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’s Tar Heels continue to show improvement each season. Papa has led Carolina to the NCAA Tournament in 11 of the last 14 years and guided the Tar Heels to a school record for wins as Carolina went 50-12-1 in 2008 - hosting the first ever NCAA Regional at Anderson Stadium. UNC has had winning seasons 15 of the last 16 years, with 11 of those including 40 or more wins during the campaign.
Under her tutelage, Carolina has established itself as a perennial top-25 program, testimony that North Carolina competes at the highest levels 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, and the trio was inducted at the 2012 NFCA Convention in Orlando, Fla.
Papa won her 1,000th career game 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. Only 11 NCAA Division I coaches have ever achieved 1,000 victories.
One of the 20 winningest coaches in NCAA history, Papa joined the 900-win club Feb. 20, 2009, in a victory over Cal State-Fullerton. In her remarkable 30-year coaching career, she has compiled a 1,118-616-5 record, including a 1,090-601-5 mark in 29 years as head coach at Carolina.
Carolina claimed the 2001 Atlantic Coast Conference Championship, five regular season titles and has played in the title 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 coached players to All-America seasons on 11 occasions and 56 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 in 1992. Christine Kubin earned first-team honors in 1996, and Brandy Arthur followed in 1998. Kelly Ramsey was named to the third team in 2000, Tiffany Tolleson was named a second team member in 2002 and third team 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 was a three-time All-America after earning a first-team nod in 2010.
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 nine other Tar Heels have been named to the Academic All-America All-District team. Players who have earned that honor are Jenny Reed (1989), Julie O’Shields (1992), Lynnae Flynn (1993), Kubin (1994), Colleen Lefferts (1999), Beth Olen (2000), Sarah Young (2001, `02), Anna Tharrington (2003), Jessica Graziano (2004) and Anna Evans (2006, `07). In 2010, Stephanie Murad and senior Brittany Robinson were named NFCA Scholar Athletes, while senior Kelli Wheeler was named an NFCA Scholar Athlete in 2011 and 2012, and freshman Lauren Fuller received the honor in 2013.
Tar Heel softball players regularly earn spots on the ACC Academic Honor Roll. Most recently, Jenna Kelly, Erin Satterfield and Lori Spingola earned ACC All-Academic nods, while in 2012, Kelli Wheeler was tabbed the ACC Softball Scholar-Athlete of the Year, earning her third ACC academic honor. UNC has a league-high six selections in 2012, as Christine Knauer, Stephanie Murad, Anna Roberts, Brittany Robinson, Brittany McKinney and Wheeler were honored. Other recent academic nods went to Sara Buchholz, Breanna Brown and Emily Troup.
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.
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 is currently serving a two-year term on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America Committee. She also served on the NCAA All-Region Committee and completed a two-year term representing 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 in the softball coaching community. Moreover, the NFCA recently invited Coach Papa to write a chapter on “Establishing a Positive Player-Coach Relationship” for the “Softball Coaching Bible II.”
Born March 16, 1956, in Waterbury, Conn., Papa was a recipient of the Olympian Award, presented by the Olympian Club of Waterbury, Conn., in recognition of outstanding achievement in athletics.