PRINT: Connecticut softball legend coaches women’s softball team

Joan Joyce continues to make an impact on and off the field as a renowned athlete and coach.


Joan Joyce looks around from the dugout. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Taylor Reid, Staff Writer

Editor’s note: This story is in the UP’s latest issue that can be found digitally through our Issuu page.

She’s played at least 25 sports, dominating in each one, from golf to bowling.

She’s been inducted into 20 different halls of fame.

Ted Williams, the late professional baseball player, was no match for her fast-flying drop balls.

Joan Joyce started coaching the FAU women’s softball team in 1994. She currently leads a team of 24 players.

Joyce built the women’s softball program in nine months from the bottom up when she started coaching.

According to the FAU Sports website, she led the first softball team to a 33-18 record in their first year while also earning coach of the year awards from the Atlantic Sun Conference and Palm Beach County.

The teams under the head coach have been successful from the first year to now. The women’s softball teams throughout the years went to 12 conference championships and made 11 NCAA Tournament appearances, eight consecutive in each.

“My pitching staff have been shaky,” Joyce said about her current team.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the 2020 season to a halt and adjustments to the 2021 season. Joyce brought on 12 new team members under her wings as they play top 25 teams in the NCAA despite setbacks last year.

“We’ve been playing pretty good for most of the time,” Joyce said. The Owls opened up the 2021 Conference USA on March 21 with a six-inning 8-0 victory over FIU.

While Joyce is known for her successes in softball and leading the team for 27 seasons, she is just as accomplished in other sports.

“I moved down to Florida to play golf,” said the multi-sport athlete, referring to the move she made later in life.

The first time she started putting seriously, she was 35 years old and golfed in the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA). In 1982, Joyce broke the LPGA and PGA record for the least amount of putts (-17) in a single round. This was a Guinness World Record.

When the record-breaking athlete moved to Florida, she would give golfing lessons on the greens of Deer Creek Country Club in Deerfield Beach, Fla., a 10-minute car ride from FAU.

That is where she was recruited to coach a sports team at the university.

Her reputation preceded her, she recalled. The name she made for herself from being an accomplished basketball, softball player, and golfer from the northeast and from her travels around the country caught up to her in Florida.

Back in 1994, when Dr. Anthony J. Catanese was president of the university, he and an athletic director were golfing at Deer Creek when they met Joyce. She said Dr. Catanese pulled her to the side and recruited her to coach. That is how she ended up coaching the softball team.

Joyce is originally from Waterbury, Conn. where she resided with her family on Tudor Street. She recalled moving about three times with her family, but all within two miles of her first home. At 12-years old, she helped build one of the homes her parents bought.

Joyce had two other siblings growing up: one brother and a younger sister.

“My mother worked from three to 11,” Joyce said. Both her parents had different work shifts.

Her father played basketball and softball when he was not working. “My brother and I learned how to play both sports,” said Joyce. Her dad taught them to play when he was in charge of them while her mother was at work. Joyce was never into the arts like her sister, so she stuck to sports.

During the winters in Waterbury, she would take a shovel in one hand and carry her basketball under her other arm to a court near her Waterbury home. Joyce shoveled the snow off the court before practicing basketball, the sport she first loved. By the end of her time on the court, all the dirt and snow had turned to mud.

Moments like these paved the way for her extensive sports career in basketball where she played in national tournaments in the AAU as a teen. During the off-season, she improved her craft at softball with the Brakettes. Joyce also formed a volleyball team called the Connecticut Clippers and they played national tournaments in the United States Volleyball Association (USVA).

“Well, it’s like man, when she called me to recruit me I was a really shy person…She told me, ‘Open up your mouth,’” said Chan Walker, a member of the first women’s softball team at the university.

She currently works alongside Joyce as the associate coach of the team.

Walker remembered being intimidated by Joyce when they first met at a national softball tournament in St. Louis, Mo.

“This woman invented softball…Just a legend in her own right,” Walker said, referring to Joyce.

Joan Joyce watches her team play. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Walker and Joyce were out at a tournament one summer where t-shirts were being sold. A woman bought five shirts and walked up to the both of them, wanting to meet Joyce in particular.

“You just got 5 shirts to have her sign?” Walker asked the fan.

“I would be in heaven if I was being coached by her,” the woman replied to her.

Walker knew about Joyce and her accomplishments but never fully knew Joyce until being under Joyce’s guidance and working with her, especially seeing her off the field.

“She really doesn’t like speaking in public, but she’ll do it well,” Chan said.

Joyce was supposed to deliver an eight-minute acceptance speech at the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s (NFCA) 2013 Hall of Fame induction ceremony. She spoke for 42 minutes, mostly about the history of softball. She even quizzed audience members on the history, verbally buzzing them if they got the answer incorrect.

“She remembers every detail,” Chan said. “Everyone will tell you the same thing.”

About a dozen of the first women Joyce coached in softball at the university remain in contact.

“She brought all of us together,” Walker said. “We’re still friends to this day.” Walker said this was because being under Joyce’s guidance was like being part of a family. According to a book about herself, Joyce refers to players on the teams she coached as her kids.

“I owe everything to her, really. She brought this little girl out of Connecticut to Florida…and believed in me,” said Brandie Cotton who now resides in Indiana. Cotton is a former catcher for FAU’s women’s softball team. Joyce recruited her in 1994.

Off the field, Joyce continues to impact the lives of the women she coached.

“She’s a special guest on vacations,” Cotton said. Joyce often makes special appearances whenever Cotton and the other alumni vacation around the country every couple of years. Cotton credits the tight-knit bond of the team to her former coach.

Joyce helped pave the way for women in sports.

“Well, the sports thing… I have never met a multi-sport athlete that was a woman,” Cotton said. “That just broke the barrier in my mind.”

Even though she broke world records, played dozens of sports, and now coaches, Joyce does so in humility.

“In her office, she has all her Hall of Fame stuff,” Walker said. “At home, nothing.”

While Joyce would not brag about all her achievements, Tony Renzoni wrote a book about her life and sports career entitled Connecticut Softball Legend Joan Joyce. But Joyce’s impact extends beyond the 240 pages of words and pictures.

Walker, Cotton, and the rest of their softball family plan to take a trip to Connecticut in the summer to watch a musical about their coach that the Legacy Theater will showcase every Saturday in June.

“Joanie,” Cotton said, using a nickname that people in the northeast refer to Joyce by. “That’s my lady.”

Taylor Reid is a staff writer for the University Press. For information on this or other stories, contact her on Twitter and Instagram @tayyalissa.