WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Catch Up with Famed Former UCLA Coach Sharron Backus
(First published in the NFCA's newspaper Fastpitch Delivery in January 2008)
By Lacy Lee Baker
I caught up with Sharron Backus at her home in Fullerton, California. It was 7 a.m. West Coast time, and she’d been dealing with a mad 25-pound trapped male raccoon for the previous two hours. So, I asked the obvious question:
Why are you trapping raccoons?
“They’re invading my home! They’re also endangered animals, so I can’t find anyone who will deal with the problem. So, I’m trapping them myself and then taking them to the Carbon Canyon Regional Park where Ranger Jones releases them into the wild. So far I’ve trapped 19 raccoons and eight opossums.”
I'm sure the people who know you, Sharron, would not be surprised to hear of your latest challenge. But, what else have you been doing since you retired from UCLA in 1996?
I coached the Orlando Wahoos in 1997 in the Women’s Professional Softball League, now known as National Pro Fastpitch. Currently, I’m involved with the PFX (Profastpitch X-treme) Tour as a coach, a position I’ve had since 2006 when the tour was formed. I live across the street from the Cal State Fullerton softball diamond, so I go over there and watch games from time to time to look out for possible players. I also keep my ear to the ground the rest of the year.
In 2007, the tour had seven stops, but this year, we’re hoping for 10. Since we will have eight Olympians involved, we’ll have to wait for the Olympics to end, so the stops will take place in September, October and November. I’ve really been impressed with the communities that host the tour stops, not only how they’ve embraced the older players, but what they do for the youth involved in the sport.
How do you think the Olympic situation after 2008 will affect the game?
It’s going to make a dent, but we’ll get through it with the help of leaders in the NFCA and NCAA. The impact television has made on the game is huge, and if we can hold that interest, we’ll be okay. The television and written media coverage have made the game explode.
I remember the days when we were lucky to have four innings of the Women’s College World Series championship game aired at 4 a.m. four months after the actual game. Now, they’re televising all games of the Women’s College World Series plus some regional and super regional games.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the sport today?
We need to continue to grow as an organization (NFCA) and a sport so the kids don’t lose the sense of where we’ve been and where we’re going. I think that’s happening with society today. No one wants to take on the responsibility; they just want to place blame. It’s important to stand up and do the right thing.
I’m very active in my ministry. I am a Jehovah’s Witness, and I became an ordained minister in 2000. These days, I spend about 15 to 20 hours a month going door to door and speaking with people about the Bible. In our religion, we study the scriptures daily and apply it to what is happening in the world today. We try to follow closely in the footsteps of Jesus.
What led you down this path?
At some point in time, people evaluate their lives ... their purpose. Although I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness, I was always a free spirit. I enjoyed athletics and competition. But as you age and slow down, you look at things differently.
It’s really been the foundation throughout my life, but all of us are human, and we can make poor choices. But, when you’re sincere at heart, you ask for forgiveness and receive it.
Before you were a successful coach, you were a great athlete. Are you still active?
I play a little golf, but my health becomes a factor. Back when I played, we didn’t have the trainers and medical staff that you have today, and I had some pretty serious injuries. Now I have arthritis. But, these days I’m swimming three times a week, doing the elliptical, and lifting weights. I feel so much better.
When you were coaching, what do you think was your key to success?
I had VERY good players.
That's modest. Really, there must have been something else.
No, the truth is that I really had great kids. They made my job easy. A coach can really mess up good players if they don’t know what they’re doing.
I guess I was good at putting personalities and talent together. I tried to be as simple as I could be and set the bar fairly high. I knew what I wanted. I knew what worked well in life. Unless you challenge yourself and set high standards, what is there to shoot for?
Do you have any advice for the coaches of today?
It’s hard to say one thing, but I would start by looking at your own circumstances and only yours; make your situation the best it possibly can be. If you deal with what you have, you will be successful.
In the early days of UCLA softball, when we started the program in the 70s, parents of players or fans would come up and complain that we didn’t have this and didn’t have that. Back then, we had no home field, just a few uniforms and only one scholarship. Although I wanted more for the program, I knew it would take time. Most importantly, I never focused on what we didn’t have. I was energized by what we did have – great players, great coaching staff, and a great team.
As the years went by, our situation changed, mainly from the pressures of Title IX. But, even though it was a constant uphill battle, we never focused on that. I used our circumstances to teach personal responsibility to the players, having them wash their own uniforms and maintain their own equipment.
Since you're enjoying retirement from full-time coaching, do you have any suggestions for other coaches on how to prepare for that phase of their lives?
Start the preparation young! I wish there was a way we could insist, if not mandate, that young coaches put away $100 a month into a retirement account. I’m sure that most would agree that they blow at least $25 a week. If they start when they’re young, just think of the nest egg they’ll have when they’re 60. No one counseled me on this until I was three-fourths of the way through my coaching career.
What about coaches nearing retirement age? Do you have any advice for them?
They need to find an honest, knowledgeable and experienced financial advisor to help them diversify their savings.