Two names hold the significance of royalty in Delaware County.
The first is Ball. As the namesake of the local university and the name of the family who brought jobs to Muncie in the early 20th century, the Balls have given Delaware County’s biggest city a comfortable spot on any United States map.
The second name has a different long-lasting effect in a state that embraces a rich basketball history. They created a new tradition on the same hardwood floor courts that were meant for a ball and a hoop.
Don Shondell never intended to transform the game of volleyball; in fact, he never meant to have any involvement in athletics until one incident changed it all. A factory accident while working in Fort Wayne, Indiana, paved the way for Don and his three sons, Steve, Dave and John, as pioneers of volleyball not just in Muncie, but in the United States. The accomplishments of Don and his three sons have cemented their family name in the legend and lore of Muncie and American volleyball.
After graduating from high school in Fort Wayne, Don Shondell looked for work wherever he could find it. While making pies in the local bakery for 70 cents an hour, he heard of a more appealing job with General Electric, paying $1.22 an hour cutting granite.
He said he believed General Electric would be where he would spend his life working. The factory had a history of helping individuals climb the corporate ladder year after year, and Shondell planned to be a part of that cycle. However, after an accident inside the walls of the factory, Shondell’s perspective changed forever.
“One of my friends got transferred up, and about a week later, he got three of his fingers cut off,” Don Shondell said. “He was doing manual work around dangerous machines while we were just putting stuff into boxes and putting them onto conveyor belts. As soon as I saw my friend get his fingers cut off, I said, ‘That’s it. I’m out of here.’
“I had a friend I played sports with at church [who went to] Ball State who was trying to get me to come down. After that accident, I decided to go to school at Ball State.”
“I had a friend I played sports with at church [who went to] Ball State who was trying to get me to come down. After that accident, I decided to go to school at Ball State.”
- Don Shondell
With tuition costs around $100, Shondell made the trip an hour south to Muncie. After a month at school, Shondell’s roommate asked him if he wanted to get involved with the volleyball club that had started. Shondell hadn’t even heard of the game. He had experience in basketball and softball but never volleyball; yet, he decided to try.
Three years later, with a little help from some players at the local YMCA, Shondell was a strong setter for the club. Even off the court, Shondell maintained an athletic mindset in becoming a founding member of the fraternity Theta Chi as the athletic director. His years as a student at Ball State gave him the experience, but there was more he wanted to do in growing the game.
After graduating from Ball State in 1952, Shondell joined the military, assigned to Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. While dedicating years of his life to the red, white and blue, Shondell got his chance to coach and build volleyball at his army base in the Ozarks.
“We had a residential volleyball tournament, and no one knew how to play volleyball,” Shondell said. “The first two weeks, we spent setting the ball, bumping the ball, handling the ball and so forth. We made it to the finals of the tournament where we faced off against officers who had played for years, and we lost.”
After that first tournament, Shondell continued to coach and play with his team, and he eventually picked up on how to find the best players. Former basketball players from the likes of Kansas and DePaul helped guide Shondell’s team to an undefeated finish and a championship in the residential tournament.
Returning to Indiana after his time in the service, Shondell moved to Brook, Indiana, with his wife, teaching fifth grade and coaching basketball. It was at that time he was approached by former Ball State Athletic Director Bob McCall about applying to the job as intramural director. After arriving in Muncie for a job interview, then Ball State President John Emens didn’t beat around the bush.
“I started explaining my background and how I felt pretty qualified,” Shondell said. “[Emens] said, ‘Don't waste your time. Bob wants you to have the job. Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘It would be a real treasure to work at Ball State. That's my dream job.’ He said, ‘OK, you got it.’”
“I started explaining my background and how I felt pretty qualified. [Emens] said, ‘Don't waste your time. Bob wants you to have the job. Do you want the job?’ I said, ‘It would be a real treasure to work at Ball State. That's my dream job.’ He said, ‘OK, you got it.’”
- Don Shondell
McCall pushed Shondell to interview for the job for a reason: He wanted him to restart the Ball State Men’s Volleyball program. It folded a few years after Shondell graduated in 1952. Shondell agreed to help bring the program back but only if he met three personal goals: to show how great of a sport volleyball was, have Ball State become a varsity team and have the NCAA start a men’s tournament.
From the start, Shondell worked to get a college league organized. After talking with coaches at nearby Wittenberg University in Ohio and Michigan State, the three universities created an eight-team league that played its first tournament in East Lansing, Michigan. The name of the league became the Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association, otherwise known as MIVA.
After creating a volleyball presence at Ball State, Shondell’s next step was to spread awareness of the game outside Muncie. Shondell and his team traveled to a fair in Indianapolis where they hosted a clinic to show off the game. These clinics took the team everywhere from Detroit to Pittsburgh. Slowly, Shondell said, he saw more people become interested and involved in the game.
Shondell said his final goal, to create an NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament, was more paperwork than anything else. Eventually, in 1970, UCLA hosted the first NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament. While Shondell’s efforts proved successful, his team was still young, and the West Coast school was a powerhouse, and it still is.
