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Joan Joyce, lone softball coach in FAU history, dies at 81

Hall of Fame coach led Owls during each of school's 28 seasons
Joan Joyce, FAU softball coach, 1940-2022
Posted at 3:44 PM, Mar 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-27 20:34:16-04

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Joan Joyce, the only head softball coach at Florida Atlantic in school history, died Saturday at the age of 81.

FAU announced the Hall of Fame coach's death Sunday, shortly before the Owls began the rubber game of their weekend series against Conference USA opponent Western Kentucky.

Joyce was hired to lead the FAU softball program in 1994, one year before the team began play. She had remained a fixture in the FAU dugout ever since, guiding the Owls to a 1,002-674-1 record, 11 conference championships and nine NCAA tournament appearances during her 28 seasons in Boca Raton.

She was also the head women's golf coach at FAU from 1996-2014.

The school did not disclose her cause of death.

"This is a terribly sad loss for the FAU family," FAU President John Kelly said in a statement. "Joan was a true sports legend, and we are grateful for the 28 years she spent here, modeling the best in personal and professional behavior for our student-athletes. Joan's legacy will live on at the university and across the country through the generations of young women she inspired to play — and excel at — softball and golf."

Joyce, who was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in 1983, was recognized as coach of the year eight times during her FAU tenure — five times by the Atlantic Sun Conference (1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2002), once by the Sun Belt Conference in 2007 and twice more by C-USA in 2016 and 2018.

Her death came just days after she earned her 1,000th career victory when the Owls defeated North Texas 1-0 on March 18.

Joan Joyce 1,000 wins banner at FAU softball stadium
A banner hanging on the fence line at FAU's softball stadium commemorates the late Joan Joyce's 1,000th win, reached just days before her death, March 27, 2022, in Boca Raton, Fla.

Among her many notable achievements, Joyce famously struck out baseball legends Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. Her strikeouts of the Hall of Fame sluggers came during exhibition games in 1961 and 1978, respectively.

"Joan was one of the pillars that FAU Athletics was built upon," FAU athletic director Brian White said. "She was a legend in many ways and leaves a legacy at FAU and beyond that is unmatched. We are forever grateful for her nearly three decades of service to FAU and her student-athletes."

Joyce found immediate success at FAU, leading the Owls to a 33-18 record in their inaugural season. Under Joyce's tutelage, the Owls posted winning records in each of their first 14 seasons and went to the NCAA tournament seven times in eight years from 1999-2006.

A move to the Sun Belt in 2007 proved more challenging, as the Owls struggled to win consistently through each of the seven years in the conference, winning more than 40 games just once during that span. Nevertheless, FAU still managed to capture the Sun Belt crown in its first season in the league and posted winning records four times between 2007-13.

The Owls' most recent NCAA tournament appearance came in 2016, when FAU posted just its fourth campaign of at least 50 wins in school history.

Assistant coach Troy Whitt talks to FAU Owls softball team after death of head coach Joan Joyce
Assistant coach Troy Whitt talks to his team after the death of head softball coach Joan Joyce before a game against Western Kentucky, March 27, 2022, in Boca Raton, Fla.

FAU won Sunday's rubber game 3-2 to take sole possession of first place in the C-USA East Division standings.

Joyce was not with the team for the Western Kentucky series. Associate head coach Chan Walker and assistant coach Troy Whitt split coaching duties in Joyce's absence.

It wasn't immediately known who would coach the Owls for the remainder of the season.