April 18, 2006
Although Gayle Blevins has already made her mark on the game of softball, October 21, 2005 is a day she’ll long remember. She was recognized, on that day, for her achievements as Indiana University’s head softball coach from 1980-1987. She was inducted to the Indiana Hall of Fame, which guarantees her place in IU history.
During her eight-year run at IU, Blevins amassed a record of 301-146-2. She won three conferences titles and made three appearances in the College World Series. In her first season, she led the team to a second place finish. The series was then part of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
She initially received a letter from the Indiana’s Varsity Club notifying her she was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The feeling was surreal. It put her in a flashback mode. It put her back in that time with all the young women she was able to coach, along with many of the people she worked with.
While she was overjoyed with the honor, she did not take credit for it. She gave credit for “her success” to the women who competed during that era. It was their prize as well as hers.
“It validated what those women did during that time period,” Blevins said of her former players. “It wasn’t a time period when they received very little recognition for their work. When I wrote my acceptance speech, it was something I put down on paper. It was a great appreciation to validate what those women had done, because I felt like it was an era that had gone unnoticed.”
The women that she had coached during that time were able to accomplish much without the luxury of many resources. Blevins feels the women valued things more because of the work it took. They didn’t have all the resources available to today’s athlete.
The women played for the love of the game. That was the single most motivating thing. Sure, they had scholarships, but it was a different environment than we have today.
Blevins was able to share her induction with many former players and coaches. It was fun because she had not seen many of the women in almost two decades. She felt special to have the opportunity to reminisce about the memories they took from their time at Indiana.
The following day, she was publicly honored at halftime of the Indiana-Ohio State football game. She was pleased to see the number of people at the game, especially the one’s that showed support for what she and her teams at IU had done.
Following the 1987 season, Blevins opted to leave Indiana to become head coach at Iowa. Since then, she has only added to her legendary career.
Rather than looking elsewhere, Blevins wanted to stay in the Midwest. She has always been a Midwesterner and would never want to leave the environment. The Midwest environment, along with the Dr. Christine Grant is what really influenced her decision to take the Iowa job.
“She covers so many aspects of the game which most coaches don’t find time for. Gayle is just the complete package. One of the best things about her is keeping her thoughts open to everybody. She will still constantly learn from anyone she visits, whether it is a high school coach, travel ball coach, or other assistants.”
Iowa Associate Head Coach Michelle Venturella
“I felt like I knew the community and the kind of environment around it,” Blevins said about Iowa. “I felt with someone like Dr. Grant around, that’s a pretty powerful leader. She had a team of people with her that could make good things happen. The support was there and the people really valued the women’s program.”
What Blevins brought with her to Iowa were the experiences she had at Indiana. Those experiences, good or bad, have helped her tremendously.
The reputation that Blevins had developed has also paid off. It has allowed her to recruit some very good athletes during her tenure at Iowa. She was also able to hire Associate Head Coach Michelle Venturella, a former Indiana Hoosier standout, by way of her reputation.
Now in her fourth year, and recently promoted to Associate Head Coach, Venturella remembers “the call.” She said it was 9:18 a.m. on July 6. She was in shock when Blevins offered her a staff position.
At the time, Venturella was living in Indianapolis, working as a private softball instructor to keep herself in playing shape for the national team. She was trying to figure out if she wanted to coach or teach in high school. She loved teaching. After already buying a house, Venturella got the call. She ultimately decided to take the job with Blevins and Iowa because it was the chance of a lifetime.
“You realize when certain opportunities come knocking that you can’t pass them by. It could be the only knock you’ll get,” Venturella said.
Working under Blevins has provided Venturella with confidence in her coaching abilities. She has been able to learn a tremendous amount during the short time she’s been at Iowa. Competing with the national team has given her the opportunity to be around some of the top coaches in softball. She believes Blevins is one of the best. “She covers so many aspects of the game which most coaches don’t find time for,” Venturella said. “Gayle is just the complete package. One of the best things about her is keeping her thoughts open to everybody. She will still constantly learn from anyone she visits, whether it is a high school coach, travel ball coach, or other assistants. She’s very open and that’s what’s kept her fresh throughout the years.”
That ability to keep things fresh is what has allowed Blevins to maintain her success year in and year out. Iowa has been good to Blevins and it does not seem like she will be leaving any time soon.
She continues to build on her growing legacy, built during her career in the Big Ten. She continues because she loves it. She loves the game, but most of all she loves teaching young women about the game and about life.
By Josh Mitchell, Iowa Sports Information