By Shannon Johnson
This November the Baker Lady Spartan basketball team will kick off their season with a new head coach, Jay Shumaker. Coach Shumaker is a long-time Fallon County resident, having gone to high school in Plevna.
Shumaker graduated college in 1992 with a teaching degree after spending a lot of time trying to decide if he wanted to major in teaching or engineering. “I think I was probably leaning towards it [teaching] at different times,” he said. “I kept bouncing back and forth.” Shumaker student taught the last semester of his senior year and knew that he would love it. “I just had a great experience,” he added. “At that point I was almost four years into it, but that sold it.”
Shumaker has always had a love for sports, and during his senior year of high school he grew an interest in coaching while he was the manager for the girls’ basketball team when the coach allowed him to help with drills. “I never really considered it up until that point,” he explained. “Then you’d show somebody something and they’d pick up on it and you’d see them do it in a game and you’re like ‘hey, I helped her with that skill!’ So that was pretty neat.”
After graduating he returned to his Plevna roots and began his career. Along with teaching, he began coaching in the fall of 1992 as the assistant girls’ basketball coach for two years before becoming the head girls’ coach in 1994. Between the boys’ and the girls’ basketball teams, Shumaker coached eleven varsity seasons there.
Shumaker decided it was time for something new and moved to Billings with his new wife, Michelle. “I got burned out and overwhelmed. I was coaching three sports and it seemed like I was in charge of anything and everything at the school,” he admitted. “I just thought I needed a change.”
They lived in Billings for a year, where Shumaker worked in financial advising and investments. “I hated it completely. I missed being around the kids,” he continued. “Baker had an opening so back we came, and that was in 2002.”
In 2003 he became the head boys’ basketball coach. He coached the Baker Spartan basketball team for fifteen years before resigning. “2017 was my last boys’ season,” Shumaker said. “I did everything that I felt I was capable of with the program. I thought they needed new blood in here and new ideas.”
“It was a tough decision. I knew I’d miss it,” he added.
The next season there was an opening for the girls’ basketball team, coaching under Sheila O’Connor as the assistant coach. “If that girls’ assistant job wouldn’t have been there and I would have gone a year or two without being around basketball that would have been tough,” he said.
“I’ve always enjoyed working with the girls better. It was always a goal in my mind that if that job ever opened up, I would probably apply for it,” he commented. “They’re super coachable and super loyal and they always try to do exactly what you tell them to do. They do whatever they can. I’ve had some great boys that I’ve enjoyed coaching too.”
“I put a lot higher expectations on myself than I do on the kids or what other people do. I expect me to be able to figure out a way to win every game. Are we going to? Probably not, but that’s my thought,” he explained. “So yeah, there’s pressure on me, but I’m more excited than I am scared.”
“I’m thrilled. It’s a great bunch of girls coming back,” Shumaker smiled. “I’m thankful to the administration and the school board for allowing me to do it.”