With a dream of becoming a professional soccer player, Mark Shepherd left South Africa to come to the United States. The one thing he never expected to do was teach.
Born in South Africa in November 1962, Shepherd was surrounded by sports; mainly soccer, cricket and rugby. His father got him interested in playing soccer around the age of 9.
After finishing high school in 1980, Shepherd enlisted in the South African Army. At the time, military service in South Africa was mandatory as the country was at the height of Apartheid. In the army, Shepherd served as an infantry instructor, which is similar to platoon sergeant. As an infantry instructor, Shepherd went through 10 months of intensive training to become a junior leader.
“I spent a bit of time on the Zimbabwe-Botswana border and walked a couple of patrols, but for the most part I ended up back at headquarters playing soccer,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said it was hard to notice Apartheid growing up in South Africa.
“The government was so effective in controlling the movement of African people that you almost thought you grew up in a white country, even when 70 percent of the population was African,” he said.
The government monitored the Africans’ movements by the use of Pass Laws, which required Africans to have a work pass signed by an employer in order to work in an area dominated by whites, Shepherd said. Because of these laws, Africans only had 72 hours to look for a job in a white area and they had to be out of white-populated cities by 9 p.m.
“It was sort of this torturous piecemeal approach of Nationalist, white, mainly Africana Government making sure that Africanadom survived. The idea was in order for this to happen you have to separate the races,” Shepherd said.
After finishing his time in the army, Shepherd received an unexpected full scholarship for soccer at USF in 1983. At the time, there were already several South African players at USF.
“One of the guys who really got the word out for me was Mike Connell, the captain of the old Tampa Bay Rowdies,” Shepherd said.
One of the reasons Shepherd got the scholarship was because his father had a soccer connection in South Africa and he had also talked to Connell. Connell had mentioned that that several other South African soccer players had gone to the United States to play and enjoyed it.
Although the scholarship through USF was an athletic scholarship, the university made it a full scholarship by adding on out-of-state waivers.
“In those days, it was a lot easier to give foreigners and guys full rides. Today it’s changed,” Shepherd said.
At USF, Shepherd said he decided to major in political science. When he declared his major, South Africa was frequently in the news because of Apartheid.
“I figured I better do something that the scholarship is going to cover. I can’t spend an extra semester with the exchange rate and the South African Rand being devalued all the time,” Shepherd said.
During his time at USF, Shepherd played for the soccer team as a goalkeeper for four years and received an MVP award in 1986, his last year. After graduating, Mark Hayman, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at the time, pushed Shepherd into attending graduate school and also helped him get a job teaching at USF.
After getting his master’s degree and before he began teaching, Shepherd got married.
“Getting married allowed me to work and get a work permit, but it was part-time,” said Shepherd.
After working as a part-time teacher at USF, Shepherd decided to go back to South Africa to see what options were available to him. At the time, his wife was also pregnant and he decided that she should go to South Africa as well.
During his stay in South Africa, Shepherd began working for Nissan, selling automobiles. He decided not to teach because it was hard to find teaching positions and those that could be found did not pay well.
“Why would I teach there when I made three times the amount and had a company car?” Shepherd asked.
Upon returning to Florida, Shepherd began teaching again at USF. His role was expanded to include an off-campus term program. The program was an internship for students who wanted to study in other countries while receiving college credit.
Once the program ended, he continued to work at USF teaching World Perspectives, but also had an opportunity to take on the position of headmaster at a small private school called Palmer Preparatory School and Tennis Academy in 1998. At Palmer, he did everything — ran academic programs, hired teachers, supervised instructors and counseled students.
After teaching at Palmer, Shepherd accepted a teaching position at Saddlebrook and taught social sciences for one semester.
In addition to all of his teaching jobs, Shepherd has been coaching youth soccer every week since 1996 and currently serves as director of coaching at the Temple Terrace Spirit Soccer Club. His coaching experience also includes helping to coach the men’s and women’s soccer teams at USF during 2002.
Although Shepherd has taught at both high schools and universities, he said he prefers universities because he gets the chance to enlighten students.
“I notice I get a lot of freshmen who have no clue of world events, so a lot of what I do in this World Perspectives class is to try to promote this awareness and I encourage them to go to lecture series and conferences dealing with what we do. It’s an eye-opener,” Shepherd said.