UNC softball head coach Donna Papa is retiring after 38 years on the job, the university announced on Thursday afternoon. Papa leaves as the fifth-longest tenured head coach at any sport in school history and the sixth-winningest head coach in the history of NCAA softball.

“It has been a great honor and pleasure to have represented the University of North Carolina for the last 38 years,” Papa said in a release from the athletic department. “I am grateful to the administrators who took a chance on me,ย  starting with (Director of Athletics) John Swofford, continuing with Dick Baddour, to Bubba Cunningham and Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz. I have been fortunate to work with so many outstanding coaches, players and people at UNC and throughout my career.”

Papa’s first season in Chapel Hill came in 1985-86, and she proceeded to win 1,339 games with the Tar Heels. Carolina won five ACC regular-season titles (including a school record 50-win season in 2008) the 2001 ACC Tournament under her leadership and Papa was named ACC Coach of the Year five times, all while leading UNC to 15 NCAA Tournaments. She was named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012 and retires as the second-winningest active coach in the sport.

“For 38 years, Donna has served as a valued leader and advocate for Carolina Softball, women’s athletics and our University,” said Cunningham. “She has long been dedicated to building winning teams, coaching teamwork and teaching Tar Heels the value of leadership on and off the field. Her legacy is not only her 1,339 wins, but also the hundreds of Carolina Softball alumni who are serving their communities and giving back in so many positive ways.”

The softball program scored a perfect 1000 Academic Progress Rate nine times under Papa and six times in the last eight seasons. She was named one of Carolina’s 50 Champions of Women’s Athletics in 2022 in honor of the 50th anniversary of Title IX.

“Donna Papa has defined Carolina Softball for decades,” said Guskiewicz. “We are grateful for her commitment to excellence and incredible achievements both on and off the field. Her legacy as a coach, teacher and mentor to generations of Carolina athletes has shaped our university community and I know her impact will continue to be felt through the amazing program she has built.”

A national search for the softball program’s next head coach will begin immediately. Papa is the third longtime UNC head coach to retire during the academic year, joining field hockey’s Karen Shelton and volleyball’s Joe Sagula.


Featured image via Chapel Hill Magazine/John Michael Simpson

Chapelboro.comย does not charge subscription fees, and you canย directly support our efforts in local journalismย here. Want more of what you see on Chapelboro? Let us bring free local news and community information to you byย signing up for our biweekly newsletter.