On April 13, the Rye Neck softball team rode a 12-strikeout performance by pitcher Olivia Dunne to a convincing 8-0 win over Port Chester. But the win, while impressive, was more than just another notch for a Panther team that has had great success over the years; it was an especially important milestone for longtime coach Joan Spedafino, who became the first-ever Section I softball coach to crack the 500-victory plateau.
Spedafino, who is in the midst of her 33rd year, admitted that she hadn’t really been paying attention to her career win totals as the benchmark approached.
“I have been coaching for 32 years which is a long time,” she said. “I’ve been lucky enough to have great kids, great teams and great coaching staffs, and this all came up very quickly.”
Spedafino added that although she knew her current crop of players—many of whom have been with the program for several years—were aware of the impending milestone, none of them brought it up before the final win was in the books.
“I’m very superstitious,” she said, “but it’s all about the girls and our season and I’m just glad it’s over. I’m happy nobody on the team said anything because even though it’s a milestone, it’s just a number.”
Once the final out was recorded, however, the Rye Neck players were given free rein to celebrate Spedafino’s historic accomplishment.
“When it was all over they all ran to me and hugged me, congratulating me” she said. “And that’s been the best part over the years, seeing these great athletes and people grow.”
The longtime Panther coach was also taken aback by the reaction of her former charges and the community at-large. When she came into school on Monday, Spedafino recounts, a large number of Rye Neck students were adorned with special “500 wins” softball labels they had printed out to commemorate the achievement.
“I’ve had so many former players call me and message me on Facebook, and to see the entire school come out with those labels,” she said, “it just shows you that Rye Neck is really a special place.”
With the milestone now behind them, the Panthers and Spedafino will now set their sights on making a strong push to close out the 2018 season and, what the team hopes is, another run to the Section I title game. On April 14, the squad picked up win 501 for Spedafino, as Rye Neck topped Tuckahoe 7-1.
“The next day, Saturday, we had another game and the girls were great,” Spedafino said. “With the weather we had in the first part of the season, we know it’s going to be a tough second half.”