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Founding Sister: Martino Still Doing Good Things for Sport

By Lacy Lee Baker

If you took a stroll down the path that shaped women’s fastpitch softball as we know it today, you will find that Judy Martino played a part in most major events. Credited with founding the NFCA, Martino was inducted into the NFCA Hall of Fame in 1993.

What led to the creation of the NFCA?

Well, to understand that, you first must know the climate of what was happening in intercollegiate athletics at the time. When we first started discussions about it, I was coaching volleyball and softball at the University of South Carolina. Women’s athletics programs were under the AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) governance, and it offered softball championships in slowpitch and fastpitch.


The NCAA came into the picture, and schools had to decide whether to stay with the AIAW or go with the NCAA, which only planned to offer fastpitch softball. The Southern schools were mostly offering only slowpitch at the time, so when they went NCAA, they started dropping their slowpitch programs but did not add fastpitch softball. It wasn’t a problem for us at South Carolina, since we had been fastpitch all along, and we were one of the first schools to go NCAA.


Our athletics director, Jim Carlin, was worried that we weren’t going to have anyone to play and our travel costs would soar, but I convinced him that we could get the Northern schools to travel to South Carolina to play us. This was the original “spring training” and for about three to four weeks, teams from the North would travel down to South Carolina for games. It got bigger and bigger, so big that we couldn’t handle all the teams that wanted to play, so I convinced Marge Ricker to start her own spring training in Florida (Rebel Games).


So, schools dropping programs and coaches losing jobs was the big concern?

Yes, no one wanted to lose their jobs. Plus, we wanted to discuss other issues and make sure we had representation as a group. The other big purposes were awards programs and better educating coaches and updating them on softball-related actions.


How did you go about starting the organization? 

Since I was also a volleyball coach, I was a member of the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and I tried to become as involved with that association as possible. I tried to learn everything I could about it. The executive director, Sandy Vivas, was of great help, and so was Betty Jaynes, who was the executive director of the Women's Basketball Coaches Association. 


As a member of the AIAW and NCAA softball committee, we were always discussing the issues we were facing. We were moving into a male-dominated area and we wanted to be certain that we got started on the right foot with the right respect. We all wanted to continue to coach. However, I was probably in the best position to make a change in my life. It was a perfect fit for me. I could go to graduate school, start the association and continue to coach as an assistant. Though a very difficult decision for me, I left my job at South Carolina and entered graduate school at the University of North Carolina. Although I was a graduate assistant in volleyball, I still had my softball ties, so I called everyone I knew. I wrote the original set of bylaws and met with a lawyer to get the incorporation started, and served as the executive director of the association until 1985. It was a happy time for me. I put all this work into it and wanted to see it grow.


But, you decided to leave?

Yes, it was getting so big and took so much time, and I still had the urge to coach. I had just accepted the head volleyball coach at North Carolina State and found it impossible to do both. Though this too was a difficult decision, I knew that the association was on the right track and would be left in good hands.


Eventually, you got back into coaching, serving as the head coach for teams in both the Women's Professional Softball League and NPF. How has the sport changed?

The players seem bigger and stronger; there are much better training programs now. And, there are a lot more kids getting into softball. The game itself really hasn't changed all that much, except that it's a lot more technical now. I often wonder how we even learned to hit way back when without all of the new age "gadgets" on the market today!


The other main difference for athletes nowadays is that there are sport-specific scholarships and so many more opportunities for them. I guess that you can say (from all of us in the softball world) that we fought the battles and have won some of the wars, and players today have benefited.


What about from a coaching standpoint?

A mistake I see a lof of coaches, particularly younger coaches, making today is watching the ball instead of their players. A technique that I have always used is being able to look at players not involved in the actual play - where they are for the backup, etc. I do this with the opposing team also; I try to find any weakness. When a ball is hit to the defense, I expect a play to run a certain way, so there is no reason for me to watch it, though I do see it peripherally. Everyone is watching the ball and will certainly let you know what happened fi you missed a play. My players and my assistant coach let me know right away if I should argue a call. I trust them that much. If you can do this, you will become a much better team "manager" and your team will be much better at the "little things" that will make the difference in the outcome of the game. I always hear lots of coaches yelling at their players to "concentrate." Well, what does that really mean to a young player and how do you achieve it? This technique helps you train players to concentrate. They get instant feedback from you throughout the game.


I know that I’ll get some flak for this one, but another thing that drives me crazy is the number of coaches who call games from the bench. Obviously, catchers have to be intelligent people; so why don’t coaches sit down with the catchers and help them understand how to call a game? If you have scouting reports, teach your players how to use them and how to set up batters. You may not think that you have time to do it – I say make the time. Being a former catcher myself, it is disheartening to see this happen on so many levels. I just cannot imagine how distracting that must be to continually look over at the bench for a signal. It’s my job as a catcher to “feel” the game and to keep everyone one their toes. The catcher has to know what a batter is doing all of the time – i.e. choking up, moving up, and pulling back. I believe that, nowadays, there are too many coaches who want control of everything that a player does, instead of teaching players to make good decisions themselves. It might take longer and might be frustrating at first, but it is worth it in the long run. Only when a player learns her limitations through trial and error will she ever gain the freedom to always give her personal best. I was shocked to see how many players came into the Pro league unsure of themselves.


Are there other changes you would like to see in the game?


Yes, move the fences back a little. With all the technology today, it’s easier for an average player to put the ball over the fence. From my years in the pro league, I have come to really appreciate the game played on a field that is 220 feet down the lines and 230 to 240 feet to deep center. It opens up a whole new game from scoring to defense. It is a MUCH more exciting game than that of the college dimension fields.


Of course, I have always been an advocate of the power game. Hitting is always the exciting part of the game. I know that there are die-hard folks who love the slapping, bunting blah, blah – NOT ME. Not that I don’t believe that players must learn to bunt when needed. I feel so strongly about it that I think that the bases should be moved out three feet to take away that one step from some of those speedsters!


Now that you're not coaching in the NPF any longer, what are you doing?


I’m a grant program specialist for the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. We recently received a $500,000 grant to retrain teachers in North Carolina to advocate more movement and activity for their students. It’s all part of an initiative called IPOD (In-school Prevention of Obesity and Disease), a research-based program designed to reduce disparities related to childhood obesity and chronic disease. Twelve hundred elementary and 600 middle school physical educators representing over 844,000 youth will be trained. North Carolina is fifth in the nation for obesity. IPOD is going so well that we have applied for a multi-million dollar grant to extend our program across the state.


I also keep my hand in softball by doing color for North Carolina’s softball video streaming broadcasts through ACC Select. However, I do miss my involvement in softball. Playing and coaching softball were great opportunities for me at a time when there were not many opportunities for women. I cherish the friends that I have made, new and old and I always feel “at home” when I am anywhere around them.