WHERE ARE THEY NOW? July 2008
“Memory Collecting” Made It All Worthwhile
By Lacy Lee Baker
NFCA 1993 Hall of Fame inductee Judi Garman was the first full-time softball coach (without other duties such as teaching) hired in the country when she joined the Cal State Fullerton staff in 1980. Although winning ballgames was a top priority in Garman’s 28-year coaching career, it was the art of “memory collecting” that made it all worthwhile.
You had a very long and successful coaching career, winning more than 1,100 games and five national titles (four consecutive JC championships and the 1986 NCAA title). What advice would you give the coaches of today to reach the same longevity?
Find a way to enjoy what you do. I recently read in Fastpitch Delivery on how coaches were going to unwind before the next season began. I was shocked that some of them said they were only going to take two or three days off. I couldn’t believe it! They need to totally get away from the telephone and responsibilities, and get out of the grind of the season.
Many years ago, Bo Schembechler was coaching Michigan in the Rose Bowl, and there was a story in the paper about how Bo’s team was going to do a lot of “memory collecting” while in the Southern California area. Unlike his Big Ten rival Woody Hayes from Ohio State who would sequester his team in a hotel when playing there, Schembechler said his team was going to Disneyland and see the other Southern California sights. He said he wanted his players to be able to tell their grandchildren all about their trip to the Rose Bowl.
From then on, “memory collecting” became part of my coaching philosophy. Sure, I wanted to win ballgames, but I also wanted my players to collect the very best memories. I took Fullerton teams to Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. When we played in different parts of the country, we tried to give them an experience that they wouldn’t have at home. When we played in Lafayette, La., we took the team on a riverboat. When we played in Huntsville, Ala., we visited a maximum security prison, and when we were in Santa Barbara for a tournament, we went camping in the mountains.
When the alumni get together, it’s the experiences we had that we laugh about and remember. After all, I got to collect the memories too.
How did you get into coaching, anyway?
I always dreamed of (1) being a coach, (2) living in a city and (3) driving a sports car. My dreams came true in the late 70’s when I was coaching at Golden West College, living in Los Angeles and driving a Corvette.
I had grown up in Saskatoon, which is located in the Saskatchewan province of Canada. All girls were encouraged to participate in sports there, and while in junior high school, I played softball on a women’s team. Eventually I played for the Saskatoon Imperials women’s club team that represented Canada in the world championships in Osaka, Japan, in 1970.
I got my first coaching job at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, Calif., after I received my master’s degree from UC Santa Barbara. I went to Golden West in 1972. In the 70s, the junior colleges in California and Arizona had the highest level of softball in the country, and we had uniforms and were able to give the kids shoes and equipment. It wasn’t until the passage of Title IX that the four-year schools started to make inroads for their women’s teams.
When Billie Moore was hired at UCLA in 1977 as the first women’s basketball coach in the country with no teaching or other-sport coaching responsibilities, we could only dream that THAT day would come for softball. We all thought, “not in our lifetime.” But then, Cal State Fullerton advertised a “softball coach only” full-time job in 1980 and I was lucky enough to get it.
The 70s and 80s must have been an interesting time for collegiate softball. How do you think the sport has changed since then?
Numerous ways – facilities, uniforms, equipment, funding, transportation... I can tell you stories...
• When I was at Golden West, we played UCLA on a rec field with throw-down bases and no fence. At one point, we had to stop the game to get the kite-flyer off the field.
• At first, the only uniforms were short shorts and tops, so I got with Pony and designed a long-pant uniform for girls to wear. It started a long-pant trend, which then eventually
went back to shorts and now it’s back to long pants.
• The only pitching machine out there was this old Chucker machine that had a metal arm, and you would have to spring-load it and then jump on a lever, which threw the ball forward. It really was dangerous because you could get scraped up pretty badly with a misstep. Eventually I teamed up with ATEC, and I think I must have sold over 1,000 Hummer machines for the company.
• We traveled in vans, but on this one trip to Phoenix, the Cal State Fullerton parents got together and rented us a bus. We got there, and our hotel rooms were messed up during the week of the big gem show, so we only had two rooms and couldn’t get more. The coaches and female parents slept in one room, the players in the other and the dads on the bus. In the middle of the night, one of the players had a nightmare and screamed, “Look out, he’s got a gun.” Well, that caused havoc in the players’ room with three of them getting injured in the melee. They had sprained ankles and couldn’t play the next day.
We also had a different philosophy regarding the players themselves. Letting the players from the various teams mingle was not taboo as it is today. Cal State Fullerton organized the first big tournament – the Pony Tournament – in collegiate softball, and the players would mix (we had a skit evening where each team performed a skit) and many are still friends today.
