Gamecocks Set to Honor Former Softball Coach Joyce Compton on Saturday
Joyce Compton built a powerhouse at South Carolina, and now she will be a permanent fixture inside the lines, where she belongs, at Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham Field. The National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame softball coach will have her jersey retired prior to Saturday’s game between the Gamecocks and Ole Miss and will be represented on the outfield wall.
“When (Athletics Director) Coach (Ray) Tanner and (current head coach) Beverly (Smith) called me, it surprised me,” said Compton, who coached at South Carolina from 1987-2010. “I was happy and taken aback a little bit.
“It’s 24 years’ worth of that happening,” Compton said. “All the players that came through when I was here are a big part of it. It’s really because of them, I would think, that this is happening.”
Compton retired in 2010 after 24 years leading the Gamecock Softball program. She took South Carolina to the Women’s College World Series twice and to the NCAA Tournament 13 times. She is the all-time winningest coach at South Carolina with 951 victories at the school and 1,066 victories overall, which ranked ninth in NCAA Division I history at the time of her retirement. While the win totals are impressive, it’s more than the numbers of which she is most proud.
“I think maybe staying consistent for my time here,” Compton said. “Being able to bring some very good players and people into the program. With the success we had on the field, I’m a very competitive person, so I think that ranks pretty high. Just the people that I got to meet, whether it be my assistant coaches, the players, the families, and the people that worked at the University.”
Compton was inducted into NFCA Hall of Fame in 2002 and played a big role in the Southeastern Conference adopting the sport in the mid-1990s. The program had seen a lot of success prior to becoming an SEC sport, but Compton’s teams won four Eastern Division titles, two SEC Tournament Championships and the 1997 SEC Regular Season Championship, which was the first season of the league sponsoring the sport. The 1997 team went 63-5 and set a then NCAA record of 38 straight wins. She was twice named SEC Coach of the Year and was the Region Coach of the Year five times.
“The thing that would stick out is the ’97 team,” Compton said. “That team was very special. Not just what we did on the field and accomplished on the field, but also the players that we had. They were all just competitive people.
“The other thing that stuck out was that we survived being dropped. We came back and had a pretty good product that we put on the field.”
“What I miss the most would be game time, and what I don’t miss is everything else.”
South Carolina began competing in the SEC in 1991, but since softball was not yet a league sport, there was consideration of the sport being dropped by the University. Fast forward to the present day where we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Title IX, Compton faced many challenges as schools around the country tried to get their women’s programs on level ground.
“I go right back to when we were almost dropped, and if it wasn’t for Title IX, I don’t know if we would have been back,” Compton said and then reflected on other challenges. “I think just going from the early days where we travelled in vans and progressing up the ladder as far as what finances we were given. That all goes back to the commitment. When softball came into the conference, people jumped in, feet first, and put the money into it. We had to stay up with it.”
Seeing the current success of women’s sports, nationally and at South Carolina, Compton said she feels sad and excited at the same time.
“We weren’t able to show what we had on the field in those early years,” Compton said. “Our sport, when you compare it to baseball, is a lively sport. You get to sit fifteen or twenty feet from the field. Some people were really bought into filling the stadiums across the country. That has been a really big boost. Softball across the country has really taken off, and I think it’s because once the SEC got into it, the recruiting just opened up the country. I think once they (recruits) saw how competitive our conference was, that just pushed a lot of other schools across the country to up their game.”
She gave most of her life to the game, and there are some things she misses about being in the dugout.
“What I miss the most would be game time, and what I don’t miss is everything else,” Compton said with a wry smile. “(I watch it now) pretty much as a fan, sometimes as a coach, but pretty much as a fan.
“I like the offense (now) and how equal it is across the country. Anybody can beat anybody on a given day. Fifteen to twenty years ago, that wasn’t the case.”
Compton created an incredible legacy at South Carolina, and with her name a permanent part of the facility, future generations will understand how important she was, just as the many former student-athletes and fans already know. For the Hall of Fame coach, there is a simple way she wants to be remembered.
“Probably that I came to compete every day,” Compton said. “I feel like I stayed true to myself.”