WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
Wisconsin-Parkside Still the Home of Draft After All These Years
By Lacy Lee Baker
Linda Draft, an inductee in the NFCA’s first Hall of Fame class in 1991, came from an era when coaches were teachers first. And, although she retired from coaching in 1991, Draft is still a teacher at Wisconsin-Parkside, the school that became hers 30 years ago.
How did you get involved in the sport of softball?
Ironically, I wasn’t a physical education major. I majored in math but minored in physical education. It was 1975 and Title IX had just been passed, so I decided it would be a good time to go into athletics. I went to graduate school at Michigan State, and it was really a wonderful time to be there. I was a graduate assistant for the softball team, which had won the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) championship the previous year in 1976.
Tell me about your time at Michigan State.
It was really a great experience with a great group of people. Dianne Ulibarri was the head coach, Sandy Fischer was the assistant coach and Carol Hutchins (now head coach at Michigan) and Kathy Strahan (now head coach at Cal State Sacramento) were players. Gloria Becksford had graduated, but she was the MVP pitcher the year before. Later, she went on to coach at Michigan State for 14 years.
Had you played softball prior to your coaching experience?
Not really ... just with my brothers in the backyard, and I also organized my sorority’s softball team at Hope College during my undergraduate years. I was more of a volleyball player. Later on, I did play women’s major for the Mobil Oil team out of Holland, Michigan, for about three summers. During my graduate school years at Michigan State, I umpired fastpitch in the men’s recreational league and that was quite an experience. I was the only umpire on the field, so it became quite a good aerobic workout. It also taught me how to deal with people.
And then you made the transition to your professional career?
Yes, I started out at Wisconsin-Parkside in 1977 as the assistant athletics director, clinical assistant professor and head volleyball and softball coach. We became pretty successful in both sports, and then in 1981, I just didn’t feel I could coach both sports anymore. Even though I had a stronger coaching knowledge base in volleyball, I gave it up since volleyball matches were held at night, and I thought we could get a part-time volleyball coach. I was lucky that my athletics director was very supportive.
Obviously you were very successful in coaching softball, with your teams appearing in the NAIA championship eight of the 10 years in the 1980s. How did you learn about coaching softball?
I became involved working at Mary Nutter’s National Sports Clinics and serving on the executive group for the NAIA Softball Coaches Association. I also was the NAIA national rules representative. During my interaction with other coaches, I found out that most of them were wonderful at sharing what they had learned. People like Linda Wells (former Minnesota and Arizona State coach) and Sharon Drysdale (former Northwestern coach) wanted to continue to explore coaching techniques and talk about skill development. There was an attitude among coaches that we could share information and then still try to beat each other with our very best teams.
Do you think coaches still share information to that degree?
I still attend Mary’s clinic in Chicago, and I don’t see that level of idea sharing. Back then, it was more of a thrill to beat a team at its very best. I also thought that the most important part was to teach the players how to think for themselves. A great example of this came when I was coaching volleyball. Karen Lockyear, the coach at Lewis University, was in a car accident, so her players had to coach themselves from September through November. They qualified for the national championship on their own. I always wanted my team to be that successful, whether I was there or not.
Eventually, you got out of coaching. How did that happen?
I became the athletics director in 1991 and still coached the team that year. It was really hard, and I knew I couldn’t continue to do either role justice. I hired Tory Acheson (now head coach at Tennessee Tech) as a part-time coach. I served as athletics director for five years; then in 1997, I had a chance to step back into the role of associate athletics director. We were starting a building project to add to our facility, and I took the lead on the project. I still had a lot of irons in the fire, with athletic administration, teaching 50 percent, and I also served as the compliance coordinator for 30 years.
And, what are you doing now?
It’s the first time in my life I’ve only had one job! As of July, I’m a full-time teacher, working as a clinical associate professor for the Sport and Fitness Management major.
Do you miss coaching?
I miss the chess game on the field. In softball, more than volleyball and basketball, there’s that chess game against the other coach. And, I also miss teaching the game. I really miss working with the athletes, and seeing them excel. I miss the recruiting the least, and the weather. How many times did we start off a game at 40 degrees and finish in weather below 32?
Where do you think we are now in the sport?
On the positive side, there are more opportunities for more young women to play. We have more opportunities to make a difference in their lives by teaching both the game and positive character traits. On the negative side, I think coaches and parents often restrict players by not allowing them to play more than one sport. Players are burning out earlier. Within the school setting, some schools can no longer field teams because the majority of players are playing on club teams. I think that can hurt character development because although there are many excellent coaches without a background in education, some coaches come to the game without a sense of teaching more than X’s and O’s.
What advice would you give the young coaches of today?
When I was coaching, my main goal would be to allow the players to teach me as much as I taught them. Maybe a former coach they had did something a little differently, and I could learn that from the player. A lot of times coaches aren’t receptive to learning new ways. They shut the players down and don’t allow them be teachers.
I’m a big proponent of letting the players teach. I used to have my players teaching at clinics because I always thought they learned so much when they had to coach younger players.
As I became a more experienced coach, I noticed that I was exceptional at the art of fungo. It was a skill that I got better at each year. I decided that it was skill that could improve my team’s eye/hand coordination, so I took myself off the field. There was a learning curve, but they became excellent at picking apart their teammates’ abilities and conducting a drill to maximize learning the skill. They also had to understand the theory behind the drill, which made them a thinking player. I became a field manager, overseeing instruction and directing traffic, and we all performed better with that one simple decision.
Where are you in your life now?
Life really has come full-circle. I’m still teaching, and one of my courses is Issues and Ethics in Sport Management. It’s really been fascinating to explore how sports and society influence each other. Coaches make the difference in so many lives. We’re always a role model and each player needs to learn responsibility.
I’m also being the kid I never had time to be before. I’m a triathlete, and one of our fitness graduates is my personal trainer. This summer I’ll compete in a sprint, one Olympic and two half-Iron Man triathlons. I always do the Memphis in May triathlon and there is a team of 80-year-old men, with one swimming, one biking and one running. It’s very motivating to see them compete and to realize that age is not the limiting factor to staying active.
Besides focusing on keeping myself strong, I also like to work on my house and yard. It’s good practice for the facilities class I teach.
And, with that, Draft said she had to go shovel the foot of snow that had just fallen in her Wisconsin town.