Timberview volleyball coach Beth Gills has a sticky note in her desk drawer. It’s been there for some time. In fact, calling it a sticky note gives it too much credit, because it lost its adhesion long ago. But what makes the note important is that it keeps track of how her teams have done over years past. Just before each new season begins, she digs the note out and updates it with the previous year’s district and overall win totals in order to prepare statistics the media commonly asks from coaches.
This year, after adding up last season’s totals, she realized that she was at 495 total wins as a head volleyball coach. Last Thursday, she reached the milestone 500th victory when the Lady Wolves beat Keller Central in a hard-fought match at the Northwest Classic.
Players had made a sign to commemorate the event, and presented her with the game ball. Wills was able to soak up the moment for about five total minutes.
“I felt kind of selfish, to tell you the truth. But it was wonderful for me and good to know that they fought so hard, not just for themselves but to get me to 500 wins. That made it even more special,” she said.
“After the match, we immediately had to play another, so I got to enjoy it and it was fantastic. But then about five minutes later we had to regroup and say, ‘OK, for this next match, here are some things to work on,’” she added.
Wills’ path to 500 victories didn’t start as you might expect for a longtime volleyball coach. She played basketball in college and started her career as a basketball coach. While on staff at Abilene Cooper, the athletic director called her in and informed her she would be taking over the volleyball team.
“He said, ‘I want you to take over volleyball program. I’ve looked at talent and we should win district.’”
Wills was unsure of the idea, having spent only two years as an assistant volleyball coach. She expressed her concerns, but was effectively told if she was going to get a head coaching job at the school, this would be it.
Apprehensive, Wills jumped on board and learned as much as she could that first season. Oh, and she won a district championship.
“I always wondered, if I hadn’t won district, what would have happened?” she said. “But that started a love of volleyball and a great adventure since.”
Eleven years ago, Wills came to Mansfield and started the Lady Wolves program. While she’s not sure about reaching 600 victories, she knows she’s not ready to step aside just yet.
“People always ask me, ’When are you going to quit, when are you going to retire?’ I always tell them when I’m not having fun or when I don’t think I’m making any difference at all. But I still love what I’m doing. I love the kids.”
Timberview girls athletics coordinator Kit Martin still sees the drive in Wills, as though she was just starting her career.
“She’s really a natural with people,” Martin said. “When she walks on a volleyball court she feels really at home. It’s a joy for her to work with kids at a game she loves. Her enthusiasm is that of a young coach and I think that’s fun to watch.”
It’s no mystery to Wills what makes the job exciting for her after all these years.
“The job is different every day,” she said. “When you’re working with kids – especially teenagers – the job is different every day. One day is never the same as the next.”
“It’s not easy job, coaching or teaching,” she added. “But I can’t imagine anything more rewarding.”
And when trying put the 500 wins in perspective, Wills put it into a different context, one that exemplifies her approach to coaching.
“Those 500 wins represent about 800 girls.”