“UCLA was just a more successful team, and we had gone and gotten our pants beat off,” Shondell said. “They had all those beach players. UCLA and Santa Barbra were just the strongest schools on the West Coast.”
Ball State eventually got the honors of hosting the tournament in 1972, facing the top teams in the nation in what is now the Jo Ann Gora Recreational Center. While the Cardinals lost the tournament, Shondell built something from the ground up. The seeds had been planted. The tree was growing. The only thing left was to strengthen the roots.
After being hired as the intramural director at Ball State and establishing a men’s volleyball program at the school, Don Shondell’s next step was to educate those around him and get them excited about a sport many people didn’t know about.
To spread the word about men’s volleyball, Shondell took his players to various schools in the area to play exhibition games, where his team played a game as Shondell explained it.
“I saw the way the game was being mistreated, and I felt like volleyball should be a respected sport,” Shondell said. “That’s why we did these demonstrations, and we had a great time doing it. We went to places like Winchester, Indiana, for example, and showed how volleyball is an athletic sport.”
While Shondell and the Cardinals continued to spread the game, Shondell still struggled to get men’s volleyball registered as a varsity sport. Shondell said he mainly received pushback from former Athletic Director Robert Primmer, who served Ball State from 1958-70, and former head of Division of Physical Education and Athletics Robert McCall.
“Bob Primmer thought volleyball was a hit and giggle sport,” Don said. “He fought me in any way that he could.”
“Bob Primmer thought volleyball was a hit and giggle sport. He fought me in any way that he could.”
- Don Shondell
When the vote came in 1964, Primmer brought forward a committee he believed would not instate volleyball as a varsity sport. Shondell said up until that time a committee had never been created or used to decide if a sport should receive varsity status or not.
However, Shondell had close connections with those who were voting — a local volleyball player of his, one of his top students and the volleyball coaches from Burris. After Shondell spoke to the committee about volleyball as a sport, the committee, knowing his audience, decided to instate men’s volleyball a varsity sport at the university. From what Shondell remembers, Primmer didn’t take fondly to the decision.
33 Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball regular season and tournament championships
Six NCAA Final Four Appearances
Six-time MIVA coach of the year
“They put on a big board, that was unmoveable, that the volleyball teams had received varsity status,” Don said. “Bob punched his fist right through that board. He was so mad.”
With an official program now established, Shondell said he moved his efforts to focus on recruitment. Because men’s volleyball wasn’t as popular in the late ’60s, Shondell looked wherever he could to get people for his squad. He said some of the best players he recruited were basketball players who were either cut or didn’t get a lot of playing time.
“The story of our program, in the earliest phase, is coach finding these players on campus,” current Ball State Men’s Volleyball head coach and former player Joel Walton said. “He was finding them in other places, getting them to campus and teaching them how to play the game. Some of those guys, with the athleticism they had, were just remarkable.”
“The story of our program, in the earliest phase, is coach finding these players on campus. He was finding them in other places, getting them to campus and teaching them how to play the game. Some of those guys, with the athleticism they had, were just remarkable.”
- Joel Walton
Shondell held a passion for the game many previous players said was infectious to those on and off the court. After moving from Lincoln, Nebraska, to Indianapolis fresh out of high school, Walton came to Muncie to watch a Ball State game and noticed how much fun the team had. After rejecting an offer to play college volleyball at Graceland College in Iowa, Walton knew he wanted to be a Cardinal.
“I just wanted to do something else, and I dreamed of playing Division I volleyball,” Walton said. “Going up to Ball State and seeing them play, I was really impressed with their team, and it looked like they were having a good time. I saw myself in that environment, and I was excited to become a part of it.”
Part of that passion and having fun was the vibe of knowledge and competition Shondell presented. As a coach, Shondell made a point not to scream or yell but held a calm demeanor.
“He comes across as very calm and a man with a lot of experience who is very down to earth,” Walton said. “He wasn't a yeller or screamer, but once you got to know Don, you knew that there was a competitive spirit burning inside of him. I, for sure, came across that competitive spirit when we weren't playing well as a team on the volleyball court.”
In Shondell’s 19 seasons with the Cardinals, Ball State went 447-98-6, picking up 11 Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association titles along the way. His coaching didn’t go unnoticed, as he picked up six MIVA Coach of the Year acclimations. Shondell also led Ball State to 15 NCAA Tournament Final Four appearances. The Cardinals finished in third place eight times, and the championship was hosted four times in Ball State’s Irving Gymnasium.
“It was a men's program that I grew up with, and, of course, Dad helped lead the team to 15 Final Fours,” said Steve Shondell, Don Shondell’s oldest son. “That was always special to be able to be a part of that. I've just been very, very fortunate that I learned the game at a young age, and it was really interesting.”
“It was a men's program that I grew up with, and, of course, Dad helped lead the team to 15 Final Fours. That was always special to be able to be a part of that. I've just been very, very fortunate that I learned the game at a young age, and it was really interesting.”
