Betty Clark and Wendy Bills dedicated nearly 60 years between them coaching girls sports at Provo High School.
Their lives called for change at some point. Both women have moved on from the long nights of practices and bus rides. Clark retired from coaching and teaching in 2002 after 27 years but still attends games at Provo High with her nieces and nephews. Bills retired from coaching in 2015 after 31 years at Provo but still teaches at the school.
Clark won three state championships in girls basketball (1978, 1986, 1987) and Bills won three in volleyball (1992, 1999, 2001). Beyond the wins, losses and trophies are wonderful, lasting memories of hard work and building relationships with thousands of young girls.
Clark started her career in the 1975-76 school year, just when Title IX began to open more opportunities for girls sports.
“We started off with one set of uniforms,” Clark said. “We did clinics and different things to earn money for more uniforms, bags, warmups and basketballs. I had to go to the shop at the school to get them to build backboards for the girls gym.”
Clark was extremely competitive and that determination rubbed off on her teams.
“When I started there were a lot of men coaching girls sports,” she said. “I loved beating them. I figured I needed to watch, ask and listen if I wanted to be a good coach. I did that with people who knew the game, from people like Jim Spencer and Craig Drury.
“My philosophy for coaching basketball was ladies first, students second and ball players third. But they all go hand in hand. I believed every time we stepped out on the court for practice or a game, we were a state championship team. I never coached in a game I thought I was going to lose. The games I lost, we just ran out of time. We would have beaten them if we had a little more time.”
Former players came back to Provo a few months ago to shoot around in the old gym and reminisce. Lori Red Castagnetto, an all-state player for Clark in the 1990s and later a University of Utah standout, brought along her four boys, the oldest of which is a freshman basketball player at Provo.
Kim Blackburn Santiago played at Provo High and is married to BYU Associate Director of Athletics Brian Santiago (another Provo alum). Santiago approached Clark, who had taken her 9-year-old grand-niece to her first Provo High girls basketball game.
“Do you know what a special aunt you have, what a special coach she was?” Santiago told the girl.
“That did my heart good to hear that,” Clark said.
Back in the early 1980s, Provo High had gone through five girls volleyball coaches in five years. So the administration approached Bills, who had never played volleyball and had zero experience coaching the sport.
“I was the faculty advisor for swimming,” Bills said.
But she was determined and observed how other strong programs had been built, so she went to work. She took a volleyball class at BYU and learned the game. She was mentored by BYU’s Elaine Michaelis and Salt Lake Community College’s Norma Carr, as well as Clark. The Provo girls volleyball program was a perennial power in the ‘90s and 2000s. In addition to the three state championships, Bills’ teams won 12 region championships and made 27 state tournament appearances.
“We had a really strong program in the 1990s,” Bills said. “Things got a little bit different when they started building so many other high schools around the valley. Provo’s enrollment started changing in the 2000s. Kids have more things to do now. Before, we could play all year long with the club teams. Everything just moves on.”
Several Provo High volleyball stars performed well at the college level, including Kim Wilson (BYU) and Angela Lobendahn Peterson (New Mexico State). Bills said she was fortunate to be able to coach her daughter, Natalie, on one of her state championship teams. Natalie is now a volleyball coach in Montana. Wendy’s son Nathan was a state champion in track and another son, Kyle, participated in wrestling, football and soccer.
Winning was fun, but where Bills found the most joy was in the clinics and clubs she coached. That’s where thousands of young girls discovered their love for the sport of volleyball.
“We ran tournaments when we built the new gym and that was the most fun,” Bills said. “It was close and their parents could come watch them play. It was fun to see the students as freshman where they didn’t know much to seniors and see them be so successful.”
At a recent Provo High girls game, the two former coaches posed for a photo in the girls gym. They will both be regulars at Provo High events when the new school opens.
Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog.
“The biggest difference now is the opportunities for girls at all levels,” Clark said. “They can be on accelerated teams. There are more scholarships and professional opportunities, too. When I first started coaching not all girls thought they could feminine and still be in sports. I didn’t believe that. I believed you could be very much a girl and still be a great athlete.”