MONTEREY — Throughout her 17 years as a women’s basketball coach at Monterey Peninsula College, Wendy Bates’ passion for coaching oozed through her veins.
Behind the scenes and off the hardwood, however, the influence Bates has had in providing her student-athletes a support system in taking the next step in their lives was often overshadowed.
Losing that connection went into her decision when accepting the school’s athletic director position last summer, as did COVID-19.
“Instead of fearing I would lose that, I realized I could have a bigger impact with more student-athletes,” Bates said. “In some ways, this pandemic motivated me more to take this step.”
Nearly eight months on the job, Bates has yet to see her first sporting event at MPC as the pandemic has grounded all community college sports in the state of California.
A decision to resume Season 1 sports on Jan. 20 has been pushed back to a date yet to be determined. MPC has opted in if sports are deemed safe to return by state and county health departments.
So instead of witnessing and scheduling sporting events, Bates finds herself conducting Zoom meetings with coaches from 10 sports, and athletes, preparing as if a season were to resume.
“I’ve been inspired by our coaches, staff and student-athletes to continue to advocate for a return in some capacity,” Bates said. “It’s kind of second nature for athletes and coaches to pivot, change and adapt.”
That’s not to suggest there haven’t been challenges for the first-year AD over the past eight months. With athletes not allowed on campus, there is that in-person connection loss.
“Coaches are still conducting their classes online and we have Zoom meetings,” Bates said. “We’ve tried to engage athletes with different methods. Quite frankly, it’s more about their mental health.”
Participation has been encouraging as over 100 athletes take part in the bi-monthly Zoom meetings. Bates, though, has had to put some of her ideas on hold.
“We have all had to learn another skill during this,” Bates said. “When something gets taken away from you, it’s hard to walk through that door.”
Having spent the past 25 years coaching women’s basketball — including five at Hartnell, Bates loved her role as a basketball coach so much at MPC that she put her future visions on hold.
“I love coaching, it’s never felt like a job,” Bates said. “So it probably held me back. I had thought about some new challenges, something different. But I wanted to remain in athletics.”
Bates was positioning herself for potential advancement, having taken the division chair of kinesiology at MPC two years ago, giving her more of an administrative role on campus.
When Lyndon Schutzler stepped down after nearly three decades as the school’s athletic director, Bates felt she was prepared to take the position — even during a pandemic.
“I felt inspired working with Lyndon the last 17 years,” Bates said. “I liked his leadership and how he ran the department. If I’m not coaching, I wanted to have a hand in athletics.”
Taking the job on a two-year interim basis means Bates will have to reapply in 2022. Yet, she has already established herself with the coaching staff at MPC with her mannerisms and outlook.
“Wendy has done a phenomenal job despite the situation we’re in,” MPC men’s basketball coach Blake Spiering said. “She’s done a tremendous job of keeping the coaches’ morale up.”
It’s that same attitude and approach that Bates brought with her as a basketball coach that has enabled her to blend in with her former peers, never coming in unprepared during meetings.
“She’s always had our respect,” MPC women’s basketball coach Erin O’Hare said. “We appreciate the communication. She’s been great in being a leader, raising our spirits, while being honest with us.”
As much as Bates misses sports and the moments and memories it creates on a daily basis, she has tried to keep things in perspective to what is occurring throughout the world during this pandemic.
“I love athletics,” Bates said. “I miss the impact we can make. But what’s really happening in the world is important. It’s brought to light some of our vulnerable population.”
After stops at Hartnell and Feather River College in Plumas County, Bates has made MPC home. She has built relationships and established herself, earning the trust of her colleagues.
“When someone is overseeing a department that’s so interactive with their students, you need that athletic background,” Spiering said. “You hear about player-coaches. She’s an athletic director for the coaches.”
In Bates’ mind, the pandemic has created an even playing field. No athletic director in the past 100 years has dealt with a virus that has shut down community college campuses and sports across California.
While normalcy at times seems so in the distance, Bates has kept a positive outlook. Her passion for the college and the student-athletes is evident in her voice, echoed by her colleagues on campus.
“One thing she taught me when we coached together is no matter what happens, it’s always about the student-athletes,” O’Hare said. “She’s kept that at the forefront leading us through this unprecedented time. What can we do to support them?”
While Season 1 sports are in a holding pattern, Season 2 sports are supposed to begin on March 27. But as Bates pointed out, dates haven’t held a lot of weight during this ordeal.
“No one is going to start until we’re able to do so,” Bates said. “It’s a guessing game. Dates aren’t that important. What we know is we’re in shelter in place. It’s hard to look too far down the road.”
Nevertheless, Bates has put plans in place in the event of a season — or maybe just a sport — is allowed to resume sometime this spring.
“We plan in case we’re able to move out of stages,” Bates said. “It’s just planning. You can’t flip a switch and it goes away. We may never get there. But you have to be prepared. I wish I had a crystal ball. But I don’t.”
Bates has emplored her coaches to work with student-athletes that have academic issues and provide a support system while everyone remains in a holding pattern that began last March.
“There are different challenges that as a staff we’ve been able to talk about together,” Bates said. “No one is going in a different direction. Our focus is what’s best for our programs and our student-athletes.”
Contributed by local news sources