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Story By John Murray
The city gave a giant bearhug to its greatest athlete yesterday and named September 27th Joan Joyce Day in the city of Waterbury, her hometown.
“She certainly was a woman for all seasons and an incredible role model,” State Senator Joan Hartley said during a ceremony inside the Palace Theater in downtown Waterbury. “Joan set the tone for establishing women in sports, and we will be forever in her debt.”
Joan Joyce, who passed away in March 2022, has been described as the greatest female athlete in American history and excelled in softball, basketball, volleyball, golf and bowling.
Joan Joyce’s brother and sister, Joe and Janice Joyce at the ceremony yesterday.
A book written about Joyce’s life by Tony Renzoni called “Connecticut Softball Legend Joan Joyce” captured the extraordinary moments in her life, and was turned into a musical that was performed at the Legacy Theater in Branford, CT, last September. During the ceremony this afternoon inside the Palace Theater it was announced that the musical will be performed at the 7-Angels Theater in Waterbury in 2023.
Keely Knudsen played Joan Joyce in the musical and she was at the Palace this morning. ‘We had the great fortune of having Joan fly out last summer and see the musical up on its feet and performed full out,” Knudson said, “and she couldn’t have been more complimentary of it. We listened to the CD afterwards and shed tears. It was such a tremendous honor to be able to play her.”
So what did Joan Joyce do? Hold on to your arm rest and get ready for take-off.
Joyce struck out baseball hall of famers Ted Williams and Hank Aaron in softball exhibitions, and Williams later confided to a friend that Joan Joyce was the toughest pitcher he had ever faced.
Joyce struck out Ted Williams in front of 17,000 in Waterbury chanting her name.
During 19 seasons pitching for the Raybestos Brakettes of Stratford, Connecticut, she compiled an astounding 753-42 won-loss record, threw 150 no-hitters, 50 perfect games and struck out more than 10,000 batters. Her lifetime earned run average was .090. She threw three no-hitters during the 1974 Softball World Championships and led the Brakettes to the first title won by an American team.
Her softball statistics are other worldly and she still holds the LPGA record of 17 putts in an 18 hole round of golf. She also could have been a professional bowler or volleyball player.
A 5-foot-9 forward in basketball Joyce won several All-American honors and set a national Amateur Athletic Union record of 67 points in a single game. She was also a terrific volleyball player and competed in the United States Volleyball Association’s national tournament from 1969 to 1974, and was selected to all-star teams.
One month after picking up a bowling ball she won the state title in Connecticut, and then at age 35 she tried golf, and made the professional circuit within two years and set a LPGA record for fewest putts in a round, 17, a feat tied only once by a male on the PGA Tour. She played professional golf for 19 years.
LPGA golf star Jane Blalock said, “Joan Joyce was the greatest female athlete in sports history. Actually, she’s one of the greatest athletes of all time – male or female.”
Joyce coached softball for 28 seasons at Florida Atlantic University, in Boca Raton, Florida.
Board of Alderman President Paul Pernerewski said, “We forget that when Joan began her career, it was not common for young women or for young girls to be participating in sports and to be able to see that as a path into their future,” Pernerewski said. “It is very common today and it’s an option for so many young people and we have Joan and all the work that she did to thank for that.”
From here on on out, September 27th will be Joan Joyce Day in Waterbury, perhaps the only home run she ever gave up.