Wells thick resume includes coaching Greece at Olympics

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Linda Wells has had a lifetime of memories in her 30-plus years of coaching women's sports at the University of Minnesota and Arizona State University.

But nothing will compare to what the 1972 Southeast Missouri State University graduate experienced in the summer of 2004, when she was the coach of the Greek softball team at the 2004 Summer Olympic Games in Athens.

"It was like a fairy tale," Wells said. "The crowds and the country loved us. We were the darlings of Greece."

Wells had some experience on the international level, assisting the United States squad to gold medals in the 1985 South Pacific Classic in Australia and the 1987 Pan-American Games.

"That was a very exciting time," Wells said. "Softball was not played in the Olympics until 1996, so winning the Pan-American Games was the pinnacle at the time."

Her vast experience on the collegiate and international level, her background as past president of the National Softball Coaches Association and her numerous camps and clinics helped get her foot in the door for the dream opportunity.

"I was asked to submit a resume for the International Softball Federation in April 2002," Wells said. "I met with them and talked about the feasibility of having a Greek team. They asked if I could help with putting a team together and eventually about the possibility of coaching the team."

Wells met with the Greek Softball Association during the World Championships in Canada in July of 2002 and was announced in early August as the Greek Olympic coach.

That began a whirlwind period of trying to put together a representative team to compete with the best teams in the world.

"Softball was really a development sport at the time in Greece," Wells said. "Most of the players who competed in the sport had only begun to play in 1996 when Athens was awarded the Games."

Players of Greek descent from the United States, Canada and Australia were also eligible to play for the team. They comprised most of the 15-player roster after numerous tryouts, although two players from Greece did make the final roster.

A training camp took place at Arizona State in the summer of 2003, and an extensive tour followed with games all over the world.

"It was a jam-packed period but such a terrific experience," Wells said. "We all had a great time."

The Greek Olympic team had a 19-0 record on their pre-Olympic tour, but very little was expected from the squad in Athens against world powers such as the U.S., Australia and Japan.

Wells' players did not embarrass themselves. They posted a couple of wins -- against Canada and Italy -- and were competitive in most of their seven games. Their largest margin of defeat was 7-0 to the U.S., which eventually won the gold medal.

"I was very proud of their performance," Wells said. "We finished sixth in the world but we like to say we were first in Europe since we did defeat Italy."

Those two weeks in Athens long will live in the memory of Wells, who was born and raised in Franklin County, Mo., and graduated from Southeast Missouri State in 1972.

"It was spectacular to walk in the opening ceremonies at the birthplace of the games," Wells said. "The excitement of the games and the whole village experience is hard to explain.

"The players, like me, were just so excited and proud of be in the Olympics. And the chance to coach the home team in the Olympics was really a fairy tale experience."

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