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Barrier-breaking coach eyes new challenge

When the Thornton High School varsity football team opens their 2022 season, it will be a historic moment as Shira Spielman becomes the first female football coach in the history of the Five Star District.

Spielman, however, is less inclined to dote on the magnitude of her barrier-shattering accomplishment and more on what her mom might have thought. Five Star Stadium, the home of the Trojans, is, after all, a stone’s throw from the neighborhood where Spielman’s mother grew up.

But to get to that moment, it first took a great deal of persistence from Thornton High School football coach Nick Trombetta.

Trombetta’s request for Spielman to join his coaching staff would roll in on an annual basis, usually each spring, just as her work as a long-time assistant basketball coach at Horizon High School began to wind down. The two knew each other long before he took the reins of the Trojan football program as counselors at the Tennyson Center, a treatment center for neglected, abused and traumatized children, in Denver.

When Trombetta would reach out, it would normally be met with a polite decline. Spielman couldn’t justify the time commitment of adding another sport. But, when he texted her this past spring, the response was different.

Spielman had run out of excuses.

“My mom passed suddenly in January and it was kind of like, ‘Well, why do I keep waiting? Why do I keep putting it off?’” she said.

Trombetta understands the symbolism many will see in Spielman’s hire but he wasn’t looking to help Spielman shatter a glass ceiling. His mission is the same as when he took over a struggling football program in December 2017.


“This is no publicity stunt,” he said. “Shira is a winner. She is a former collegiate athlete so she understands the grind of getting to that next level. She has been coaching basketball at Horizon and they are always competing at a very high level. She knows what that should look like.”

Trombetta added that her hire shouldn’t surprise anyone who has followed the progress of the program over the past several years and seen its track record of inclusivity.

“This is not something groundbreaking for the Thornton High School program,” he explained. “If you want to play or coach football and commit yourself to something bigger than you, you have a home with us.”

While Spielman embraces the history-making aspect of the role, it brings mixed emotions.

“Quite honestly, I wish that wasn’t it,” she said of being the first female football coach. “But I also think if it takes somebody to get people to see that it’s OK and that I’m a good coach, regardless of male or female, then I’m all for it,” she added. “Hopefully it can pave a way for other people.”

She says the benefits of working with student athletes goes beyond the typical joys of watching them grow and reach their potential.

“I think the biggest thing that I enjoy is how they continuously shape me as a human,” Spielman said. “Any big things that have happened in my life have translated into my coaching and they are always there to kind of shake and shift the way I do things.

“That continued to happen even this year with my mom dying,” she added. “I told them at our [basketball] banquet that they got me out of bed. They were the ones who I was like, ‘OK, I want to get up for them.’”

When she thinks of Five Star Schools and why she has found a sense of belonging here, she credits Leroy Elementary where she works as a Social-Emotional Learning Specialist as well as the Horizon basketball community for supporting her, challenging her and lifting her up.

“That’s what kept me here – the two places I’ve really grounded myself in, ” Spielman said. “It’s definitely a sense of community in these two places and I hope to get that at Thornton as well.”

That sense of community, of family, brings her back to what she’ll, perhaps, be thinking during that first Friday night of September as the Trojans take the field.

“I know that would have meant something,” she said as she thought about her mom. “I think part of me just felt like [the new coaching role] would honor her a little bit as well. I thought it was a cool way to continue being part of that community now that she’s gone.”