Sept. 10, 2009
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
How do you thank someone who went from renegade to savior, from internal thorn to great friend and greater visionary?
How do you thank someone who once stood bravely in front of the narrow-minded tide of public opinion, who went toe-to-toe with the good old boys of collegiate sports, who was among the first crusaders in women's athletics to ever say, "Bring it on"?
I guess you name a tennis complex after them. That works for Linda Estes. "I'm extremely honored and pleased," said Estes. "That's good enough for me."
"Every team, every program, needs a Linda Estes to go fight for them," said Jill Trujillo, the Lobo women's golf coach.
It would be fitting when the brass at the University of New Mexico trot out to the Lobo Tennis Complex to rename it the Linda Estes Tennis Complex, if they would take a shovel with them and turn over a ceremonial piece of dirt.
It's not a grounds-breaking ritual that will take place at 5 p.m. Friday at the Estes Complex, but it should be. Estes, who served UNM for 31 years in a variety of roles including Director of Women's Athletics, was truly a ground breaker.
She rolled up her sleeves, drew her line in the dirt, and fought tradition and stubbornness. She took more than a few figurative slaps to the face and a few blows to the back in her battle for women's athletics.
And it wasn't simply women that Estes fought for. If you gave her a sport that was slighted or simply needed some help to get better and compete, Estes had your back.
"Linda was a great advocate of all Olympic sports," said Tim Cass, UNM's Senior Associate Director of Athletics. "It didn't matter if the sport was male or female. She passionately fought for and defended her sports. This department has had few friends as good as Linda."
It wasn't an easy fight. When Estes raised her eyes to the future and saw what could and should be, women's athletes were part of UNM's Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. Yeah, the women were a second thought, a back burner.
Her battle as a UNM administrator began in 1973, but in 1989 she was given the additional responsibility of supervising all the men's programs except for football and basketball. That was fine. Estes' shoulders had plenty of room to carry some more weight.
In 1992, she became supervisor of the department's academic services. She was one of the first women to be active in the NCAA, when those doors finally were open to the women. Estes, whose permanent home is in Kauai, Hawaii, will attend Friday's dedication.
If you know her history, the naming of a UNM facility after Estes definitely carries a trace of irony, . By many, mostly the good old boys of college athletics, Estes was branded as a stubborn woman with an agenda that was anti-football.
That wasn't true. Estes didn't mind if football had a big piece of the pie (budget). She just thought colleges across America needed to share the wealth -- and opportunity -- with the women and with some other fine sports featuring outstanding student-athletes. To some, Estes was that visionary.
To others, she was a royal pain; an annoying and vocal thorn that needed to be put in her place. That never happened.
Estes had her core values and she was hard-nosed and hardheaded when it came to fighting a fight she believed in. Estes believed in women's rights. She believed in the rights of Olympic sports to be given a fair shot. She never believed that those rights should be slighted in favor of a main-stream sport.
"The women athletes who come in on scholarships these days don't even know that anyone ever had to struggle," Estes told The Albuquerque Tribune shortly after she retired from UNM in June of 2000. "That's a good sign."
You have to remember that when Estes became a Lobo administrator 36 years ago, women's athletics were nothing more than a glorified section of the PE department. It wasn't really intercollegiate athletics and it really wasn't fair.
"Every team, every program, needs a Linda Estes to go fight for them."
Jill Trujillo, Lobo women's golf coach.
There are some who will tell you that Estes did not always fight her fight in a fair way. Probably. But this truly is one of those cases where the end justified the means.
Estes was fighting a good fight and she wasn't just scratching her way out of a corner. She was digging out of a hole of prejudice, ignorance and sometimes meanness. She did what was necessary, what was right.
There are thousands of Lobo athletes who benefited from Estes' good work and thousands of more on the way. The Lobos have had only a few true heroes since UNM was founded in 1889.
They name a tennis complex after one on Friday. It should be mandatory that every Lobo woman athlete attend this event.
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous articles are available at The Richard Stevens Corner