- Steve Shondell
Despite the success, the program had continuous problems staying afloat financially. It wasn’t uncommon for the team not to have enough scholarships or enough travel money. The athletic department also continued to challenge Shondell about keeping men’s volleyball as a varsity sport.
Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Shondell had to present to the board, again, why Ball State should keep the men’s volleyball team. Even after Shondell left the program as head coach, Ball State Athletics continued to threaten Walton with the elimination of scholarships and thousands of dollars in budget cuts to the team. In 2000, former Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham told Walton men’s volleyball was going to be one of six teams cut. However, as he did back in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, Shondell fought for his team to stay.
“I was told, ‘Your sport is going,’” Walton said. “Fortunately, Don rallied the alumni, and they wrote letter after letter. People who came from across the United States wrote letters to Ball State saying, ‘You can’t do this. This program has so much history and means so much to so many people.’ The program was saved.”
In 2004, the program lost $10,000 from its budget. Walton said it costs the program around $60,000 to function. Even before Ball State made the budget cuts, the team was fundraising its own money to stay above water.
“We did a golf outing, and we did coaching clinics to fundraise money for the program,” Walton said. “Having so many of our guys that were nationally-known coaches with reputations holding a coaches clinic became a big fundraiser for us. I think that alone raised about $10,000 a year because our alumni were willing to come back, and Don was, at that time, very helpful in organizing and helping run that coaches clinic.”
From the early beginnings to present day, it hasn’t been easy to keep the Ball State Men’s Volleyball program going. However, Shondell has fought for this program like it was one of his own children. Even now, at 91 years old, he can still be seen sitting behind the scoreboard at Worthen Arena. No matter how young or how old, he said, he’s supporting his team any way he can.
From fighting athletic directors, to keep the program alive, to having an entire training facility named after him in 2018, Shondell’s passion for Ball State Volleyball has burned endlessly.
From the age of 5, Steve Shondell remembers being on the courts with his father, Don Shondell. Most of the time, Steve Shondell would hang around practice after school, doing small things to help out while his dad coached the Cardinals.
“I was kind of a huge part of the program because my dad took me to practices, and I swept the chalk off the floor after gymnastics practice,” Shondell said. “Ball Gym was the only gym on campus, so we had basketball, gymnastics and then volleyball come through there. I’ll tell you what, that floor was white with chalk and slicker than a cat’s rear end.
“My job was to clean that floor off, and after practice, they would stuff me in a locker just for fun. It was just a great experience growing up.”
Shondell lived and breathed Ball State volleyball. Eventually, he found his way onto the roster. He rode alongside his father for four seasons, winning three Midwest Intercollegiate Volleyball Association (MIVA) titles, finishing third in the 1974 NCAA Men’s Volleyball Tournament and being named Ball State’s co-most valuable player in 1977.
However, similar to his father, it wasn’t his time as a player that made Shondell a part of the legend and lore of volleyball in Delaware County. It’s what he has done off that court as a coach that has given him the title of winningest high school volleyball coach in Indiana and put a little public school in Muncie on the map.
After graduating from Ball State in 1977, Shondell was set on taking a physical education job at New Castle High School. That was until he was approached by Burris Laboratory School’s girls’ athletic director about continuing as Burris’ girls’ volleyball coach. In his last semester of college, Shondell received special permission from his father to step in as the interim coach after the head coach left in the middle of the season.
“That athletic director went to the principal and demanded that a position be made for me after I graduated,” Shondell said. “I didn’t have a class to teach until 10 a.m., and I was done at 1 p.m., teaching four or five P.E. classes. I ended up staying for 34 years, and in a little school of 200 students, we became the most successful high school program in the country.”
Shondell’s run at Burris was unmatched. In his time at the school, the Owls won a record 21 IHSAA Volleyball State Championships from 1982-2010, including 13 straight from 1997-2010. The Owls were the best team in the country four separate times throughout the ’90s and early 2000s and finished seven seasons undefeated.
Similar to his father, Shondell hadn’t lost more than 100 games at Burris, going 1,183-95 in his first tenure with the Owls. He said the key to turning a small school into a volleyball powerhouse is familiarity in coaching and relationships. To increase that sense of familiarity in coaching, Shondell pushed his players to become a part of Munciana.
The Munciana program, created by Shondell in 1974, started out as a junior program for volleyball players to participate outside of school-sanctioned programs. The first group, made up of 12 players from Northside High School, took seventh in nationals. From there, Shondell’s program, with support from his father and brothers, began to snowball into one of the most successful junior volleyball programs in the country.
Seeing the Munciana program take off through the success of the Northside players who were part of it, Shondell knew his team at Burris needed to join as well to be successful.
“Once my girls started playing Munciana, finally after five seasons, we won our sectional and made it to the Final Four in State for the first time,” Shondell said. “We had finally broken through the stranglehold Muncie Northside High School had on us because they had Munciana players those first four to five years. After I started getting the Burris players to play at Munciana, it just snowballed from there.”
“After I started getting the Burris players to play at Munciana, it just snowballed from there.”
