MARCH IS Women's History Month, and as we celebrate women's contributions to history, culture and society at a national level, what better time to honor those closer to home – the players, coaches and administrators whose efforts have elevated women's fastpitch softball to the extraordinary heights we enjoy today.
When I worked for the NFCA, we had the privilege of publishing a history of women's fastpitch softball written by former Arizona State head coach Mary Littlewood. Mary, who founded the softball program at ASU, coached fastpitch at the school, as well as other sports, from 1967 through 1989. After her college coaching days were over, she came to the NFCA with manuscript in hand, in addition to more than 200 photographs and illustrations to complement her written word. It was an amazing compilation, and all we had to do was put it together in book form and publish it, which we did in 1998. As I reminisce now on our sport's history, Mary's book, "Women's Fastpitch Softball – The Path to the Gold", serves as the backbone to many of these observations.
WHEN YOU take on a project that you've never done before, there's A LOT of uncertainty. Can we pull it off? What do we need to know to make it happen? How do we entice people to join us?
COVID-19 changed our world nine months ago by canceling so many softball seasons and giving coaches some unexpected (and unwanted) time off. Even with a vaccine arriving, it is expected to continue to affect our everyday existence well into 2021.
After the initial shock, we at the NFCA quickly decided it needed to pivot to online learning, not only to keep providing coaches with educational opportunities, but also to provide a place to gather and have a much-needed break from the worries brought on by the pandemic.
We all got very familiar — too familiar, possibly — with Zoom calls in 2020. But what would we have done WITHOUT Zoom calls? For those of us stuck at home for months at a time, Zoom gave us a chance to interact with our friends and colleagues, and really save our sanity in a very uncertain time.
Dave Hines here. You may know me as the NFCA's Director of Publications or as the Association's Division III liaison. This is my first swing at writing a blog — and I'm much more familiar writing news stories and features — but it's not about me. It's about the people who created and developed our Association and fastpitch softball. You won't believe how they did it.
FROM SHARED CONVENTIONS, to Title IX struggles, to getting exposure as an Olympic sport that led to the growth and popularity softball enjoys today, we've come a long way.
NFCA Hall of Famers Judi Garman and Marge Willadsen joined NFCA Emeriti Board rep Sheilah Gulas (also a Hall of Famer) and former NFCA Executive Director Kim Vance for a recent conversation to tell some stories and talk about the evolution of the Association.
They were some of the key people on the front lines fighting for equality for women's athletics as Title IX legislation came into play in the 1970s. They experienced the transition from the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) to the NCAA first-hand, and even played a role in getting softball into the Olympics.
The history of the NFCA.
Where do we even begin?
For starters, if you've never read the "History of the NFCA" section on our website – I'll be honest, I just read it writing this blog – you'll learn things like "the idea for a softball coaching association first developed from discussions at the National Collegiate Women's Softball Championships in the early 1980's, with Judy Martino of the University of North Carolina credited with the initial thought." See, worth it! Come on, I can probably guarantee if you're under 35 you didn't know that fun fact.
In working for the NFCA over the last six years, I've been fortunate to be submerged in the history of our game on a regular basis: Hall of Fame members like Dianne Baker (longtime NFCA official sponsor), Sheilah Gulas (emeriti Board rep), and Mike Candrea (NCAA Division I all-time wins leader) are all avid - and active - supporters of the Association. And during my time at Northwestern, current NFCA Board President Kate Drohan made sure Sharon Drysdale's legacy was engrained in our program every step of the way – even years after she retired. Speaking of, did you know Sharon Drysdale wrote the original NCAA softball rule book?! But there are many young coaches who probably couldn't spot Drysdale - or even Joan Joyce out of a lineup - and every single person I just named were all in Atlantic City at Convention last December!
So alas, pull up a chair, folks! Every now and then a few of these blog posts are going to be dedicated to our emeriti members, NFCA Hall of Famers and other coaching legends who have helped build, shape and mold not only this Association, but our sport and women's athletics in general. Let's get started!
Rise and shine, and welcome back to Beyond the Fence.
If you know anything about the NFCA National Convention, I'm sure you can imagine it takes juuust a bit of planning. Have you ever wondered just how much planning it really takes though? How about just the length of the process in choosing a hotel per se - before we even get to the Convention itself? Well, let's dive in!
Before COVID-19 hit the United States, several members of our staff flew to Dallas, Texas, for a "pre-planning" visit. This means a full-day of "plugging and chugging" our Convention schedule into the hotel's space. This particular visit happens nine months before our Convention even takes place - our third trip to the hotel already - but I'll come back to this moment in time.
Before we start, it's important to walk you through selecting a potential Convention location because let's be honest, if our staff had a dollar for every time we hear
We should have Convention in *insert random city/hotel here* ...by Everyone
Emily Allard here. I am the Director of Marketing and Sponsorships at the NFCA. In short, I work alongside the companies investing in softball and love to figure out how they can fit best within our Association, impact our members and amplify our sport on a daily basis. I also assist the NFCA staff in marketing our major events and sponsored items, in addition to running the Exhibit Show at Convention each year. As we like to joke around the office, the above items listed are only the main things I tackle outside of "other duties as assigned," which for me also include, "Hey Em, can you come reach this thing off the top shelf for me?" I'm lucky to be surrounded by the most down-to-earth team, led by a tireless leader, but you're probably wondering why in the world you are even reading this right now.