Clare Duwelius first fell in love with sports as a young girl playing football and frisbee with her brother and basketball with her sister. She went on to play four — yes, four — sports throughout her high school career before playing four years of collegiate basketball at Wayne State College and eventually leading the Wildcats to the NCAA Elite Eight in 2012.
Now, as she holds the title of Assistant General Manager for the Minnesota Lynx and reflects on where her love for sports has taken her, she feels grateful.
“I could never have forecasted where my career would go,” Duwelius said. “Certainly, I didn’t expect any of this when I was a (graduate assistant) or in college. Playing basketball was just something I felt really lucky that I got to do. I didn’t know that it would take me all of these places.”
Duwelius’ passion for basketball is evident if you’re able to watch her on the job, spend five minutes talking to her or even do a quick Google search to find the long list of accomplishments her commitment to the sport has earned her. And yet, she explored all avenues before pursuing a path that would allow her to be connected to basketball even after her playing career.
“I kind of reflected back, and it actually took me kind of a long time to hone in on exactly what I wanted to do,” Duwelius said. “I think a lot of college kids can probably relate to that. I just wanted to make sure that whatever I landed on was going to be the right decision.”
Duwelius recalls dabbling in graphic design before having to declare a major in undergrad. But when that time came, her lifelong passion for sports ultimately led her to sports management.
Once Duwelius identified her career goals and took on a position as a graduate assistant coach at Southwest Minnesota State University while earning her master’s in business administration degree, she had the full backing of her support system. She doesn’t take that for granted.
“I’m a rare instance where I was supported by everyone — my siblings, my parents, my grandparents, all the coaches I ever had, teachers,” Duwelius said. “I just had a really good support system. My inner circle was always like, ‘No, you can do this. This isn’t something that’s out of reach.’”
When asked to identify a specific person who influenced her pursual of working in sports, Duwelius turns to two people: her sister Ellen and her former college professor Jeff Meyer.
Ellen was the older sister who made a point of catching as many of Duwelius’ high school games as possible, even if it meant coming home every Friday. Ellen’s insistence that Clare was worth missing a few weekends with her college friends still resonates with her today.
“She has always been such a huge supporter of me,” Duwelius said. “She would come to all of my games, and she always just gave me this confidence. She instilled into me, ‘No, you’re really worth all of this.’”
Meyer’s confidence in Duwelius stuck with her because he wasn’t a blood-relative; rather, he was an unbiased mentor who saw potential in his student.
“It was kind of important to me to have someone outside my inner circle supporting me,” Duwelius said. “I think that’s where a lot of confidence came from because he’s really unbiased and is showing me that he thinks I have what it takes to be successful in the sports industry.”
Of course, Meyer wasn’t the only person out of Duwelius’ inner circle who spotted her potential early on. After earning her MBA at SMSU, Duwelius was hired as the Lynx’s business operations coordinator.
“Everything has to be a beautiful mixture of good timing and knowing the right people, working hard — obviously — and a good amount of luck kind of happened for me,” Duwelius said. “I think sometimes people are searching for their dream job for years and years and years before they actually land something.”
“Luck” doesn’t fully account for the promotion Duwelius received after just four seasons with the most successful sports team of the 2010s. In 2018, Duwelius was named Lynx head coach and general manager Cheryl Reeve’s assistant GM, becoming one of just four people to hold that title in the WNBA. Her duties quickly evolved from facilities preparation and planning players’ and coaches’ schedules to delegating and becoming more familiarized with the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
The quick shift may have been a challenging adjustment for some, but Duwelius believes it was manageable due to the constant empowerment she’s felt from Reeve.
“Whenever I get into these situations where I’m talking to people who want to know about my job or anything that I’ve ever done, my hat is always off to Cheryl,” Duwelius said. “I always use the word ‘empowerment’ because it’s kind of the buzz word, but it’s really the best word to describe how I feel when I get to come to work and she’s there supporting me and not only supporting me but everyone else around us. She’s just made a really big commitment. Obviously, she prioritizes lifting women up and propelling females forward. All I can say is that I’ve felt really empowered since I started working here.”
Alongside Reeve, Duwelius has spent her summers traveling around the nation for basketball, celebrating championships, even enjoying Prince concerts and working with coaches and players whose relationships she considers to be the most rewarding aspect of her job. But her love of basketball has also led Duwelius to groundbreaking work that goes beyond the sport itself.
“I think it’s probably an industry issue, but (Reeve is) really taking the reins and making it her priority to kind of get into the untapped pool of female candidates who’re just as qualified, have the experience, and are hardworking, smart people,” Duwelius said. “She’s really made an emphasis that we’re on a micro-level going to take the initiative to make this come to light. While we’re doing that on our own level, we’re also challenging people who are in other industries or at the league level just because females deserve a shot, too.”
For the young girls who haven’t identified how they can make a living out of loving basketball and working in the sports industry that’s often male-dominated, Duwelius advises they remain confident in themselves as they try to make the right decisions and just commit to being a good person.
“I know that you can’t always control your circumstances as far as who’s in your life and supporting you and backing you, but having trust in yourself and the passion to go after what you want is really powerful and can take you really far,” Duwelius said.
It’s worked for her.