- Steve Shondell
A lesson Shondell learned from his father in coaching is to enjoy the game and stay positive. Success within the squad can be broken down into having good chemistry.
“I try to do my best to be a positive coach, to make my players believe in themselves [and] play with confidence because playing with confidence is so important,” Shondell said. “You have to believe in your players. If your players don't think they believe in you, they'll never become all they can be.”
Along with Shondell, current Ball State Men’s Volleyball coach Joel Walton was also part of the powerhouse that was Burris. Walton said Shondell’s lighthearted attitude gave him the chance to succeed and prove himself at a strong Burris program.
21 IHSAA Volleyball State Titles, the winningest coach in IHSAA history
Four National Championships with Burris
Two Mid-American Conference Championships
Two NCAA Tournament Bids
“Steve gave me this girl one day in practice and said, ‘Joel, I want you to go and work with her on her passing,’” Walton said. “I go, and I'm giving this girl some passing repetitions. I'm looking at what I see as really great passing technique — good feet, good platform, nice and stable. I'm wondering how in the world does Steve expect me to improve what this girl is doing?
“That was kind of the magic of Steve. He's so good at enlisting people to be a part of his organization, making them feel like they're valued. Giving them responsibilities, maybe beyond even what they're comfortable with, but seeing that they're going to be able to handle those responsibilities just fine.”
“That was kind of the magic of Steve. He's so good at enlisting people to be a part of his organization, making them feel like they're valued. Giving them responsibilities, maybe beyond even what they're comfortable with, but seeing in them and ability that they're going to be able to handle those responsibilities just fine.”
- Joel Walton
After finding decades of success, then-Ball State Athletic Director Tom Collins approached Shondell about coaching Ball State’s women’s team. Prior to Shondell’s arrival at Ball State, the team was 65-90 from 2005-09 and coming off a 15-win season. In his first year taking over the program, Shondell guided the Cardinals to a 24-5 finish.
“Tom Collins just wanted me to try to turn it around and put a couple more banners in Worthen Arena, of which we did,” Shondell said. “The first year, we actually won the conference championship after being picked to finish dead last. We were 14-2-1.”
In his time with the Cardinals, Shondell amassed a 199-68 record, bringing in a Mid-American Conference Regular Season Championship in 2010 and an NCAA Women’s Volleyball Tournament appearance in 2011 off of a 24-7 finish. He finished with a record of 119-68 with the Cardinals.
Shondell brought the same lighthearted approach, which helped him transfer success from Burris to Ball State, and current Ball State Women’s Volleyball head coach Kelli Miller Phillips noticed. Before stepping into the head coaching position, she spent time as an assistant coach under Shondell.
Miller Phillips, who was brought up through the intense style of Shondell’s brother, Dave Shondell, at Muncie Central and Purdue, learned how to balance her coaching style with techniques she learned from the two brothers.
“They are similar in that their philosophy is the same that we teach volleyball, we teach competing culture and gym environment is really, really important,” Miller Phillips said. “Steve is very, very soft-spoken, not going to raise his voice. He is going to inspire you through confidence building and positive thoughts. He’s very, very patient when helping you to get through it.
“They are similar in that their philosophy is the same that we teach volleyball, we teach competing culture and gym environment is really, really important. Steve is very, very soft-spoken, not going to raise his voice. He is going to inspire you through confidence building and positive thoughts. He’s very, very patient when helping you to get through it.
- Miller Phillips
“My natural instinct is a little bit more similar to Steve's patience. I think [he has] a really good balance, and it helped me learn a ton about how you can approach things in completely different ways and still have success.”
Steve Shondell left Ball State in 2016, handing the program over to Miller Phillips. However, he was not out of the game for long. In 2019, Shondell returned to Burris as head coach for the first time in nine seasons. The Owls went 26-7, eventually losing in the sectional championship to host Bellmont High School.
Now 67 years old, Shondell has dealt with some roadblocks in his return to coaching. He has to deal with Spasmodic Torticollis, a rare neck disorder in which neck muscles contract sporadically. However, that hasn’t hindered the passion he’s had since age 5.
“You make money coaching college volleyball; in high school, you don't,” Shondell said, “High school coaches have to do it for the love of the sport, love of the team and so forth. That's basically what I'm doing.”
While Steve Shondell’s earliest memories of the game of volleyball originate on the floor, his brother Dave Shondell’s memories come from riding in a green limousine. For years, Shondell and his brother rode to away games in a stretch limousine to watch their dad, Don Shondell, coach all over the Midwest.
“Because Steve and I weren’t that big, we were able to fit into those places and not cause too much disruption,” Dave Shondell said. “I can still remember going to places like St. John Arena at Ohio State. There weren't a lot of college teams. We’d go to the Dayton YMCA or the Fort Wayne YMCA and watch the team play. I can still remember those trips pretty clearly.”
Shondell grew up playing the game like his brother. He played in tournaments throughout middle school and high school, winning the state tournament with Muncie Northside High School.
