Donna J. Papa, the NFCA Hall of Fame head softball coach at North Carolina since 1986, has helped build Carolina softball into one of the top programs in the country. Papa has led Carolina to the NCAA Tournament in 12 of the last 15 years, five regular-season ACC titles and the 2001 ACC Tournament crown. UNC has posted a winning record in 27 of her 30 seasons, with 13 40-win seasons, including a 50-12-1 campaign in 2008, which included an ACC regular-season title at 18-2 and a bid to host an NCAA Regional.
Under her tutelage, Carolina has established itself as a perennial top-25 program, testimony that North Carolina competes at the highest level on the field while excelling academically at one of the nation’s top universities. On Nov. 30, 2012, Coach Papa was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame. She was joined by former Palomar head coach Mark Eldridge and Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso in the induction ceremony held at the 2012 NFCA Convention in Orlando, Florida.
Papa became the 11th Division I head coach to win 1,000 career games during the 2011 season and did so in grand fashion as the Tar Heels blanked Florida State 4-0 on March 27. The milestone victory for Papa also marked the Tar Heels’ first ever sweep of the Seminoles. The following season, Papa became just the ninth Division I head coach every to win 1,000 games at one school, earning her 1,000th Carolina victory against Utah State on March 9, 2012.
Ranked 12th in the nation all time and seventh among active Division I head coaches, Papa joined the 900-win club Feb. 20, 2009, in a victory over Cal State Fullerton. In her remarkable 32-year head coaching career, she has compiled a 1,156-631-5 record, including a 1,127-616-5 mark in 30 years as head coach at Carolina.
Carolina claimed the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament Championship, has won five regular-season titles, and has played in the ACC Championship game on three other occasions. Papa has been named ACC Coach of the Year five times - in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2008 and 2012. Since coming to Chapel Hill in 1985, Papa has helped nine players earn 12 NFCA All-America honors and 63 players to All-Southeast Region honors.
Theresa Buscemi was the first Tar Heel to earn All-America honors when she was named to the Third Team by the NFCA in 1992. Christine Kubin, also a two-time Academic All-American, was the first Tar Heel to earn First Team honors in 1996, and Brandy Arthur followed in 1998. Kelly Ramsey was named to the Third Team in 2000. In 2003, Tiffany Tolleson became the first two-time All-American in 2003, having taken home a Second-Team award in 2003, and Jaclyn Holden became the first Tar Heel freshman to earn the honor when she was named to the Third Team in 2003. In 2006, Crystal Cox was selected to the Third Team. Pitcher Danielle Spaulding became the first-ever three-time All-American at UNC when she earned a First-Team nod in 2010. After a four-year drought, Kristen Brown became the ninth Tar Heel to be named All-America, taking home Third Team honors in 2015.
In addition to success on the field, Papa’s program is known for excellence in the classroom. Christine Kubin earned Academic All-America honors in 1995 and `96, and 10 other Tar Heels have earned a total of 15 Academic All-District selections. Players who have earned that honor are Jenny Reed (1989), Julie O’Shields (1992), Lynnae Flynn (1993), Kubin (1994, ‘95, ‘96), Colleen Lefferts (1999), Beth Olen (2000), Sarah Young (2001, `02), Anna Tharrington (2003), Jessica Graziano (2004) and Anna Evans (2006, `07) and Stephanie Murad (2010).
Tar Heel softball players regularly earn spots on the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Most recently, Jenna Kelly and Elly Wagner earned ACC All-Academic nods in 2015, with an additional four Tar Heels appearing on the ACC Academic Honor Roll (Tracy Chandless, Lauren Fuller, Kendra Lynch, Lauren Walker). In 2012, Kelli Wheeler was tabbed the ACC Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, earning her third ACC academic honor.
During her time at North Carolina, Papa has been a driving force behind the construction of the Anderson Softball Stadium. The Tar Heels began play at Anderson Stadium and Williams Field in 2002. The second phase of construction featured the additions of the team building, concessions, press box, restrooms and locker rooms, and was completed and dedicated in 2006. It features many player-friendly innovations while allowing the fans to watch and players to play softball in a first class facility. Most recently she spearheaded the construction of the indoor hitting facility, which opened during the 2015 season.
Prior to arriving in Chapel Hill, Papa spent two seasons as head volleyball and softball coach at Susquehanna University. Her 1985 softball squad compiled a 16-8 record, won its conference division and qualified for the Middle Atlantic Conference Championship. Papa’s duties at Susquehanna also included working as the women’s intramural coordinator, a physical education instructor and the school’s primary recruiter for women’s athletics. She served as an assistant softball coach at St. John’s University from 1981-83 after spending one year as an assistant coach at UNC Greensboro while she worked toward a master’s degree in physical education. Papa earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education from the University of Connecticut in 1979. She played four seasons of softball for the Huskies and was co-captain her junior and senior seasons. Papa’s playing career also encompassed stints with ASA Major Fast Pitch teams including the Franklin Coronets (West Haven, Conn.) and the Waterford (Conn.) Mariners.
A respected clinician, Papa conducts Carolina softball camps and clinics throughout the year. She recently served a two-year term on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Committee. She also served on the NCAA All-Region Committee and represented the ACC on the NFCA Top-25 Selection Committee in 2006 and 2007. Championship Productions produced a video titled “All Access North Carolina Softball Practices with Donna Papa,” which is a tribute to her excellent coaching technique and widespread respect from the softball coaching community. Moreover, Coach Papa is currently writing a chapter on “Establishing a Positive Player-Coach Relationship” for the “Softball Coaching Bible II.”
Born March 16, 1956, in Waterbury, Connecticut, Papa was a recipient of the Olympian Award, presented by the Olympian Club of Waterbury, Conn., in recognition of outstanding achievement in athletics.
Last Updated: December 16, 2015