In the sports realm, there are many great individuals who have impacted a game with their athletic presences.
The truly great ones, however, transcend a way that a game is played long after their career is put on the shelf for good.
A 261-20 record. Three OHSAA State Championships. Two additional trips to the state finals. And, unbelievably, 11 sectional and 11 district titles in each of her 11 seasons as head coach.
That is what Carol Vice accomplished as the head coach of the Clay Panthers’ girls softball program in a span of a single decade from 1978 to 1988, which not only put the Clay softball program, but the entire Southern Ohio area, on the map from a softball standpoint.
And even though the veteran head coach’s life officially came to a close on July 28 at the age of 82, that accomplishment of bringing softball to the forefront of the minds of individuals from all across the Tri-State Area is arguably greater than any of her aforementioned — because it will last well into the future.
Need any proof of that fact? Just ask fellow standout coach Teresa Ruby, who has since joined her mentor on an elite coaching pedestal after playing under Vice from 1978 to 1981 as a standout student-athlete in her own right.
“Carol is the mother of Southern Ohio softball,” Ruby said. “She laid the foundation that has led to the strong tradition that has followed here over the years in the Southern Ohio ranks. I feel privileged to have been one of her players.”
During her coaching span, there was arguably no better coach in the entire state, and very few, if any, that were better than Vice, who accomplished an unbelievably high 93.7 percent win total behind her 261-20 mark according to school records. But for Ruby, the opportunity to simply participate in another sport that she was passionate about, let alone under a coach as sound as Vice was from a preparation standpoint, was more important than anything — especially considering that women’s sports were virtually nonexistent until the passing of Title IX documentation in 1972.
“Carol was a competitor,” Ruby said. “The opportunity to compete, as a girl, was nothing like it is now. The opportunities were not as abundant. Carol not only gave us the opportunity to compete at a high level, but she taught us to be competitive, to win with dignity, to be humble, to be appreciative of the opportunity while making the most of it, and to remember that we’re playing for something that is bigger than ourselves. We had a sisterhood, and to this day, we still stay in touch with one another. We’re a family, and that’s one of the greatest gifts you can have.”
But make no mistake about it — Vice didn’t want to just show up. That was proven in the practices that were conducted, which, much like Ruby’s practices today, demanded pure concentration — which was developed from Clay, where Vice graduated in 1952. The latter then graduated from Ohio University with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and used that education to instill respect in all facets of her work, both at school and at practice, at her alma mater.
“If you weren’t ready at practice or didn’t give 110 percent at practice, you definitely weren’t going to get to play,” Ruby said. “Practice was time to work.”
However, according to Ruby, Carol’s husband, Clay, was as feared, if not even moreso, than his well-respected and liked wife. Much like current Clay coaches Jason and Cindy Gearheart, Carol and Clay made coaching a family affair, and, according to Ruby, the team referred to Clay’s imminent presence as ‘Clay-o-clock’ when he showed up to practice.
“I remember her competitive spirit,” Ruby said. “Carol and Clay coached us as a husband-wife team. Sometimes, Clay would be late to practice, and when he was, we thought that it’d be a little easier with just Carol at practice. Then, we’d see Clay pulling in, and we’d say, ‘We better get our butts in gear.’”
And that they did. Clay, as a matter of fact, established itself as the predominant softball program in what was then called Class A as the Lady Panthers needed just three seasons under the Vices to claim the Holy Grail in 1980, while doing so again the following year. By the sixth year of Carol and Clay’s tenure, the Lady Panthers had taken home three state championships in six years (1980, 1981, 1983) and had added a fourth appearance in 1979 onto that list. Ruby, who had already torn up the courts with her 1,846 career points and 21.2 point-per-game average for her career, set a big tone on the first three OHSAA State Final Four teams and the first two OHSAA State Championship units in Scioto County history with her play.
“I can remember teams from Cleveland or ‘The North,’ as we called it,” Ruby chuckled, wanting to come down and play us. They’d come down on Spring Break and had the opportunity to play us.”
By the time Vice called it quits in 1988, the esteemed softball coach had not only earned trips to the district and regional tournament in each of her seasons as head coach, but had also taken home an SOC Championship for the school in each of the first nine seasons that the SOC awarded a title to member schools who sponsored the sport and had never lost more than four games in each of her seasons as the coach of the program. Not surprinsingly, it was only a matter of time before Vice obtained first-class entry into the Clay Coaches and the OHSAA High School Hall of Fame realms.
“She was a visionary,” Ruby said. “She was ahead of the game. I just remember Carol being somebody that never let you relax, and, during the games, would have the same competitive fire as anybody. She was the exception to the rule as a strong female coach at that time.”
While the physical presence of Vice may not be on Earth anymore, her coaching spirit, prowess, and knowledge of the game lives on in Ruby, who has carved a path of her own en route to developing her own powerhouses along the way.
After leading Clay to the 2007 OHSAA Final Four, Ruby, who also coached at Shawnee State as an assistant and made a stop at Portsmouth, arrived at Wheelersburg before the 2014 season began. The Pirates haven’t looked back since, winning a district championship in each season, going to the OHSAA State Final Four the last three years, and appearing in the state finals the last two seasons. In 2016, Ruby, who had helped develop Kalle Coleman, Michal Cunningham, and Faith Howard into Division I prospects, won a state title at the Division III level.
And according to Ruby, it’s all due to what her predecessor taught her on the good old softball grounds in Rosemount.
“I learned quite a bit from Carol, both as a player and as a coach,” Ruby said. “She taught me to push myself, to never be satisfied and to continue to get better, and to be good to my teammates. She was a mentor for me, and was there for me off of the softball field as much as she was on it. She wanted me to be successful in whatever I wanted to do, and continued to be there for me as I got older up until she got sick.”
Reach Kevin Colley at (740) 353-3101 ext. 1930 OR on Twitter @KColleyPDT