Women’s sports pioneer Linda Wells honored

by Lindsay Guentzel

With a career that spans four decades, three continents and more than 1,500 games, University alumnus Linda Wells has a story for the history books. A former Gophers coach in three sports, her already-notable resume got another boost yesterday when she received the Outstanding Achievement Award from the UniversityâÄôs Board of Regents. Recognizing her trailblazing accomplishments in womenâÄôs intercollegiate athletics, the award is the highest non-academic honor a University graduate can receive. âÄúItâÄôs such an honor to have your life work recognized,âÄù Wells said. âÄúFor me, itâÄôs the culmination award. Being able to come back here where Minnesota and the Gophers meant so much to me and receive this award is very special.âÄù Wells, a five-sport collegiate athlete at Southeast Missouri State, came to the University to work on her exercise physiology graduate studies in 1971. She came on as a part-time basketball coach, taking on her first full-time position in 1974 âÄî two years after the historic passage of Title IX. The first female coach to have an office in Bierman Athletic Complex, Wells shared walls with legendary coaches Murray Warmath and Herb Brooks. She became a legend in her own right, becoming the UniversityâÄôs first full-time coach in three sports âÄî basketball, softball, and volleyball. âÄú[Wells] had a vision of what womenâÄôs athletics could become,âÄù Denise Erstead Falls, a former Gophers volleyball and softball player, said. âÄúSheâÄôs certainly been one of those icons [in womenâÄôs sports]âÄù. Wells was the softball head coach from 1974 to 1989 âÄî missing the 1976 season when she left the University to attend medical school at St. Louis University. âÄúI was so overworked and I really thought I couldnâÄôt [coach] anymore,âÄù Wells said. âÄúBut I missed it all.âÄù She was also the head coach of the womenâÄôs volleyball team from 1974 to 1981, as well as the head coach of womenâÄôs basketball from 1974 to 1977 âÄî occasionally stepping down to assistant coach when the work-load became too much. âÄúPassion was the key,âÄù Wells said. âÄúI loved doing it and so when youâÄôre doing what you love, itâÄôs your vocation, itâÄôs your avocation. ItâÄôs your hobby, itâÄôs your vacation time. I surrounded my life with [coaching] and at the same time, I always felt fairly balanced.âÄù Wells earned Big Ten Coach of Year in 1988 when she led the nationally-ranked Gopher softball team to its third Big Ten title and first trip to the NCAA tournament. She was inducted into the UniversityâÄôs WomenâÄôs Athletics Hall of Fame in 1995. âÄúI probably look now at the results of the women who were in the programs and what theyâÄôve been able to carry forward as my biggest accomplishment,âÄù Wells said. âÄúIt was Title IX time, you know. Slam doors, kick shins, fight for your rights kind of time, which matched perfect with my personality.âÄù Anita Lacis, a former Gophers volleyball player, said Wells had an infectious ability to motivate and was extremely dedicated to the team and its success. âÄúThe coach and the manager when I played had to wash our uniformsâÄù, Lacis said. âÄúThey did a lot of things that coaches wouldnâÄôt have to today besides running the team.âÄù WellsâÄô dedication to the sport of softball took her into the international spotlight in 1987, when she coached U.S. softball team at the Pan American games. She was also named head coach of the Greek softball team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, as well as the Dutch softball team at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. âÄúGetting a gold medal in the Pan-America games was definitely a highlight,âÄù Wells said. âÄúI had no idea in my life that [softball] would become an Olympic sport and that I would have the opportunity to coach in two Olympics.âÄù After her time at Minnesota, Wells spent 15 years as the softball head coach at Arizona State University and retired in 2005. While her inspirational career may have ended with the Sun Devils, her legacy remains in Minnesota âÄúCoach Wells built a phenomenal program,âÄù recently-hired softball coach Jessica Allister said. âÄúSheâÄôs a phenomenal coach, well-respected throughout the softball community, and to be able to come in and try to follow in her footsteps is a great privilege.âÄù