ISU 'pioneer' Melinda Fischer exits after a half century and during a ‘changing climate’ in college sports
As Melinda Fischer prepared to end a 54-year career in college athletics, she reflected on the first time she stepped on the Illinois State University campus as a student in 1968.
She recalled looking out across a field from a dormitory (Colby Hall) that no longer exists.
“Little did I know that in the fall of 2022, my journey, at least this part, would end standing in front of you today as a very tremendously proud alum,” Fischer told a gathering of university and athletics administrators, media and her former players as Fischer’s longtime assistant, Tina Kramos, was named her successor.
Fischer played field hockey, basketball and softball at ISU, all sports not available to her in high school. Many more things would change in women’s athletics over the years. While Fischer played a role in improving those opportunities for women, she said Title IX’s goal of gender equality remains far from reality.
“There’s still so much more work to do,” Fischer said following Monday's news conference.
Fischer said the 50-year anniversary of Title IX’s founding that she helped celebrate last summer caused her to think about retirement.
“I think it is a good time (to retire),” Fischer said. “There is certainly a very changing climate in the world of college athletics and I think it’s great to have somebody step into that and move that forward.”
A big part of college athletics’ changing climate in recent years is Name Image and Likeness, rules that enable athletes to make money from endorsement deals. Fischer said that made her decision to retire easier.
“I’m not about much of that in terms of how I was raised or how I grew up or my path along the way, but I think it is a great opportunity for women in athletics,” Fischer said. “Do I think it’s a good opportunity for women’s athletics? That’s what I’m not sure of.”
Fischer leaves ISU as the winningest coach in Redbird history in any sport. Her 1,159 wins in 39 seasons (all but 41 wins came at ISU) place her 18th all-time in NCAA Division I history. She also served as co-head coach of the ISU women’s basketball program with Jill Hutchison for five seasons in the 1980s before taking over the softball program.
ISU athletics director Kyle Brennan called Fischer a “giant in the softball world. In the short time in getting to know her, some words came to mind,” Brennan said in announcing Fischer’s departure, “pioneer, leader, maker of women, competitive, caring, tough, detailed, trailblazer.”
Fischer said she told Brennan she wasn’t comfortable leaving until she knew Kramos would replace her. Kramos served as Fischer’s assistant for 22 years.
“That loyalty speaks volumes,” Fischer said.
Kramos, who coached the Greek National Team in 2015, said Fischer has impacted her career and life more than anyone else, and she hopes to live by the same values that she said guided Fischer — hard work, gratitude and leading by example.
“It’s humbling to follow a legend,” said Kramos, adding that she also admired Fischer’s work in preparing her team before each game. “That was one of the main things I learned,” Kramos said. “Melinda’s detail in preparation is unbelievable. I’ve never seen anything like it,”
Fischer said she plans to travel to watch the Redbird softball team when it travels south next February, but she will take a year off to decide what’s next.
She added her long-term goal is to see renovations to ISU softball’s home, Marian Kneer Stadium.
“We want people to enjoy the game and when you have to sit on those bleachers. We’ve got to catch up," said Fischer, adding renovations to the bleachers are at least 10 years overdue.