By Greg Johnson
After a lifetime of being one of the greatest ambassadors for college softball, including the last 33 years as the game’s all-time winningest coach at the Division I level, Margie Wright has hung up the spikes.
But the win total is only part of Wright’s story. She has played an integral role in marketing the game, fundraising to support it, improving the facilities in which teams compete, drawing record crowds and making sure student-athletes excel academically.
“It was a difficult decision to retire, because I love coaching and working with young people,” said Wright, who won a championship with the Bulldogs in 1998. “My family has sacrificed a lot for me to devote so many years to a coaching career. It’s time for me be with them now and enjoy everything about their lives.”
One of her career highlights was the construction of Bulldog Diamond, which is home to the Fresno State softball team. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. Office for Civil Rights randomly selected the school for examination regarding Title IX compliance. Among the outcomes was a requirement for the university to build a women’s softball stadium comparable to its baseball stadium.
Wright wanted that done correctly. Her determination resulted in Bulldog Diamond being a gold standard for an on-campus softball facility.
“A lot of schools began calling us to see how we went about building the stadium,” said Wright, whose team set a single-game attendance record of 5,724 in 2000 against Arizona. “We sent our plans to a lot of schools, and they made smaller versions of our stadium. But there are some beautiful stadiums out there.”
In 1997, Wright went on a fundraising campaign to help the athletics department repay the multi-million dollar loan necessary to construct the stadium.
“We raised $2.5 million to give back to the university,” Wright said. “I learned so much. It is humbling to go out and ask for money. It is also exhilarating because someone tells you they want to pay for the press box. The emotions were high and low at times. I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do.”
Selling her program is something Wright has always done. She joined several organizations in the Fresno community, which allowed her to tell people about her program and pique their interest about attending a game.
“I’ve always believed that people other than our parents would enjoy watching softball if it were promoted properly,” said Wright, who was an assistant coach for the gold-medal winning 1996 U.S. Olympic Team, which had five of her former players on the roster. “That has proven to be true.”
Wright was a standout pitcher during her student-athlete days at Illinois State (1971-74). She continued to play Amateur Softball Association Major Women’s Softball into her 40s. Many of her teammates were her former players, including her first recruiting class at Fresno State.
“They got to see a different side of me,” Wright said. “They got to understand where I was coming from as a coach. Everything I tried to get them to accomplish as a player, it was a part of who I was when I stepped on the field as a pitcher. That was really cool.”
Wright plans to relocate near her brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews in the Chicago area. But she will still take the time to continue to help grow the sport.
“I want to promote softball in the Midwest, too,” Wright said. “There are a lot of great players in that area. We have to show them there are opportunities out there.”
For Wright, being an ambassador for the sport never ends.