April 23, 2001
Tallahassee, FL - The way head softball coach Dr. JoAnne Graf has been going for the past 23 years, it wasn't a big surprise to FSU observers that she notched her 1,100th career win but it may have been a surprise that the milestone victory came in Gainesville. The legendary Seminole coach entered last week's doubleheader with the Gators needing just two wins to reach yet another record in her unprecedented career but considering her Seminoles had never swept the Gators, you'd have to forgive her for wondering if win 1,100 would come at the Florida Softball Stadium.
"I think beating Florida made the 1,100th win special," said Graf. "We split with them the past four years and I think sweeping them in Gainesville really meant more to me than the record. Hopefully there will be a win No. 1,200 but sweeping them at home was quite an accomplishment for our softball team."
When you accomplish as much as coach Graf has, it is hard to get caught up in the numbers but her milestone win in Gainesville signals the countdown to an even bigger record that Graf will likely reach next season. She is now only 23 wins away from becoming the all-time winningest softball coach in NCAA Division I history. Legendary Cal State Fullerton coach Judi Garman currently holds the record with 1,124 wins but since her retirement in 1999, Graf has been gaining ground and the Seminoles' 47 wins thus far has helped narrowed the gap considerably.
"I haven't even thought about that record because it won't even be a possibility until next year," said Graf. "I don't look ahead at all. That's too far down the road and there is a lot left to accomplish this year. I'm not a big statistics person, the only stats I look at are the team's wins and losses, so I didn't even know how many wins I needed to get to 1,100. It's an important milestone but in many ways it's not important."
Graf has built one of the top softball programs in the nation at Florida State and she looks to be on her way to guiding this year's squad to an NCAA berth for the 14th time in her career. Her Seminole teams have made five World Series appearances, won two slowpitch National Championships, produced 18 All-Americans and have won eight ACC titles including the last six in a row. What is the secret to her success?
"I have a lot of people to thank, and when you accomplish all the things we have at Florida State, you just can't do it by yourself," said Graf. "I think you obviously have to give credit to the players, the assistant coaches, the administration and the support staff because it's been a long time and you have a lot of different people who have contributed to our success and I owe them a lot."
One of the things that makes Graf's success so special in her eyes is that she has had the opportunity to do it at one school. Florida State is her alma mater and when she took over the program 23 years ago she never imagined that she would have 23 consecutive winning seasons and be on the verge of becoming the top coach in the history of Division I softball. Things really couldn't have gone any better for the coach who recorded win No. 1 February 26, 1979 in a 3-1 victory over Chipola College.
"I think it's special because this is my alma mater," said Graf. "Back when I started at FSU I think I was just trying to survive each game. You weren't making any money and you didn't have the support staff and all that but you loved the game of softball and that hasn't changed, that's still there."
Graf's win total isn't the only thing that has grown over the years. She has seen an explosion in collegiate athletics and a rise in the opportunities for women in sports. Graf believes there have been many positive changes in her 23 years at the helm of FSU's third oldest women's team.
"I think the support and the money has definitely grown," said Graf. "The opportunities for women to get their education paid for, to see places they may never see again and to really experience national level competition has obviously changed through the years. I think the only negative is that we sometimes lose perspective on what it's all about and I think sometimes it's gotten to be too much of a business and there aren't enough people who care about the kids. This is athletics and you have to keep it in perspective. Unfortunately, I think we get away from that sometimes and coaches, administrators and fans need to keep that in perspective."