High school sports: Watson coached strong East softball teams, will enter Stanly Hall this summer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 18, 2024


By Mike London

GOLD HILL — Girls slow-pitch softball was replaced by the fast-pitch game nearly 30 years ago in Rowan County, but there was a time when the Rowan girls, especially East Rowan and South Rowan, excelled at the slow-pitch game.

South Rowan was 4A state runner-up in 1992.

East’s girls didn’t win any NCHSAA state titles, but they made a trip to the state playoffs almost every year.

The coach of the strong East softball teams in the 1980s was Frances Caudle Watson. Her softball teams won South Piedmont Conference championships in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 and 1985. She was voted SPC Coach of the Year in 1979, 1982, 1983 and 1985 and was the NCHSAA Women’s Coach of the Year in 1986, a year when a young East softball team tied for second in the SPC.

The 1985 Mustangs finished third in the 3A-4A classification. There were only two NCHSAA divisions for softball from 1980-86 — 3A/4A and 1A/2A. Prior to 1980, there were no classifications.

Watson, still going strong at 85, recently was elected to the Stanly County Hall of Fame, partly because of her terrific high school basketball playing career and partly because of her stellar coaching career in Rowan County. Besides all those softball conference championships, she is credited with starting East Rowan’s volleyball program and she assisted with the basketball program.

Watson, the youngest of eight children in an athletic family that grew up in Richfield, was inspired by the accomplishments of her older siblings.

“Sports taught me the value of dedication, determination, persistence and a positive attitude,” Watson said. “I have learned to always give 100 percent and then just keep digging down deep to give just a little more … and that’s not just in sports, but in all things in life.”

She competed in the 1950s at Richfield High prior to the consolidation of the small Stanly schools. She was coached by, among others, her older brother, Boyce Caudle, who would later serve as East Rowan’s principal for a decade.

Watson played basketball in the 6-on-6 days for girls. As a senior in 1955-56, she averaged 33 points per game and was arguably the best player the Stanly County Conference ever had seen.

Watson continued her playing career at Pfeiffer and earned a degree in health and physical education.

She served as an elementary school teacher, then coached and taught in Charlotte for eight years before being hired at East Rowan in the late 1970s.

Her softball teams started cranking out wins and were strong enough to get a story in the Salisbury Post in May 1986. The headline referred to the team as “Fran’s Fillies.”

Fans plunked down $2 to watch the 1986 Mustangs, who had players such as Sandy Basinger, Rhonda Kepley, Tammy Brooks, Tammy Trexler, Trina Edgison, Kim Everson, Keri Morgan, Alyssa Carmen and Velinda Fink. Lisa Sprinkle did all the pitching.

Watson’s husband, Larry, also a graduate of Richfield High, passed away in 2017.

Watson was a product of a simpler time with far fewer opportunities for women, but also with fewer distractions.

“The level of sports competition on all levels today is amazing,” she said. “That being said, the number of social outlets and social media distractions offer a significant challenge for today’s athletes. The distractions and temptations of today’s world as compared to when I was growing up as an athlete is a problem for many athletes today. Sports was the social outlet for me. It was what I ate, lived and breathed.”

Watson is among four inductees of the Class of 2024 Stanly County Sports Hall of Fame. She will be honored at the annual event at 6 p.m. on June 3 at Pfeiffer University’s Merner Gym. Tickets can be purchased at Starnes-Bramlett Jewelers, Uwharrie Dash, Albemarle Parks and Recreation, Locust City Hall and Oakboro Parks and Recreation.

The Stanly News and Press contributed to this story.