Eventually, Shondell also moved on to play for his dad at Ball State. However, Shondell’s career was different from his brother’s. He wasn’t a standout or the star player. He had to work for the top spot, and it wasn’t easy.
“When I was there, we had several other setters on the roster who were all three equal, and my dad made it pretty clear that I was going to have to be clearly better than them to play,” Shondell said. “Because of the talent of those other players and because of back-to-back third degree ankle sprains that I had as a sophomore and junior, my career never really came to fruition the way that I had hoped.”
With a complicated college career on and off the court, dealing with injuries and getting married at 21, Shondell focused on things outside of volleyball. However, the sense of competitiveness, handed down by his father, was still in everything he did. He saw the success his dad and brother had, and Shondell knew he wanted to match it, so he took a job as head coach at Daleville High School in Daleville, Indiana, out of college.
“It was really beneficial to have the success of my dad and brother driving me,” Shondell said. “Steve and my dad, but mostly Steve, were having a lot of success, and at a similar moment, I took the job at Daleville High School out of college. I wanted to make that program special. I wanted to be successful and prove what we could do.”
“It was really beneficial to have the success of my dad and brother driving me. Steve and my dad, but mostly Steve, were having a lot of success, and at a similar moment, I took the job at Daleville High School out of college. I wanted to make that program special. I wanted to be successful and prove what we could do.”
- Dave Shondell
Before starting as a coach, Shondell took advice from his family — Steve Shondell allowed him to watch how he ran the Burris program, and Don Shondell told him to be a genuine educator in the position.
Right off the bat, Dave Shondell made an impact at the little school 20 minutes southwest of Ball State. From 1981-88, Shondell amassed a record of 167-63 with the Broncos and put them in the top five rankings for the first time in school history. It was a complete turnaround from what the program was before he stepped in.
“The most matches I think they'd ever won was six before I came in,” Shondell said. “I was able to come in at a time when they had what I thought were some pretty good athletes, and our first year, we went 12-6. From there, we got the ball rolling. Before we knew it, we were breaking into the top five rankings in a single class system. We actually knocked off the No. 1 ranking school in the country that year. That would have been Steve’s team, Muncie Burris.”
That win over Burris and Steve Shondell felt like the road to victory was complete for Dave Shondell and his Daleville squad. He remembers sitting at a team bonfire and getting the sense that all of his work was paying off. They had knocked off the kingpin of Indiana high school volleyball, but Steve Shondell and his Owls weren’t going away anytime soon.
Four IHSAA Volleyball State Titles with Muncie Central
14 NCAA Tournament appearances with Purdue
Two NCAA Tournament Elite 8 appearances
2011 Big 10 Coach of the Year
The competition between the two brothers burned even hotter when Dave Shondell accepted a job at Muncie Central, 1.7 miles away from Burris. The two swapped No. 1 and No. 2 year after year, set to play each other in the state playoffs. One match saw the two brothers face off in front of 5,000 fans at Muncie Fieldhouse. Unfortunately, their rivalry had consequences.
“We were very competitive in our relationships at times,” Shondell said. “Even though we are a very, very tight family and love each other tremendously ... I think the worst of it was when Steve was at Burris, and I was at Muncie Central, and we were several times No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the state.
“We were very competitive in our relationships at times. Even though we are a very, very tight family and love each other tremendously ... I think the worst of it was when Steve was at Burris, and I was at Muncie Central, and we were several times No. 1 and No. 2 ranked teams in the state.
- Dave Shondell
“When your brother, who's the most successful coach in the history of Indiana high school sports, is your measuring stick, and you can get close to that, that's a good thing. Those are all great stories that we can look back on, but at the time, it certainly created some animosity over Thanksgiving dinner.”
Shondell had tremendous success at “that school on the other side of the river,” as Steve Shondell called it. Central took home the state titles in 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2003.
One player who was part of that run was current Ball State Women’s Volleyball head coach Kelli Miller Phillips. Winning the state title in 2003 was just a part of her long history playing for Dave Shondell. She started playing for him at Munciana at 12 years old. She also played for him at Northside Middle School and at Central for two years.
“Dave made you feel like, you know, you're a part of something bigger than yourself,” Miller Phillips said. “You’re part of this tradition at Muncie Central, this whole Delaware County environment of great volleyball. I think it just really inspired everyone to just want to be better than the year before. That's tough because we had really good teams the year before, but it was just really special to play at that time.”
“Dave made you feel like, you know, you're a part of something bigger than yourself. You’re part of this tradition at Muncie Central, this whole Delaware County environment of great volleyball. I think it just really inspired everyone to just want to be better than the year before. That's tough because we had really good teams the year before, but it was just really special to play at that time.”
- Miller Phillips
In 2003, Shondell went out for the head coaching job at Purdue and was named the new head coach of the Boilermakers. Alongside his brother John Shondell, who had a successful career at New Castle before joining the Purdue team as an assistant, the two created a winning culture in West Lafayette. With the Boilermakers finishing at 3-37 prior to the Shondell brothers’ arrival. In the last 16 seasons, they have clinched 14 NCAA Tournament berths along with two Elite Eight appearances.
