On the drive back from each visiting sporting event, as the bus pulls into the high school parking lot, Big Spring teams get up and sing the school’s alma mater together.
From 1993 to 1997, Cara Rhone participated in that tradition as a member of the Big Spring girls’ basketball, track and field and volleyball teams. From 2013 to 2021, as the head coach of the Bulldog girls volleyball program, Rhone relived those same moments she had come to love 16 years earlier.
It is one of many memories she will miss.
After serving at the helm of the Big Spring volleyball program for nine seasons, Rhone submitted her letter of resignation on December 6, 2021. She will transition into a coaching role as a volunteer, which was approved by the school board on January 10.
Big Spring is in the early stages of searching for a new skipper.
“In the run-up to our [end of the year] I started to get the emotions at the banquet,” Rhone said of his retirement. “Telling my husband, ‘Are you sure I should retire? And this one more year?’ But I knew I was just trying to be funny and just trying not to think about running away. But I’m comfortable with where I’ve taken the program and where it can and will continue to grow.”
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Rhone took charge of the program she grew up in — after a year as the junior varsity head coach in 2012 — and was excited about what she could bring to the position. She had previous experience with Big Spring volleyball and had competed in a women’s volleyball league after graduating.
The wear and tear of a three-sport athlete — including four years of basketball at Waynesburg College — took its toll, causing labrum problems in her shoulder, forcing Rhone to retire from athletics.
Coaching gave her an opportunity to give back to the sport she loved.
“We ended up 1-18 my freshman year, and I was like, ‘Oh boy, what have I got into?'” Rhone said with a laugh. “But I knew I was starting to build things that I wanted to put down. So you have to take those small steps to get to the end goal – showing respect on the field, respect to represent Big Spring, just starting a family within the team.”
And built the Bulldogs – in more ways than one.
After a shaky second season under the leadership of the Rhone, the Bulldogs began showing their bark in year three, building an overall record of 87-82 and hitting their ticket to the District 3 postseason six times. In Rhone’s final season, the Bulldogs went 9-10 to York Suburban 3-0 in the first round of the District Class 3A playoffs.
Big Spring has made its way into the postseason picture in six of the past seven seasons.
“The friendships and family I’ve been able to make with those players,” Rhone said of her favorite memories in addition to the program’s success. “I’ve had players in the past who, I’ve seen them graduate from high school, and now college, some are married, some are having babies. So to be a part of that experience and know that I can keep those relationships that is the most important, and I would say, the best memory, because it will continue to grow.”
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Outside of the varsity program, Rhone laid the groundwork at the youth level through its Digs 4 Kids program, a six- to eight-week program held each summer — minus one year due to the coronavirus pandemic — led by the Bulldogs. This year’s seniors, including Mattea Penner, Marlee Johnson and Rylee Bloser, were some of Rhone’s early members of Digs 4 Kids.
Rhone has also started a summer league in the past year, giving its current players the opportunity to compete in the off-season. The summer league included competing schools, such as Boiling Springs, Northern, and Shippensburg.
Unlike other girls players from neighboring schools in Cumberland County, Big Spring athletes don’t have a clear path to play at the club level, Rhone said. Her summer competition provided that outlet.
“I hope the new head coach will continue to have that,” said Rhone, “the Digs 4 Kids program and the summer league because I really think it will be successful going into the fall season.”
It’s not a complete goodbye.
In addition to sliding into a volunteer coaching position, Rhone plans to remain involved in Bulldog athletics in various capacities.
“I just want to be there to support them in any way I can,” Rhone said. “I don’t know, maybe I’m sitting at a scorer’s table keeping books, maybe I’m announcing on a football field, I don’t know where I’ll be. But I will definitely keep my tires at Big Spring.”
Rhone cited spending time with her family, especially her 7-year-old son Dawson, as the main reason for stepping down.
“He plays football and basketball. … He’s growing up, and I missed those sporting events,” Rhone said, “and it hurts your heart when you can’t see them. So now is my time to look at him and hopefully build him into an athlete like I’ve been able to do with my volleyball girls.
“I feel comfortable walking away knowing that the program has had its success and will hopefully continue to be successful,” she said. “There are still times when I occasionally have a thought or I see one of my old players bringing back some memories, but I know I did it (resigned) for the right reasons, and that’s for my family.”
Christian Eby is a sports reporter for The Sentinel and cumberlink.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at: @eby_sports