Jerome Shelton, St. Frances Academy

by Katherine Dunn

After winning an eighth IAAM A Conference championship in ten years in 2010, the St. Frances girls basketball team hit a five-year championship drought. By the end of the decade though the Panthers and coach Jerome Shelton both rose to new levels of prominence.

Shelton guided the Panthers to the last five IAAM A Conference titles of the decade, two Bishop Walsh Girls Invitational Tournament championships and a berth in the four-team 2017 DICK’s Sporting Goods High School National Tournament. Amid all of that, Shelton became the all-time winningest coach in Baltimore high school girls basketball history.

Jerome Shelton entered the 2021 season with 611 career wins, making him the winningest girls basketball coach in Baltimore history.

VSN’s Girls Basketball Coach of the Decade finished last season with 611 wins, breaking the record of 608 set by North Harford’s Lin James in 2013. They are the only two Baltimore-area girls basketball coaches ever to hit the 600-win milestone.

Shelton needed only four years to go from 500 to 600 wins. He hit 500 on Jan. 26, 2016 and 600 on Jan. 14, 2020.

“He’s a great coach, him having so much experience and knowing so much about the game,” said former Panther Mia Davis, a 2017 graduate.

“He teaches at the school and he’s a great teacher. He’s always open to trying new things. He’s vocal with his opinion, but he listens and takes what we say. He’s just somebody you would want to be coached by… His staff, coach Nyke (Nytearia Burrell) and Coach (Johnny) Mack, are winners, coach Shelton is a winner, so it just rubs off on everyone.”

In his 30th season, Shelton has guided the Panthers to 15 league championships — 13 in the IAAM and the final two in the Catholic League before it merged into the IAAM in the fall of 1999.

Burrell has watched Shelton coach from two angles, as a St. Frances player from 1999-2003 and as an assistant coach since 2015. She said his calm demeanor on the sideline and his knowledge combine to make him a great in-game coach.

“I’ve never seen him get shaken up or panic,” Burrell said. “One minute left, down six points and he’s always saying, ‘Be calm. Stay with me.’ Another thing is that he knows the game so well and he’s been coaching not only in this conference but up and down the East Coast and he can draw up a play at any given time, a new play. I think him being respectful allows the girls to believe in him and he always shows that he believes in them.”

Shelton credits his players with the Panthers success over the past five years. They rebounded from a 10-16 season in 2011-12 — one of only two losing seasons in his career — to finish 15-11 in 2013 and reach the A Conference semifinals, where they would fall three straight times before reclaiming the title in 2016.

“It was the players. I always say that sounds so trite, but we had some chemistry issues in the early part of that decade,” Shelton said. “I think when Tyeishia Smith comes in, Nia Clouden comes in, Mia Davis, Tyanna Custis — that was the beginning. Shawknia McCallum. And then Angel Reese comes in. We had a bunch of players there and, of course, Danielle Edwards graduated,” Shelton said of the stellar point guard who led McDonogh to those three semifinal wins over the Panthers from 2013 to 2015.

Certainly Shelton has had many of the top players of the past five seasons on his team, including VSN Players of the Year Reese, Clouden, Davis and Smith, but he pushed them to be their best and put them in position to shine not just on the local stage but also in the national spotlight.

In recent years, the Panthers have played in such tournaments as the She Got Game and Title IX Holiday classics in Washington, D.C., the Boo Williams Tournament in Virginia, the Rose Classic in New York and the Nike Tournament of Champions in Arizona. Regulars in the national rankings, they rose as high as No. 10 in USA Today’s Super 25 during the 2016-17 season.

The Panthers also played many of the other top teams from the Baltimore-Washington area. One of the biggest wins in program history came, 75-74 in overtime, against National Christian Academy in 2017. Clouden’s 18-foot buzzer beater sealed the first undefeated regular season in program history.

To Shelton, VSN’s 2017 Co-Coach of the Year, that basket led to the invitation to play in the DICK’s National Tournament in New York City.

“Whenever I look at that video, I just smile, I just laugh…”, he said, “because if Nia Clouden doesn’t make that shot, we probably don’t go to New York and play on national television. The momentum from that game took us right through the rest of the season. We were all just in basketball heaven after that. We were able to win the league championship, go up to Bishop Walsh and win that and then go play on national television and represent the city well.”

In the national semifinals aired on ESPNU, the Panthers fell in an overtime battle with Hamilton Heights (Tenn.) to end their season at 30-1, still the best record in program history.

For Shelton celebrating those kinds of team accomplishments is more important than celebrating his personal milestones. He always thanks God and St. Frances officials for giving him the opportunity and he would rather deflect the credit to his players and assistant coaches for their roles in all his wins.

“I feel good, because it brings recognition to St. Frances Academy, No. 1,” he said, “but the championships, I think, probably mean more to me, because those things are perpetuity and when I’m finished coaching … those banners will always be there. That’s what I’m most proud of. The program is well established. Whoever becomes the (next) head coach can put their vision to the program and continue to build on the success we’ve had.”

Shelton has no immediate plans to retire, so his legacy will continue to grow. At some point — when COVID-19 stops interfering — there will be a celebration and the St. Frances gym will sport a new banner in his honor.

“They say records are made to be broken and whoever breaks this record, I’ll be happy for them. I hope God blesses me and keeps me around so I can call them and say, ‘Congratulations.’ I’d be more than happy to say that.”

No. 1 Girls Basketball Center: Brionna Jones, 2013, Aberdeen High School