Mrs. Ella Sheppard
Inducted January 1994
There is no doubt whatever that the existence of girls’ and women’s soccer in Georgia is a significant and direct result of Ella Sheppard’s leadership. Thousands upon thousands of girls and women have benefited because of her dedication and accomplishment. Ella led a long, determined, and successful effort to make it happen.
Ella’s involvement in youth soccer began in 1970 as a family affair with husband Ed and their two sons and two daughters at the Decatur DeKalb YMCA. Ella served as Commissioner for the league, husband Ed coached his sons’ team, and Ella’s daughters, as other girls in those days, played soccer on boys’ teams. After two years as Commissioner, Ella convinced the YMCA to organize a separate girls’ program of 12 teams. She served as Commissioner of the new girls’ program for 4 years and worked to overcome the second-class perception and treatment of the girls’ program. After these 6 years of leadership, Ella realized the compelling need for strengthening girls’ soccer and led the creation of the Phoenix Girls Soccer League. She served as its President for the next 9 years through 1985. The league regularly averaged 500 girls.
In 1976 Ella found that there were adult women, and 19-year old girls “graduating” from youth soccer, who wanted to continue in soccer on a regular basis. In response, Ella organized a 5-team Phoenix Adult Women’s Soccer League and was its Commissioner from 1976 until 1985. The next year the league grew large enough to require separate age-group divisions.
In 1979 a high school classmate of Ella’s daughter, playing on her high school’s boy’s soccer team was seriously injured. This convinced Ella to pursue equal emphasis and opportunity for girls in high school soccer. Her daughter’s school principal said there was “nothing he could do”; DeKalb Count School officials insisted that there was: “no budget, too many high school sports already, and really no interest among female high school students.” To prove the need, Ella organized and served as Commissioner of a 17-team Georgia High School Female Club Soccer League, with 12 teams in DeKalb County, and 5 in other counties.
In the next year the league included every high school in DeKalb County, with more from other counties. In these 2 years Ella continually lobbied school board meetings for a separate girls’ high school soccer program. In 1980 Federal Title IX Legislation called for Equal Opportunity in school programs. Ella and husband Ed entered an “EO” complaint and a class action suit in Federal court. DeKalb County promptly agreed to organize girls’ soccer teams but did not provide an end-of-season championship. Ella, husband Ed and other parents joined in another court suit and DeKalb County agreed to an annual championship.
In 1985, after insuring a bright future for girls and women’s soccer in Georgia, Ella relinquished her leadership role and retired form active participation.