In a similar fashion to Daleville, Dave Shondell’s push to build a successful program has made the Boilermakers a Big 10 powerhouse.
“Getting invested in what you're doing and then finding a way to get more and more people invested in the same purpose is key into growing a program,” Shondell said. “Whether it was at Daleville, or Central, or Purdue, or for Steve at Burris, or for John at New Castle, Indiana, or for my dad at Ball State — it’s about having that vision, and that drive, and daily purpose and what you're doing every day you wake up.”
That sense of drive and doing more every day is what brought Shondell to the place he is today. His competitiveness in every aspect of his life is what has pushed him and what has pushed others like Miller Phillips, who followed him to Purdue after high school.
“Dave had a vision, and he would talk about it all the time,” Miller Phillips said. “We would know what we needed to do to get to the Final Four at the start of the year. We would have that vision in mind. He just has a way of motivating and keeping your vision on the big picture. You could just tell. I knew him, so it wasn't that I even had a worry about that. I just knew he was a competitor, and he was going to go fight and call to make Purdue back on the map.”
The age gap between John Shondell and his two older brothers, Steve and Dave Shondell, is pretty large. When he was a toddler, John Shondell would hang around his brothers’ high school practices. By the time he was 10, Shondell was already watching his brothers compete alongside his father, Don Shondell, at Ball Gymnasium.
“They were a great bunch of guys to be around, and with my brothers on the team, it really gave me more of a valued interest into what was going on,” John Shondell said. “When they would play, they would live and die on every point. It always meant a lot to me, and it was great being around that.”
As there was a sizable age gap, Shondell was very much a part of the success of his dad and brother’s coaching. Shondell was a product of the Munciana program, created by Steve Shondell in the early ’70s as a junior volleyball developmental program. In his time with Munciana, John Shondell was named the National Most Valuable Player in 1982, 1984 and 1986.
296-87 record at New Castle
1982, 1984, 1986 National Most Valuable Player with Munciana
14 NCAA Tournament appearances with Purdue
Two NCAA Tournament Elite 8 appearances
Following in the footsteps of Steve and Dave Shondell, John Shondell came to Ball State and played for his father's team. During his time at Ball State, he quickly became a part of the success in Ball State’s program, playing as a setter in the 1989 NCAA Tournament Final Four in Los Angeles.
John Shondell went through Ball State’s program and took a coaching job out of college, but he didn’t find instant success like his brothers had. Shondell spent a year at Delta High School, where his team finished with a 31-4 record, and he earned White River Conference Coach of the Year honors. He also spent time as an assistant coach with Steve Shondell at Burris Laboratory School, but John Shondell eventually moved out of Delaware County. He traveled 45 minutes south of Muncie to New Castle, a school in need of a spark.
“[The New Castle program] was a building process,” Shondell said. “My second year, I think we broke the top 25, and in my third year through my 10th year, we ranged from the top five to top 10 in the state ... It took a lot of work to get people going, but once they felt the success we were having, it was kind of a snowball effect.”
“My second year, I think we broke the top 25, and in my third year through my 10th year, we ranged from the top five to top 10 in the state ... It took a lot of work to get people going, but once they felt the success we were having, it was kind of a snowball effect.”
- John Shondell
Getting to New Castle, Shondell instantly focused on the middle schoolers, looking to grow a strong team from a younger age. In the process of building the program, Shondell felt he needed to prove something to the sporting culture at New Castle. In a city that’s home to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame, the World's Largest High School Gym and decades upon decades of rich basketball history, there was a push to prove volleyball was just as worthy of a sport.
“It takes awhile to win some people over and show that the volleyball program can actually be serious,” Shondell said. “After about two or three years when those players [I] started working with in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade came into high school, that’s when [I] really started to see the program turn around.”
“It takes awhile to win some people over and show that the volleyball program can actually be serious. After about two or three years when those players [I] started working with in fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth grade came into high school, that’s when [I] really started to see the program turn around.”
- John Shondell
Joining the pre-existing rivalry, Shondell’s team met up with his brothers’ teams from Burris and Muncie Central on the court a few times. For six years, Shondell’s Trojans failed to defeat Muncie Central. However, in 2001, Shondell and his team finally got revenge, beating then-nationally-second-ranked Muncie Central.
“We finally beat him that year, and we ended up going to state finals in 2001,” Shondell said. “Steve wasn’t in our conference, but Dave was in our conference and sectional, which made it much more of a rivalry between us.”
The program went from just another team in Indiana to a modern powerhouse. In his time with the Trojans, Shondell amassed a 296-87 coaching record and pushed the team into a successful future after leaving the program in 2001. Since his departure, the Trojans have won four state titles, including back-to-back titles in 2018 and 2019.
While Shondell created something special at New Castle, he left the high school to serve alongside Dave Shondell, building upon a volleyball culture at Purdue. After John Shondell encouraged his brother to go out for the Purdue head coaching job, Dave Shondell brought him on as an assistant coach. The two have been at the helm together for 17 years in West Lafayette.
