Amber Starkey is going out on top.
After nine seasons guiding the Ridgewood High volleyball team, including its first district title in 22 years, Starkey said she resigned from the post, citing she wants to spend more time with her young family.
"I thought about it a long time, but I've known this have been coming for a long time, ever since I had kids," the 1994 Ridgewood graduate said. "It was hard to say goodbye, but it would be harder if I weren't there for my family. I've been looking forward to when that day would come."
Starkey and her husband have a 2-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, Dylan, who is just getting into sports, including soccer and T-ball. Starkey, a former Rams and Saint Leo softball player, plans to coach Dylan, while her husband is a former Gulf soccer player.
"It would be heartbreaking if I missed those games and practices," Starkey said.
Before the birth of Dylan, Starkey was a teacher at Ridgewood, but then left to become a stay-at-home mom. Starkey said she stayed involved with coaching and being a part of students' lives, but it was always tough once volleyball season would start, having to juggle games and practices, especially when her husband would do a lot of the work in the evenings when she was at Ridgewood.
"He's been great through it all, but it's time for us to start doing that as a family again," Starkey said. "We had to get a babysitter through most of the season, so that was hard, too. Being away from my family was also hard."
But Starkey goes out a winner, even though the Rams' 22-7 season ended with a loss to rival Fivay in the Class 5A region semifinals. Ridgewood won Starkey her first district title as a coach this past season, and helped propel her to be named the coach of the year by The Tampa Tribune, the Sunshine Athletic Conference and the Florida Athletic Coaches Association.
Starkey leaves with a 123-98 record and no regrets.
"It's always hard to say goodbye, but no matter how this season turned out, I would've made this decision," Starkey said. "I've had an amazing time as coach and it's great to finally get (the district title) — it's been awesome, but now it's time to be (my son's) coach and be that mom on the sidelines. I'm just so glad he's into sports because I want to be his coach now."
Ridgewood now has coaching vacancies in volleyball and boys and girls soccer, according to the district's employment website.