In scheduling, I always felt it was important to reciprocate visits, so if a school came out to play us, we would go to their school the next year. We did that with Texas A&M, and players on both teams became very good friends. The night before we played them in the 1986 NCAA national championship finals, both teams got together and had dinner. The parents attended, and Texas A&M coach Bob Brock had the idea that we should bring baby pictures of all the players and make a game out of it. It was a great night, and then the next day, it was all business.
What about fundraising? Obviously programs weren’t funded as well as they are today.
It was written in my Cal State Fullerton contract that I had to raise $30,000 to $50,000 a year to offset some of the program’s cost, so I became a fundraising expert. We sold everything from thousands of See’s suckers to t-shirts (“Is There Life After Practice” t-shirt) to fish. Oh, selling fish was a miserable experience. After a whole day of selling fish by the pound out of a refrigerated trailer on the side of the road, we only cleared about $30.
We also charged for our games, and when I was coaching, I kept one eye on the fence to watch for people sneaking in. I even made my own mother buy tickets. Eventually the ticket people felt bad for her and used to send her tickets free of charge without my knowledge.
How would you describe yourself as a coach? What were your priorities?
Teaching fundamentals was very important ... teaching them so that the players understood concepts and could coach themselves. I taught them the “why” of everything so they could become good teachers. Other coaches used to love for our players to work their camps, because our players were such good teachers.
I’m so proud of my players who went into the coaching ranks ... Names like Michelle Gromacki (Cal State Fullerton), Connie Clark (Texas), Jill Matyuch (formerly of Ohio and now coaching high school), Kathy Van Wyk (San Di- ego State), Leslie King (Pennsylvania), Pam Knox (Western Oregon), and youth coaches Pam Newton, Deb Hartwig and Chenita Rogers.
I also was big into the rules, and had a reputation for knowing the rules. I think I won about three to four games a year just because I knew the rules so well, or pretended I did.
I hated to lose. When my mother would come out to watch my team in March, she wouldn’t ride home with me if my team lost. On the ride home, I would just play the game over and over in my head and sometimes I would get so lost that my mother feared for her life.
As much as I hated to lose, I LOVED to win. In my first five years at Cal State Fullerton, we had to use a municipal facility called Lions Field as our home field. One time we were playing a night game, and it started to drizzle. The park manager came out and said we had to get off the field. It was only the third inning but we were up 5-0, and I told him “no.” We argued for quite a while, and then he said he was calling the police. I told him to go ahead. The police came out and told us to get off the field or I would be arrested. I told him we weren’t getting off the field, and then they headed for the light switch. I beat them there and started waving my arms and wouldn’t let them turn out the lights. Well, shortly we got the last out, and they didn’t take me to jail.
You also were a well-known clinic speaker. How did that start?
When I was at Golden West in 1972, there was not a softball clinic in the country that I knew about. I got volunteered to have one, and about 35 people showed up. We charged them $5 to cover our mimeographing costs, which shows you how long ago it was that we had to mimeograph the handouts. The next year we had 100 coaches, and eventually it grew to more than 300 in attendance.
As clinics began to spring up throughout the country, I went to as many of them as I could, baseball included. If I could pick up two things to help my team, I was happy. I would go to practice on Monday with a new drill, and the players would say, "Oh no, she's gone to another clinic."
At first, there was very little sharing of information because coaches didn’t want to give away their secrets. I always wondered how the sport was going to progress if coaches didn’t share ideas. As more men became involved in the sport, the sharing increased because they had the attitude, “I’ll tell you how I do it, and then I’ll beat you anyway.”
Clinics also opened my eyes to interna- tional softball. I did my first clinic in Italy in 1986 and then returned every summer to do a camp for the next 25 years. I would hold a camp for a week, and then travel to new places.
And, eventually, that led you into international coaching?
Yes, I coached the Italian National Team from 2000 to 2002, competing in the European and World Championships. The greatest memory I ever had was when the 2002 International Softball Federation X Women’s World Championship was held on the field that I had competed on as a young player in my hometown of Saskatoon. As the Italian team marched into the stadium for opening ceremonies, the announcer said, “and now the Italian team, coached by Saskatoon’s own Judi Garman.” There was a standing ovation, and it occurred to me that my life had come full circle.
You retired from collegiate coaching in 1999 and international coaching in 2002. What occupies your time these days?
I split my time between two homes, one in the mountains of Colorado and the other in Palm Desert, California. Since we live in two vacation spots, there’s always a lot of company and one time there were 12 different overnight guests in five days!
I also travel quite a bit and just in the last 15 months visited Scotland, Ireland, South Africa, the East Coast and went on an Alaskan cruise. We also are very active and play golf and go fishing quite often.
It's obvious that you planned well for your retirement.
I was born at a good time for a lot of reasons. I got into real estate at a great time in Southern California. I had some friends who showed me how to buy a home with no money down, and my real estate hold- ings went up from there. I worked really hard over the years and invested the money instead of spending a lot.