In that time, the two have balanced each other out in coaching the Boilermakers. John Shondell said his brother’s weaknesses are his strengths, and his weaknesses are his brother’s strengths. The duo also learned lessons from their father’s coaching strategy in motivating players and making the game an enjoyable experience.
“We tried to make the sport enjoyable by developing positive and productive relationships with players and staff,” Dave Shondell said. “If they come in every day, know that you care about them, that you want what's best for them, that you're going to be fair and honest with them … and you have some fun yourself ... all those things really help.”
“We tried to make the sport enjoyable by developing positive and productive relationships with players and staff. If they come in every day, know that you care about them, that you want what's best for them, that you're going to be fair and honest with them … and you have some fun yourself ... all those things really help.”
- Dave Shondell
That balance of hard work and enjoyment has led Purdue to one of its best stretches in program history. Even though John Shondell is a part of a Big 10 powerhouse at Purdue, he is still working to grow younger players and build the game.
“My son, John, who’s been at Purdue, started coaching for Academy Boiler Juniors,” Don Shondell said. “He coaches kids from ages 10 to 14 and has them play in national tournaments.”
In holding a similar competitive nature to his brothers, John Shondell said his father taught him to enjoy the game and not let everything get to him. It’s what he believes helped his dad find so much success in the sport.
“Just don’t take things too seriously,” Shondell said. “That can screw with your job. You just have to let it go and move on. [My dad] didn’t let things bother him too much when he coached. Although, I can’t say Dave and I are as good as dad at that because we do let things get to us. If there’s one thing I learned from him is don’t take things too seriously. It’s just a game.”
As I-69 bends northeast from Indianapolis, the hardwood courts in east central Indiana see action beyond just basketball. Nestled inside the many courts in Delaware County is an outline of 59-by-30-square-foot rectangle. While it may seem like a nuisance to those who play basketball, the large box is part of a culture within the region of the state.
It’s a culture made up of 38 percent of all IHSAA Volleyball State Titles. It’s a culture that has created a movement based on a vision. It’s a culture that has established one of the most accredited junior programs in the country. It is a culture powered by the Shondell family.
Mick Haley, a product of Don’s 1965 team, has coached USC’s volleyball team to seven national championships in the 17 seasons he has been there. Haley also coached Team USA Women’s Volleyball to a bronze medal at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
Kelly Sheffield, who played for Don in the final years of his career, has led Wisconsin-Madison to two second-place finishes in the NCAA Tournament.
Even at a local level, Mike Lingenfelter, who played for Don in the early ’80s, coached nearby Wapahani to state titles in 2002, 2011 and 2012. Lingenfelter is now an owner and co-director of the Munciana program founded by Steve.
“Don really motivated me to step into coaching,” Lingenfelter said. “I found out that I love to teach. What most people don’t realize is that coach [Don], Steve and those guys were teachers first. They really kind of created a scenario where I wanted to teach. Even when I came back, one of the first things I did was try to follow Steve’s blueprint at Muncie Burris.”
“Don really motivated me to step into coaching. I found out that I love to teach. What most people don’t realize is that coach [Don], Steve and those guys were teachers first. They really kind of created a scenario where I wanted to teach. Even when I came back, one of the first things I did was try to follow Steve’s blueprint at Muncie Burris.”
- Mike Lingenfelter
Following that blueprint as closely as he could, Lingenfelter’s knowledge really came to the test when he met Steve on the court when Wapahani faced Burris. Lingenfelter said going up against one of the Shondell brothers was going to be an all-out war.
“There was never a chance you were going to outcoach or outwork them,” Lingenfelter said. “Those teams were never going to beat themselves. With every Shondell team, it wasn’t about what they were going to do, but what they were never going to do. You knew every time you got out on the court with them, you were going to play your best, or you were losing.”
However, Lingenfelter also has experience working alongside the family within the Munciana program. The junior program, based out of Muncie, has been highlighted as one of the best in the nation, winning national titles and producing some of the top volleyball players in the country.
The Shondell family not only has experience in coaching in the program, but playing for the program as well. Playing for Munciana before he came to Ball State, John was named the National Most Valuable Player in 1982, 1984 and 1986. Lingenfelter said he believes the program’s attention to detail has been a factor in making it so successful.
“Because of what the Shondells gave and what Wes Lyon brings has always been a teach-first mentality,” Lingenfelter said. “The preparation and attention to detail is second to none. Whenever you take that kind of meticulous care of something when you're teaching, it goes back to passion. I think the program has always been a very passionate program.”
Players and coaches from Kentucky to Penn State have found their footing in Munciana, including a handful of Ball State players and coaches. Current Ball State Women’s Volleyball head coach Kelli Miller Phillips and assistant coach Fritz Rosenberg both played for Munciana before coming to Ball State. Currently on the roster, senior speech pathology major Kate Avila and freshman visual art and animation major Mykel Ivy are both products of Munciana.
Avila said she learned about volleyball at Munciana, but she also learned about work ethic.
