Tucker Center Newsletter - 2009 Spring
Learning Our Legacy:
Linda Wells: Legendary Coach
Linda Wells—pioneering women’s softball coach—is the epitome of a pre-Title IX athlete who made a career of her passion for sports. Wells is a visionary, the type of individual who creates immediate rapport with strangers and fills a room with her presence and wisdom. Over the course of her celebrated career, Wells has empowered countless girls and women through her willingness to put herself—and her career—on the line to fight for what is right. A self-described small-town kid from the town of Pacific, Missouri, Wells played five collegiate sports (volleyball, basketball, softball, field hockey, and tennis) at Southeast Missouri State in the 1970s. But it was in the sport of softball where Wells enjoyed a long and successful career (over 37 years of organized teams!) in the Amateur Softball Association and the Women’s International Professional Softball League. Wells’ accomplishments earned her seven Hall of Fame inductions either at institutions where she played or with organizations which she helped develop (e.g., National Fastpitch Coaches Association).
While Wells’ career as an athlete is certainly impressive, her coaching and leadership accomplishments are even greater. In 1974, at the age of 21, she was named the first full-time head coach at the University of Minnesota in three women’s sports—basketball, softball, and volleyball. While her peers were still formulating their life plans, Wells was settling into an office next to a legend in his own right—Herb Brooks—while she battled to overcome the “playday” mentality which dominated the college sport experience for women. She was also going toe-to-toe with athletic directors and school presidents to get what she needed for her teams. After 15 successful years coaching the Gophers and earning a Master’s degree in Exercise Physiology from the U of M, Wells headed south to take over the softball program at Arizona State University. “I love Minnesota and would have stayed forever, but I got tired of the winters,” she laughs.
Wells retired in 2005 after 30-plus years of collegiate coaching with an overall winning record of 884-653 (58%), numerous conference championships, All-America awards, an array of medals, national tournament berths, and no doubt countless memories. She has also coached at the international level overseeing both the Dutch (2008 Beijing) and Greek (2004 Athens) Olympic Softball teams. If Wells wasn’t busy enough, in 1982, she founded her own business, Wells Sports Corporation, which is still going strong and specializes in coaching clinics, speaking engagements, and products and services for youth sports. According to Regina Sullivan, Senior Associate AD at the U of M, “Linda Wells is a true pioneer in Gopher athletic history. Her dedication and passion have helped to advance opportunities for girls and women in sport and she has become a national role model for many student-athletes, coaches, and colleagues over the last several decades.”
Perhaps Wells’ biggest contribution is her vision of what participation and a career in sports should look like for females. Wells says most people think sports for females started with Title IX when in fact, “... women and girls have always played sports. They couldn’t be stopped,” she points out. “It seems pretty limited to only have one day that celebrates their participation” (referring to National Girls & Women Sport Day held annually in February), Wells points out. Former teammate, colleague, Hall of Famer, Title IX lawyer, and Tucker Center affiliate Rayla Allison said of Wells, “She is one of the most knowledgeable, recognizable, and intelligent people in softball. She has done more to advance softball around the world than any other person. But more importantly, she is capable of seeing broader issues and has fought tirelessly to advocate for all girls and women in sport … because of that, she is one of the bravest women I know.”
As Wells begins to enjoy full retirement in sunny Arizona by golfing, traveling, and enjoying time with friends and family, she often wonders who in the next generation will “pick up the ball” and continue to fight for equality for women’s sports. Those of us who work in the Tucker Center do our part to answer her question, always aware that it is a pioneer like Linda Wells who makes our work possible. We are proud to have her in the Gopher family and are grateful—not to mention indebted—for all she has done, and continues to do, for all of us.
Linda Wells (back row, 5th from left) with
the 2008 Dutch Olympic Softball Team
which competed in Beijing.