PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Roonie Scovel retired from coaching at Gulf Coast once already, but she came back in 2014.
She's the kind of person it's hard to imagine doing anything else.
That's why Wednesday's announcement that's she's retiring again—this time, for good—came as a surprise to many except her inner circle.
She'll finish out her 22nd season which continues at the Region VII state tournament next week in Niceville, then do what few greats do: leave at the top.
Scovel is a six-time national champion, winning titles in 2003, 2008, 2010, 2016, 2017, and 2019. Additionally, the Lady Commodores have won 12 state/region titles and 18 conference crowns under her watch, appearing in the NJCAA Tournament a dozen times.
Amassing a career record 644-90, a wins total which ranks 12th all-time at the junior college level, Scovel has achieved legendary status and accomplished everything she set out to do and far more.
"In the second grade, I probably have the letter somewhere, the little project that you want to do: I wanted to teach and coach and live at the beach," the coach recalled at the press conference. "I kind of accomplished that goal a long time ago. Then we just put some wins and some graduation rates and some completion rates, and being a part of the Gulf Coast family...that's the hardest part."
Mentor at Laurel Hill turned assistant and dear friend Grover Hicks is retiring along with Scovel. She says taking care of his health is a priority, as well as spending time with her family, her four dogs in Alabama, and domestic travel.
As she bows out to spend more time with family, old family advice gives her the strength to do so.
"That's been the hardest thing, the emotional. You go to bed at night saying 'I'm going to leave.' Then you wake up saying, 'I can do this another year.' So that emotional side, leaving the family more than anything is hard. My dad once told me, 'sometimes it takes more courage to leave that it does to stay' and I've had to think about that a lot. Those words have been in my mind a lot lately."
While the decision was ultimately a difficult one to make, it's also one that Scovel says she's content to make now, both on a personal level and because of the GCSC athletic department's upward trajectory.
"I keep saying every year 'this is it, this is going to be the last one.' I threaten the players, 'this is it, this is going to be the last one!' I've been saying it all year, but one was like, 'I've never believed it before but I think this time you're really going to do it.' So I know that on the first day of classes, that I do remember, telling Mike [Kandler, athletic director], 'you're going to have to hire a new coach when this year is over.'
"This is kind of some relief today. You put it out there and you're not taking it back because I've talked myself in and out of it for several months and now is just the time. There's a new energy at Gulf Coast. We have new coaches. There's a new environment here. I just think it's a great time to hand this baton off. I'll always be a part. I'll always be a phone call away."
A nationwide search will begin with the intent to name a replacement within a few months. Scovel's resignation takes effect on June 30. If asked, she will participate on the search committee and offer advice to the new coach.
Although Scovel's success has put Gulf Coast on the national athletic map, driven revenue, and resulted in countless benefits for the college, the administration was glowing Wednesday about her accomplishments beyond banners.
"I don't think anybody has been more effective in their chosen profession than she has for an unbelievable amount of years," athletic director and baseball coach Mike Kandler said. "On a personal matter, I would like to thank her for 15 years of being an unbelievable colleague to work with and truly a friend."
"Her players graduate on time," Gulf Coast State College president Dr. John Holdnak added. "Her players transfer to universities and get to play additionally for some great opportunities in life. She has taken people who have had some challenges in life and she has helped them believe in themselves. It's not everybody in their career who gets a chance to say, 'I've changed people's lives.'"
As sweet as her many victories may be, the impact on lives beyond Gulf Coast what Scovel is most proud of too.
"Pat Summit one time said, 'it's not about the championships, it's about the names and the faces and what they accomplished.' It's about the people. I'm proud of what the people have become, I'm proud of what they've accomplished, and just the people that they've become in life."
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