“They teach you how to get after it, deal with adversity and just push through,” Avila said. “I think just being a part of that program really made me the person that I am today because, you know, it wasn't always easy. You learn to deal with difficult players, or you'd love some players. You'd have some great teammates, you'd have some great coaches, you'd have some that you didn't get along with. Going through that definitely taught me a lot, and I owe a lot of who I am as a player to Munciana.”
“I think just being a part of that program really made me the person that I am today because, you know, it wasn't always easy. You learn to deal with difficult players, or you'd love some players. You'd have some great teammates, you'd have some great coaches, you'd have some that you didn't get along with. Going through that definitely taught me a lot, and I owe a lot of who I am as a player to Munciana.”
- Kate Avila
Alongside building better volleyball and better people, Munciana is where lifelong relationships were established. Miller Phillips was first coached by Dave at Munciana before playing for him at Muncie Central and Purdue. She learned his style and his passion for the game.
“I think the biggest thing is he was a really big proponent of fundamentals, working hard and then just ensuring that you carried on the tradition that Muncie Central had created,” Miller Phillips said.
While the Shondells helped spread successful volleyball to their players, the tradition also spread throughout their own family tree. Dave’s children, Lindsey and Kyle, have both been extremely active in volleyball. After going through the Purdue program and being coached by her father and uncle, Lindsey coached at a handful of schools, including Villanova, Samford and Mississippi State, before working with The Academy Boiler Juniors where she is now.
Kyle is following in similar footsteps to his grandfather. After graduating from Purdue and spending time coaching at other schools around the Midwest, he is now the head coach of Indiana Tech’s men’s volleyball team in its first season. Growing up around the game, Kyle knew coaching was something he was good at and had a passion for.
“It’s what I enjoy the most, and growing up, I was able to watch my father, uncles and grandfather have a job that didn’t feel like a job,” Kyle said. “I watched their families be a full part of their program. Now, I’ve got my own family that gets to travel with the team and watch us play. It feels like a full circle.”
“It’s what I enjoy the most, and growing up, I was able to watch my father, uncles and grandfather have a job that didn’t feel like a job. I watched their families be a full part of their program. Now, I’ve got my own family that gets to travel with the team and watch us play. It feels like a full circle.”
- Kyle Shondell
When Kyle is on the court, he said, he feels like his coaching style very much embodies his father’s: very competitive and very intense. However, growing up watching both his father and Steve coach, there are times he tries to take in some of the qualities his uncle offered.
“A lot of people, my wife included, would say I’m a lot like my father,” Kyle said. “There’s nothing I try to do to be like my father. I’m just a lot like him. However, there are plenty of times where I try to be a little bit more contemplative and reflective like Steve. I try to find a blend of those two, and when I train, I try to find a little bit of John. All three of them take part in what Don was like. It’s a Shondell blend.”
While Kyle continues to build a team at Indiana Tech, Walton has held down the program at Worthen Arena for 20 years since Don retired. Recently winning his 400th win with the Cardinals, Walton has become a part of the storied volleyball culture at Ball State to the point where he has been mistaken as a Shondell brother. While the mistake is common, he takes pride in being associated with the family that has shaped the fabric of the sport he loves.
“I think it's a real compliment to the Shondells and what they have meant to the Muncie and Ball State communities,” Walton said. “Don has now been retired from coaching the program for 22 years. And yet, when I tell somebody in the community that I coach Ball State Men's Volleyball, they assume that I'm a Shondell. That's just still the name that sticks with this program.
“I think it's a real compliment to the Shondells and what they have meant to the Muncie and Ball State communities. Don has now been retired from coaching the program for 22 years. And yet, when I tell somebody in the community that I coach Ball State Men's Volleyball, they assume that I'm a Shondell. That's just still the name that sticks with this program.
- Joel Walton
“The impact that they all had in coaching those high school teams at a really high level of success, and then also coaching so many different players from this community, and even from Indianapolis and Fort Wayne within the Munciana volleyball organization — just the number of people that they've impacted and touched or given opportunities to in their lives is remarkable.”
Like Walton, Lingenfelter said he never gets tired of talking about his past coach’s passion and legacy.
“A lot of people have traced the Shondell legacy, but it never gets old, and I never get tired of talking about it,” Lingenfelter said. “This is obviously a big part of my life, but a coach and his legacies are also a bigger part of my life.”
As the torch is passed down from generation to generation, player to player and coach to coach, there are lessons that are never forgotten. Those impacted by Don have never forgotten his teachings. Whether it’s his sons or former players, they always took something away from him.
“Coaching is about relationships and helping your athletes become all they can be,” Steve said.
“There’s a lot of pressure to win and have the top recruits, but there are other avenues you can be invested in like family, health and have the happy places you can go to,” Dave said.
“Don’t take anything too seriously. It’s just a game,” John said.
It’s a legacy that may have never happened if it weren’t for a factory accident. It’s a legacy that has put Muncie on the map as a volleyball hotbed. It’s a legacy that altered the landscape of NCAA volleyball. It’s the Shondells’ legacy.