Joan Joyce, former Brakette and multiple Hall of Famer, known for her “integrity” and as a sports “pioneer”

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There are people for whom labels like “legend” are disposable platitudes, and then there are people like Joan Joyce.

“She seemed larger than life. We all thought it would go on forever,” said Kathy Arendsen, whom Joyce inspired and encouraged to follow her to Stratford and a Hall of Fame career with the Brakettes.

“He’s an icon. A legend has left this land,” Arendsen added. “He’s not someone you’ll forget.”

Joyce died Saturday at age 81. The Waterbury native who knocked out Ted Williams and Hank Aaron, was a member of 20 Halls of Fame, a softball great who became a professional golfer and once finished a round with just 17 putts, well accomplished beyond those two sports.

And for the past 28 years, she has coached the Florida Atlantic University softball team. She was also a golf coach there for 18 years.

Jenn Piazza-Laffin, former Lyman Hall New Haven Register Female Athlete of the Year in 2001, played softball for Joyce at FAU from 2002 to 2005. But she knew a lot about her before that.

Jenn’s mother, Elaine, was Shelton’s catcher for the Brakettes from 1966 to 1970 and nabbed several games from Joyce.

“I was going to meetings of the Brakettes (child) and meeting all the players,” said Piazza-Laffin. “All of the young women in the Brakettes in my mother’s day embarked on careers instituting and promoting the sport in high school and college. Now all women benefit from the life skills inherent in doing part of a sports team.(Joyce) was the most famous and enduring.

Former Brookfield star Pam Mazzarella was at FAU at the same time and said playing for Joyce was one of the most meaningful things in her life.

“I was there during a crucial and formative time in my life,” Mazzarella said. “She put me in an environment where I was surrounded by great people, including her.”

ABC’s Good Morning America celebrated Joyce’s life on Monday morning.

Billie Jean King, with whom Joyce and others founded a professional softball league in the late 1970s, was among those who tweeted condolences on Sunday and Monday. “She was the all-time great,” King said. FAU football coach Willie Taggart called Joyce a trailblazer and a legend.

“Coach, you lived a life of distinction,” Taggart tweeted, “and you will always remember your famous quote, ‘I wouldn’t let anyone beat me.’ Thank you Coach Joyce.

Arendsen offered his condolences to Joyce’s family and his team. “I can’t imagine how difficult it is to lose your coach mid-season,” she said.

When Joyce got credit for her 1,000th FAU win on March 18, Arendsen said she and many others sent congratulatory messages. She hoped they would get to her.

“The impact she had on a lot of us was huge,” Arendsen said. “She was strong, a great athlete, a great competitor. I saw her when I was 12, like, “women can do that.” …at a time when it was really hard for women to be who they wanted to be.

“Even today’s players don’t realize the path she blazed for all of us.”

Piazza-Laffin said she often sat next to Joyce in the Florida Atlantic dugout and asked questions about game situations.

Piazza-Laffin had also stayed in touch with her former collegiate coach over the years. Whether she coached softball at Mercy or one of her four children’s teams, Piazza-Laffin often turned to Joyce for advice.

“Coach was a pioneer for all women’s sports. She made it easier for kids like me to pick up a bat and a ball and feel like it was natural for girls to play sports,” Piazza-Laffin said. “She was a very humble person. When she came here to Connecticut after graduating, I would make it a point to go see her. I wanted my kids to know who she was, to know what she was. ‘she was doing.

Arendsen recalls going on recruiting trips when she and Joyce were both college coaches. Joyce was often accompanied by her father, Joe.

“They were like two peas in a pod,” Arendsen said, noting that the Brakettes’ statement said Joe Joyce had died nine years to the day before Joan.

“To really know the bond they had, it’s so special.”

What the audience saw, the intense contestant, was that Joyce was behind closed doors too, Mazzarella said, and she said she respects Joyce for that.

“She operated with great integrity and she demanded that of others,” Mazzarella said.

She said Joyce told great stories and talked about anything with anyone.

Last summer, in Connecticut for the Brakettes’ pitch-and-putt tournament and for a musical based on his life, Joyce told Hearst Connecticut Media a story about playing ping-pong against some of his players in a hotel in Tampa. Looks like Mazzarella gave us the other side on Monday.

“She just went through it,” Mazzarella said. “She just grabbed a paddle and started beating all of us.

“We thought it was hilarious. To sit and watch this woman: there’s nothing she can’t do.

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