'Most Popular Coach' to Lead Pan Am 9 : Cal Poly's Carol Spanks Has Two Months to Mold Women's Team

Times Staff Writer

When the United States went looking for a coach to guide the women's softball team for August's Pan American Games, one name surfaced over all others.

The name was Carol Spanks, the successful Cal Poly Pomona coach whose passion for the game draws respect from her peers.

"Carol was easily the most popular coach and the one (candidate) most often mentioned," said Alan Hansen, chairman of the Pan American Games selection committee that chose Spanks. "She was the overwhelming favorite."

Spanks, who has compiled a 374-154-6 record in nine years at Pomona, tomorrow begins a week in Colorado Springs, Colo., looking for players to coach.

Sixty-four of the country's best have been asked to try out for 18 positions. The hopefuls will be assigned to four squads that will spend the better part of the week playing against each other under the scrutiny of a selection committee (Spanks won't have a vote), which will pick the U.S. team.

It won't be the first time Spanks has ventured into international competition. She coached an American Softball Assn. all-star team that won a tournament in Melbourne, Australia.

But she's still a little awe-struck at her current assignment.

"It's kind of overwhelming when you stop to think about it," she said.

What Spanks finds overwhelming is the honor, not the pressure of coaching in the Pan American Games. Pressure is something Spanks takes in stride.

"Yes, I think there's pressure. I'm not sure if it's self-induced or not," Spanks said. "But there's an expectation, especially in softball, for this country to win."

Spanks must mold a team in less than two months. She must find a starting lineup out of 18 players, most of whom are used to being the star of the team. But the real challenge will be shaping and motivating a team and instilling some semblance of chemistry in it.

"That chemistry will carry a team with lesser talent," Spanks said. "That chemistry is vital."

Spanks hopes that her team will include some mature players who have been out of college for awhile to provide leadership and stability on a team that must progress quickly.

Spanks' plans are as structured as an architect's blueprints. The key, of course, is transferring those plans to the field.

"She doesn't really have to tell you the way she wants things done," says Cal Poly Pomona second baseman Alison Stowell. "You just know she wants it done."

It's that command of the sport that has made Spanks successful. In the world according to Carol Spanks, life imitates softball.

"I tell my players, 'What you do out on the softball field is really an extension of what you're doing on the outside,' " Spanks said.

Softball is something that Carol Spanks grew up with but never outgrew. She attended UCLA in 1958, at a time when sports were short of women and there was no softball squad for women.

"When I was at UCLA," Spanks said, "they didn't even believe in competition for women."

UCLA's loss was the Amateur Softball Assn.'s gain. In 1958, Spanks began a softball career laced with national championships, culminating in her induction into the ASA Hall of Fame in 1981. Her 17 years with the Orange Lionettes produced four ASA national championships and 13 All-American honors at shortstop.

"I've always loved (softball) and never wanted to get to a point where I wanted to quit," Spanks said.

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