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College fires Chris and Shelly Aaland

Chris Aaland

By Jim Sojourner Herald staff writer

Fort Lewis College fired two athletic department employees Wednesday, surprising both of them and the FLC and Durango communities.

Two days after FLC’s women’s volleyball coach Shelly Aaland found out she was going to lose her job, college officials fired her and her husband, Chris Aaland, assistant director of athletics for communications.

“I can confirm that both Shelly and Chris are no longer with Fort Lewis College,” FLC spokesman Mitch Davis said Wednesday afternoon. “Since it’s a personnel situation, I can’t comment much beyond that. ... They were both let go.”

Davis would not say what the reasons were for the firings, adding that he knew that would “frustrate folks” because they’ll only get one side of the story. Athletic Director Gary Hunter did not return phone calls from The Durango Herald.

Chris Aaland declined to comment. Attempts to reach Shelly Aaland were unsuccessful.

The longest tenured member of the college’s athletic department, Chris Aaland worked at FLC for 22 years.

Shelly Aaland spent 10 years as the head women’s volleyball coach and previously served as an assistant coach and played college volleyball for the Skyhawks.

Shelly Aaland found out Monday she was going to lose her coaching position.

“I didn’t see this coming at all and am still trying to wrap my head around it,” Shelly Aaland said in a text message sent to a Herald reporter Monday night. “I am very disappointed to leave the program. I have been a part of this program since 1995 and am very proud of my conference title and two appearances in the national tournament.”

Chris Aaland graduated from FLC in 1991. During his more than two decades working there, he served as sports information director from 1992 to 2001, as director of communications and publications from September 2001 to February 2006 and as the college’s director of alumni relations from March 2006 to August 2010.

FLC head men’s basketball coach Bob Hofman said he has known Chris Aaland since the 1980s and worked with both Aalands as they became fixtures in the Skyhawks community.

“They’ve just been tremendous friends to me,” Hofman said.

Others who worked with Chris Aaland praised him.

“He’s a great guy. He was the (sports information director) when I first came on as a coach back in April of 2000, and (he) made me feel right at home right away, and I won’t forget that,” said Ken Flint, a former FLC cross country coach and current voice of the Skyhawks sports radio broadcasts.

“He was a big member up here, and I’m sure he’ll be sorely missed by the coaching staff up there because he’d go the extra mile,” Flint said.

FLC head women’s soccer coach Damian Clarke had worked with Chris Aaland since he helped score basketball games as an FLC freshman in 1994.

“In general, they’re both very good people,” Clarke said. “People who have obviously dedicated a good portion of their lives to Fort Lewis and Fort Lewis athletics.”

Clarke said Chris Aaland’s institutional knowledge was an invaluable asset.

“To be honest with you, I think we’ve always felt pretty lucky to have a guy like Chris around. And at the end of the day, he’s an encyclopedia of Fort Lewis athletics,” Clarke said. “You never regain what Chris holds in his head. ... At the end of the day, that’s one of the biggest losses – that piece of history.”

The spirit of Skyhawks sports is another casualty, Clarke said.

“(He had) a big impact in terms of (me) understanding and continuing to understand what the college and the athletic community meant – not just to him but all of us.”

“All of us” extends into the larger Durango community.

Flint organized the Community Cares 5K in mid-February to benefit the Aalands after Chris Aaland had life-saving heart surgery in December for an aortic aneurysm.

The Aalands had health insurance but not all of their expenses were covered, including a helicopter flight to Albuquerque.

“We assumed some pretty steep out-of-network charges,” Chris Aaland told the Herald in April.

At the time, the surgery was the latest challenge in a trying stretch for the Aaland family after their 5½-month-old son, Gus, died in November 2011 at a Denver hospital of a sudden illness.

“It was amazing to see,” Flint said of the turnout at the Community Cares 5K. “Chris has been in the community for a long time, and the outpouring of support for him was refreshing or just reconfirming about what a great community we have but also the impact Chris has had on the community and the people he’s been around.

“Two quality people,” Flint said.

Shelly Aaland is the only FLC coach to take a Skyhawks volleyball team to the NCAA Tournament.

During her 10 years of coaching, her teams posted an overall record of 129-148 and 89-99 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. The team went 11-16 overall last year and 7-12 in the RMAC for a fourth-place conference finish.

“I’ve always enjoyed them. They would both give me a tough time about being a (Chicago) Cubs fan,” said Duane Smith, a former professor and FLC Athletic Hall of Famer. “She’s had some good seasons. At Fort Lewis, anything close to .500 – kind of like the Cubs – is good. And she’s had some excellent seasons.”

Those 129 total wins place Shelly Aaland, who also served as an assistant coach from 2001 to ’03, third all-time in program history.

In 2006, Shelly Aaland’s Skyhawks earned a berth to the program’s first-ever NCAA Division II Tournament. They repeated that feat in 2007, when the Skyhawks won their first RMAC title since 1994 as well as the RMAC West Division title.

Each of Shelly Aaland’s teams also maintained grade-point averages higher than 3.19.

“Shelly’s someone that’s absolutely always cared about her kids, and they’ve obviously always performed in the classroom and graduated, and she’s done a lot for a lot of people,” Clarke said.

Shelly Aaland also was a four-year letter-winner for the Skyhawks from 1995 to ’98, when she led the RMAC in service aces as a junior with 0.48 per game and was second in the league as a senior with 0.40 per game.

As the starting setter her senior year, Shelly Aaland was chosen by her teammates as the 1998 team’s most valuable player.

Shelly Aaland ranks second among the Skyhawks’ career leaders in service aces with 0.42 per game, fourth in total service aces with 106, fifth in assists per game with 5.79 and sixth in total assists with 1,447.

Davis said the college hopefully would begin conducting searches to fill both positions within the next few weeks.

jsojourner@durangoherald.com. Herald sports writer Ryan Owens contributed to this report.

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