Volleyball has been good to Ray and Stephanie Gooden.
The two met eight years ago at a volleyball camp in Ohio and later at a clinic where Ray, the coach at Northern Illinois, was the guest speaker. Stephanie was a coach at a high school in Ohio at the time.
The competitive couple weren’t fans of one another when they played against each other in the camp’s tournament, they both say with a laugh. But when they sat down together and talked, they both came around. Three years later, they were married.
They say careers as coaches have given their two kids, both younger than 5, chances to live cultured and interesting lives.
Last fall was a great time in their professional careers. DeKalb, coached by Stephanie, won the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference and Ray’s Huskies won the Mid-American Conference championship.
So yes, Stephanie and Ray are happy to have volleyball in their lives.
But lately, the sport has not been so kind.
In February, Stephanie decided to step down from her position as DeKalb’s coach because the schedule and pressure of running a top Class 4A program didn’t fit into her family life.
“I’m really going to miss those DeKalb kids,” Stephanie said. “That was probably one of the hardest things that I had to do professionally.”
That same week, it was announced that four of Ray’s players at NIU, including two-time MAC player of the year Lauren Wicinski, requested their release from the program.
Wicinski told Shaw Media “many little things that built up” led to her exit.
“I think people have their ideas as to what happened, and there’s always three sides to a story,” Ray said. “You wish people could do things through a full process. A lot of times things are rough in the beginning, but they work themselves out toward the end.”
Ray says he’s moved on, but he thinks Stephanie’s situation was especially tough.
He always knew that he was in a public position, but he found out that Stephanie’s job was even more public “because people in DeKalb really care about DeKalb High School,” he said.
And when you’re a public figure, there usually always are dissenters, especially when you have to decide which kids are more worthy of playing time than others.
Having one person in a household with that stress weighing on them is undoubtedly rough. Having two coaches in one marriage would be even more difficult.
“To have all of this kind of go down, it was pretty tough,” Ray said. “I felt really bad for her because she dealt with it, not so much at our house, but she dealt with it in the community. It was pretty difficult.”
Stephanie thought she wouldn’t coach at the high school or college level again.
But last week, her career took a positive turn when she accepted the head coaching position at Kishwaukee College in Malta.
The new position only requires her to be in charge of 10 to 12 athletes on one team, instead running the five teams she was responsible for at DeKalb. The job will require a similar amount of hours, she said, but those hours will be spread out across the year instead of being so concentrated in the fall.
“I knew that me coaching a four-year institution would not really work for our family, and I didn’t want to go anywhere else for a high school program,” Stephanie said. “It just happened at the right time, and I couldn’t be more excited.”
Volleyball has enriched Ray and Stephanie Gooden’s lives. It’s allowed them to follow their passions.
But coaching is a lifestyle. With any lifestyle, there are drawbacks and there are rough patches.
Both of them hit a bump in the road at the same time.
“Little by little, it gets a little brighter, and we’re moving forward,” Ray said. “You fall down and you get back up. We’ve had our rough patches, and we continue to work with each other to make sure that our house is stable.”
• Anthony Zilis is a contributor to the Daily Chronicle. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.