Mary Nutter Contributions Still Making a Difference
By Lacy Lee Baker
From player to coach to clinic administrator, 1997 NFCA Hall of Fame inductee Mary Nutter is always striving to make the game better. Never afraid to speak her mind, the CEO of National Sports Clinics has touched many during a lifetime of sport.
Tell me about some of your early experiences in the game.
When I went to college at Michigan State in 1966, there were no women’s sports... just club sports, and I played volleyball, basketball and field hockey but not softball. There was a rule then that if you played in college, even club sports, you couldn’t play ASA ball. I wanted to play ASA Women’s Major softball and did for the Lansing Laurels for nine years.
In 1975, I played for the first women’s pro league on a team called the Michigan Travelers. Halfway through the season, the head coach was fired and they asked if I would be the coach the rest of the way. Coaching got in my blood, and it took off from there.
And, then you went into collegiate coaching?
First, I taught physical education and started the girls’ sports program at Ovid-Elsie High School in Elsie, Michigan. That was from 1970-1977. After receiving my master’s degree in 1979, I was hired at Pittsburg State and was head coach of the softball team. Our team qualified for nationals twice in seven years.
You are most known these days as CEO of the National Sports Clinics. What led you in that direction?
In 1976, I went to a women’s basketball clinic in Grand Rapids (Michigan) and got to hear John Wooden, Bobby Knight, Dean Smith, Henry Iba and so many of the great basketball coaches of that era. There was nothing like that for softball, so in 1981 while I was head coach at Pittsburg State, I ran my first softball clinic in Kansas City at the Park Hotel, near Worlds of Fun. It was called the Dudley Softball Coaches Clinic, and Margie Wright, Linda Wells and Paul Stella, who ran an adult women’s major team out of Omaha, Nebraska, were three of my speakers. We had 130 in attendance.
I ran clinics the following two years, and then in 1983, the NAIA said ‘Why don’t you call it the NAIA Coaches Clinic?’ since I was affiliated with the NAIA through my coaching position at PSU. They funded it, and as it turned out, it lost money since Kansas City experienced a terrible ice storm and no one could get there. That was the end of the NAIA involvement. I did pay the NAIA back, in full, the following year.
In 1984, I moved it to Chicago and called it the National Softball Coaches Clinic. In 1985, we expanded to three clinics, and in 1987, there were five. Also in 1987, I formed my business, National Sports Clinics. Today, we have nine clinics throughout the country, and the rest is history.
How difficult was it to start?
I knew a lot of people in softball, so it really wasn’t tough. Many NFCA Hall of Famers have spoken at our clinics over the years. I never borrowed money to get it started; I just used my life savings. I love what I do, so it isn’t difficult. When I was growing up, my family owned a hardware store, so I guess business was in my blood. I learned a lot from my parents about how to work with people and how to treat your customers.
What are some funny things that have happened over the years?
I’ll never forget this one. We were in Fresno at a Holiday Inn, and the room we were in had mirrors on three of the walls. The attendees kept urging Margie Wright to demonstrate her pitching, and I said, ‘Margie, please don’t do this.’ At one point, I got called out of the room, and one of the attendees grabbed a glove, and said, ‘I can catch her.’ Well, Margie threw her rise ball, and the guy couldn’t catch her. Margie did not scratch, chip or break any of the glass. The ball landed in the six-inch area that did not have any glass in it. It truly was a great rise ball.
At another clinic, Pam Newton was talking on infield play. She asked for a volunteer and asked him to get in the ready position. He was a little slow getting into it, and she said, ‘What’s the matter with you, do you have a wooden leg or something?’ The volunteer said with a sad, straight face ‘yes’ and Pam was so embarrassed. He really didn’t, but it got the whole room rolling with laughter.
And, Cindy Bristow caused a ruckus one year. She was using a bat in a demonstration, and it flew out of her hands, like a helicopter propeller, into the audience. You’ve never seen six men dive under the table so fast in your life.
What’s been the key to your success?
We’ve tried to get speakers who have had success and who can teach the game. I think high school coaches have the hardest job in the world because they can’t go out and recruit; they work with the players who attend their school. Learning to teach the game is so important.
You were on the first board of the NFCA. Can you talk a little about those times?
We would meet in Omaha, Nebraska, at the early Women’s College World Series, and would share ideas. There were a lot of people who would do so much, not for the credit, but for the love of the game.
Through the years, you’ve been one who hasn’t worried about speaking your mind. Have you always been so outspoken?
My mother and father taught my two brothers and me “to leave it better than the way you found it.” We learned to (1) respect what you are doing; (2) respect the institution; (3) respect the game; and (4) keep in mind that everything is bigger than we are.
When I see something wrong, I have to speak out. Coaches should behave ethically and do it the right way. Softball is such a wonderful game, and I hate it when some coaches and players take it for granted. I’ve always had the utmost respect for those who went before me and paved the way so I would have the opportunities that I have today.
Today, there are so many great role models. For the older generation, we did things by trial and error. But, today, everything is right there for you, and coaches should not forget to do their job of making softball better. My philosophy is to keep things simple, and do them well: it’s about pitching, throwing, hitting and catching.
So, when you aren’t running clinics, what else keeps you busy?
I love to cook, and I have a collection of hundreds of cookbooks and thousands of recipes. A friend of mine and I just started talking one day about cooking, and laughingly said we should start a catering business. Well, we did, and it’s called Jazzy Girls Catering in the Kansas City area.
We don’t really promote it; we get business by word of mouth. Our plan was to start small, and my friend Debbie called and said that she had booked our first gig. She said, ‘Now don’t get nervous, but it’s a wedding for 200 people.’ I was so mad because I thought we were starting small, but it turned out okay; we had roasted turkey, brisket, cheesy potatoes, settler’s beans, pasta salad, tossed salad and beverages.
A local volunteer fire department also hired us to cater a “thank you” dinner, and we just finished a wedding for 300. However, because of my clinic work, I don’t do any catering from December through February.
Another thing I like to do is make wine. A friend of mine helped get me started about three years ago, and I’ve bottled 1,230 bottles to this point. It’s all done with kits, and I usually make about four batches at a time. Right now, I’m into fruit wine, like raspberry and strawberry Riesling wine.
I also like to travel and read, but softball is my first love and baseball is my second love.