When Faye Perkins arrived at UW-River Falls in 1986, the softball field on campus was nothing more than a dirt infield with a chain-link fence backstop.
"That was it," she said. "There was no outfield fence, there were no dugouts, no batting cages, no pitching warm-up area. We had to carry benches out from the Knowles Center to sit on."
Perkins went on to coach the Falcons for 22 seasons, leading the team to six WIAC West Division championships, two conference titles, and three NCAA Tournament appearances while compiling a career record of 479-402-2.
Now, 33 years later, and after a series of improvements that have turned the field into one of the finest in the upper Midwest, the softball field has been renamed Faye Perkins Field. The dedication ceremony was supposed to take place before the Falcons' home doubleheader against UW-Whitewater Saturday, April 13, but the games were moved to Whitewater due to unplayable field conditions following last week's snow storm, so the event was moved inside to the Falcon Center.
"What an incredible honor," Perkins said inside the packed RCU Community Room overlooking Don Page Arena. "It's hard to believe this is even happening."
It's happening because of Perkins' sustained relationships with her former players, families, coaches and friends.
Perkins coached 65 All-American Scholar-Athletes. Her 1993-94 team had the second highest overall grade point average in all of Division III fastpitch. Six of her athletes won the WIAC Scholar-Athlete award. She coached two All-Americans, 16 Regional All-Americans and 68 of her student-athletes were named to All-WIAC teams. Perhaps most impressive: the graduation rate for her 4-year players over 22 years was 100 percent.
Many of those players attended Saturday's dedication ceremony. Perkins said despite the less-than-ideal playing conditions in those early years, it is the relationship with the players that has stuck with her.
"There were no bleachers," she noted. "They'd bring in some portable bleachers for the games and we'd put up a wooden snow fence for the outfield fence. That was our field. But you know what? It didn't make a difference. We got a new field in 1996 and it was wonderful. We finally had dugouts and an enclosed field and an actual scoreboard and that was great. But it was still about the friendships and the relationships we made being a part of the team."
It was Perkins' former players that pushed for the field to be named in her honor.
"One of the reasons why I'm so humbled by this is that it was started by my players that felt that this should be something that happened," she said. "So it was through their hard work and the generosity of players, past players, parents, colleagues, community friends, that made this a reality. So I'm truly humbled by this honor."
In addition to her 22 years coaching, Perkins also served as chair of the Department of Health and Human Performance, interim dean of the College of Education and interim provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs over a career that spanned 30 years at the university.
"I feel blessed that I could combine my love of teaching in the Health and Human Performance Department with my love of coaching softball," she said. "So truly this was a match made in heaven really, to be able to do the things that I really loved to do."
Perkins also thanked her husband, Joe McIntosh, and her two sons, Paul and Bobby.
"I could not have done everything I did without the love and support of Joe," she said. "And Paul and Bobby had to share me with the team. There were many times I couldn't go to their events because I was off coaching. But one of the best things about that was that these two young men were surrounded by strong women role models. And I think that is one thing that has helped them become the wonderful young men that they are today."
After joining her former players in one of her favorite team chants; "Good, better, best! Never let it rest! Till your good is better and your better is best!" an emotional Perkins thanked the crowd one more time on behalf of her family.
"I really don't think we could have asked for a better life," she said. "River Falls has been just incredible to us. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for all your support, for being here today, for being part of this journey. And so to quote the late great Lou Gehrig, I have to say that today, I'm the luckiest person on the face of this earth. Thank you."