retiring Huntington North High School teacher and former coach, stands by a display case of trophies won by the softball team, which she started in 1985. Photo by Steve Clark.

In the early days of the girls' track program at Huntington North High School, the most important exchanges didn't involve batons in relays, but uniforms between races.

A nonexistent budget coupled with a large squad necessitated the sharing of team-issued garb amongst its members, with girls at the end of one race swapping threads with girls who were at the start of another.

In addition to giving each other the shirts off their backs, the girls also served as each other's starting blocks in practice - again, due to the lack of funds.

"I had the girls sit down and they had to use their teammates' feet to push off when we would practice because we didn't have (blocks)," recalls Phyllis Vance, the retiring Huntington North teacher and former coach who once led the team.

Vance, though, would voice the team's needs to the administration, paving the way for better conditions going forward. Such was the role she played in athletics at the school, her arrival in 1977 coinciding with the nationwide acknowledgment of Title IX, the part of the Educational Amendments of 1972 that provided for, among other things, equality in athletics between males and females in public schools.

The effects of Title IX were first perceptible when Vance was in high school in the early 1970s. She notes her school formed a basketball team and was allowed to compete for state and also offered a volleyball team.

"I've been in a very fortunate position, because I was just on the cutting edge ... a lot of my friends never got that opportunity and I've gotten to not only participate at the beginning, but then also watch it grow as well," says Vance of her vantage point on history as it pertains to Title IX.

She was hired to coach track and basketball when she started at Huntington North, but expanded her duties beyond that. In the early '80s, she started the school's cross country program and transitioned to coaching cross country and track. Then, in 1985, she founded the school's softball team and turned her coaching attentions there.

As was the case with the track team, the early years of the softball program were not without their challenges. The team played on an old, fenceless baseball diamond at Riverview. Vance had to check the field conditions every day at noon and players were bused out to it after school.

And just as there was no shortage of girls for the track team - Vance coached a squad of 80 girls with only one assistant coach - she was similarly overwhelmed with softball.

"When I first started softball, the first day of practice, 110 kids on the upper deck of the gym," she remembers. "Just me, because they wouldn't give me any assistant coaches when we first started.

"And I had one team. No JV, so I had to cut it down to 18 girls."

Once again, she didn't hesitate to approach the administration and voice what the team could use in order to flourish.

"I said, ‘Gosh, for us to be competitive, we really need our own field,'" Vance says.

Today, the softball team has its own field, which Vance describes as "beautiful."

That the administration never turned a deaf ear to her requests, nor to girls' athletics, in general, is a reason they've thrived at Huntington North, remarks Vance.

"I appreciate the fact that my administrators listened to our needs and they were able to come through with those things that we needed for the girls," she says.

During Vance's time at the helm, from 1985 to 1997, the softball team won multiple sectional titles and produced two regional champions, starting a string of success that's carried over into current coach Paris Seibold's tenure, whose 2012 squad played for the state title.

When reflecting on how far girls' athletics have come at Huntington North, Vance also takes pride in the fact that the cross country and track teams are frequently competitive and that the girls' basketball program brought home two state championships, in 1990 and 1995.
While she's proud of having founded both the softball and cross country programs, Vance cites the accomplishments of her athletes as what brings her the most joy.

"To see them leave here, some go on to play college ball, some not, they were finished here ... they took their life lessons that they learned from sports and they've just become good, quality members of our community and it definitely warms my heart when they come back and they want to share with me," she muses.

Above all, Vance hopes that coaches who follow in her footsteps don't forget how far girls' athletics have come and that simply having teams is a victory.

Because after all, the track team she coached back in 1978 might have been short on both uniforms and starting blocks, but it wasn't short on heart. And the first sectional title won by any girls team at Huntington North, was won by it.

Complete caption: Phyllis Vance, a retiring Huntington North High School teacher and former coach, stands by a display case of trophies won by the softball team, which she started in 1985. Upon her arrival in 1977, Vance played a major role in the growth of girls’ athletics at the school.