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Liberty Journal

Softball legend Dot Richardson fired up to coach Lady Flames

Fall 2013 : By Ted Allen

Liberty University softball coach Dot RichardsonAs a softball player, Dot Richardson’s exuberant personality and competitive drive made her one of the most inspiring female athletes in recent U.S. Olympic memory.

She was the starting shortstop at UCLA, leading the Bruins to the first of 11 NCAA championships in 1982. On Team USA, she guided the United States to gold medals in the Summer Olympics in 1996 in Atlanta and 2000 in Sydney, Australia.

Now, as Liberty University’s head softball coach — succeeding Paul Wetmore who retired in May after recording 547 wins over 20 seasons — Richardson wants to inspire the Lady Flames to live out their dreams, both on and off the field.

“I’m kind of a living example for these student-athletes to see what the sport can do for them,” she said. “Softball is just a vehicle for the women who play it, an environment that nurtures so much of a woman’s growth as an individual in all aspects: physical, mental, and spiritual.”

Richardson was a 13-year-old playing with women twice her age on the Orlando (Fla.) Rebels semipro travel team when she fielded her first autograph request.

“This man asked me for an autograph after a game my rookie year and as I was signing it, he said, ‘I love to watch you play because when I watch you play, I feel so alive,’” she said. “That inspiration — utilizing the gifts God has given us to ultimately glorify Him — is what I believe the Lord wants us to give to others and sports is a great avenue to do that.”

Her passion for the game is exceeded only by her zeal to share her faith.

“Really, what is it all about? You could win a national championship and be an NCAA All-American (as she was five times), but when it all comes down to it, (we) need to ask: What have we done with the gifts the Lord has given us? Are we impacting others by showing Him in us?”

Her advice: “Just get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit work through you, through your actions and opportunities, to bring people to see the Lord.”

She said the steps to building a successful team include teaching players to master the physical fundamentals of the game and helping them recognize the gifts God has given them are meant to be shared. It is this recognition and belief in Him that builds mental toughness and confidence, which in turn removes all fear and doubt.

“You’re not worried about getting out,’” Richardson said. “It’s just ‘Here I am, world.’”

She believes playing selflessly and sharing one’s faith, rather than using intrinsic rewards as motivation, helps to bring out the spirit of a champion.

“That’s what wins Olympic gold medals,” Richardson said. “What gets you to the national championship title game is realizing it’s not about you. It’s about team and giving glory to the Lord. It’s beyond just your talent. It has to be that inner spirit and drive that motivates. Those athletes who have the drive to reach their full potential are true champions who will give you everything they have because they innately know they can’t give anything less.”

That’s part of the reason she and her husband, Bob Pinto, national director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes Softball Ministry who will serve as her assistant, accepted Liberty Director of Athletics Jeff Barber’s offer to take over the program.

In Richardson, who also helped Team USA win five Pan American Game gold medals and four World Championship gold medals, Barber believes he has found a perfect match, a coach eager to share her gifts to see the Lady Flames’ program flourish.

“Her experience as a collegiate and international player, as well as her understanding of the game, is unparalleled,” Barber said. “Additionally, Dot is a great Christian leader and motivator and will bring tremendous value to our softball program and the Liberty University community.”

President Jerry Falwell, Jr. said Richardson’s vision for Liberty’s team and for many other related programs that could include major softball camps at Liberty “seems to mesh perfectly with ours.”

“She brings a wealth of experience and achievement that uniquely qualifies her to fulfill that vision,” he said.

Richardson, an orthopedic surgeon who received her medical degree from Louisville in 1993, previously served as director and medical director of the National Training Center in Clermont, Fla., a state-of-the-art sports, health, and fitness campus where thousands of amateur and professional athletes from all over the world train.

Though this is her first collegiate head coaching position, Richardson served as a graduate assistant at Adelphi University in New York, where she received her master’s degree in 1988. In recent years, she and Pinto instructed and coached “Dot’s Diamonds” U10 and U18 youth squads to the National Softball Association national championships. Those teams were byproducts of the Dot Richardson Softball Association, a not-for-profit organization providing instruction to coaches and athletes. She founded the association in 1997, after her first Olympic Games, along with younger brother Lonnie Richardson and friend and coach John Cassady, who played for the U10 NSA national champions.

At Liberty, Richardson and Pinto, along with pitching coach Paige Cassady, a Florida International University graduate and daughter of John Cassady, will focus on fueling the Lady Flames’ faith as well as building their courage and confidence.

“We’ll give everything we have,” Richardson said. “The philosophy will always be to put God first and help student-athletes reach their full potential, both on and off the field for His glory. The first thing is your soul, then your mind and your body. We’ve got to make sure that in the classroom and on the field, they’re prepared to be the best in everything they do.”