Sitting atop the bleachers at Alumni Field — home of the Michigan softball team, and home of now-former head coach Carol Hutchins for the past 38 years — Schembechler Hall is plainly visible.
Outside the hall is a bronze statue of its namesake, Bo Schembechler, the so-called “legendary” former football coach, idolized by many fans, former players and even current coaches. Despite his complacency with the abuse by Dr. Robert Anderson, Schembechler’s name remains and the statue still stands.
Somehow, Schembechler is still the face of Michigan athletics, as ugly and contorted as it may be.
Monday morning, a real legend stood inside that very hall to speak in the wake of her retirement. A legend who goes by one name: “Hutch.”
“I came here as a girl with potential, and I leave a woman with no limits,” Hutch said. “That’s my wish for every woman who walks out on the field.”
A sentiment reflected in every one of her actions since she arrived in Ann Arbor until now.
So as Hutch’s time as an active coach for the Wolverines having drawn to a close, it’s time to replace the misshapen face of Michigan athletics with a new one — hers.
Hutch is the type of person the University tries to cultivate and wants representing it:
“A leader and best,” Samantha Findlay, a member of the 2005 National Championship team under Hutch, labeled her former coach. “She has withheld that title to the utmost respect, not only for the University of Michigan, but for any athlete or coach who has played softball.”
At the forefront of Findlay’s summary stands the word “leader.” It’s easy to label a coach, a winning head coach at that, a leader. Boiled down, their job is to lead. But “leader” in that sense is not what Findlay meant; it’s too shallow a definition.
Hutch leads in everything she does.
Back in April 1978, Hutch — then a two-sport athlete at Michigan State playing basketball and softball — had had enough.
Hutch and her teammates were being treated unfairly, simply because they were women.
“Well, we have to let (the female athletes) go out and play, so let’s just let them,” the Michigan State athletic department said, according to one of the players. “Just make sure they don’t get in the way of the boys.”
That was the attitude held at the time, an attitude reflected through actions. The year prior, the Spartans’s athletic department budgeted $776,000 to men’s athletics, but less than $85,000 to women’s. It showed in the facilities — or lack thereof — for the female athletes, even in their travel arrangements and even the amount they could spend on food while on team road trips.
It was a full-scale violation of Title IX, the landmark legislation minted six years prior.
The women, with Hutch as the spearhead, took action. From that action, two things were borne:
The class action suit, Hutchins v. Board of Trustees of Michigan State University, and Hutch, Title IX trailblazer.
Over 40 years later, Hutch has created monumental change for women in sports. But nothing has changed in her resolve, still blazing a path forward.
“Anybody you run into knows who Hutch is and knows the impact that she’s had on young athletes and just women in general,” Findlay said. “The fact that she’s continued to fight for women athletes for such a long period of time is something that a lot of us former athletes hold close to our heart because we appreciate all that she’s done.
“And we wouldn’t be able to do it if there weren’t pioneers for the sport like her.”
Beyond athletes, Hutch has made an impact on coaching, the sport of softball as a whole, and women in general. From propping women up, to raising millions of dollars in support of breast cancer awareness, Hutch has made her mark.
It culminated in Hutch winning the first ever Pat Summitt award in 2016, as she “exemplifies the character and courage” of the longtime Tennessee women’s basketball coach for which the award finds its namesake.
“Her impact is immeasurable,” assistant coach Jennifer Brundage said in 2017. “Ever since those college days, she’s been an advocate for women and gender equality, and increasing salaries of coaches in our sport and increasing opportunities for women in our sport. The list goes on and on.”
Ask anyone who knows her: Hutch stands for what she believes in, and nothing will get her to back down.
Fortunately for the athletic department, Hutch also believes in creating a winning culture for Michigan softball.
So when it comes down to the full phrase “leaders and best,” Hutch has a firm grasp on the “best” title as well — retiring as the winningest coach in NCAA Softball history and the winningest coach ever at the University of Michigan.
Through the lens of athletic achievement, her success as a coach can’t be denied. No one has done it better than Hutch.
This level of achievement has only been accomplished by expecting nothing less than excellence; from herself, her players and from everyone in the program.
“She doesn’t really allow you to be anything but your best and doesn’t allow you to make excuses for yourself,” former Michigan shortstop Abby Ramirez told The Daily. “Sometimes it looks tougher than other days. Sometimes it was a kick in the butt, other days, it was words of confidence and boosting you up. …
“When I think of Hutch, I think of someone who does things to a standard of excellence always. She does things the right way with the right intentions.”
She does everything with the right intentions, and none of it for her own glory.
“This isn’t Hutch’s program, this is Michigan,” Hutch said in 2017. “I am a servant of the University of Michigan. My job is to make Michigan softball great, to make these student-athletes great in everything they do, to teach them all the great lessons that you don’t learn anywhere else.”
That’s just Hutch.
Whether she’s heralded as a Title IX trailblazer, an excellent coach, a women’s rights activist, a role model or just “Hutch,” she will no doubt go down as a legend in Michigan history and in college softball.
So put up a statue, name a hall after her, do something to commemorate her legacy.
Because the time to make Carol Hutchins the face of Michigan athletics is now.
Stoll can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @nkstoll
Managing Sports Editor Jared Greenspan contributed to the reporting of this story.