WCWS: Humble origins in OKC
But a couple of people I corresponded with in the last couple of days were there even before 1992, my first year at the event. And their stories of the roots of Oklahoma City’s hosting the NCAA softball championship are very interesting.
For example, did you know OKC’s first bid to the NCAA suggested hosting the tournament at city-owned Wheeler Park, just south of downtown and the North Canadien River? Wheeler Park includes several softball fields for recreational leagues but also a stadium that, frankly, is pretty cool, with old wooden bleachers and an overhang and a large wooden fence surrounding the outfield. Looks like an old-fashioned baseball park. Something out of The Natural.
I played a few games in the 1980s at Wheeler Park’s stadium, and while the notion of playing the World Series there now seems quaint, it’s all relative. In the early 1980s, the AIAW — the forerunner of NCAA women’s athletics — staged its national softball championship at Reaves Park in Norman, and Wheeler Park is a huge upgrade from Reaves.
Glen Boyer, president of the All Sports Association in the 1980s, said two of OKC’s bids included Wheeler Park. The WCWS was played in Omaha at the time, and Boyer said Wheeler Park was a better venue than where the women played in Omaha.
Boyer said the All Sports staged an autumn tournament at Putnam City Optimist Park in 1987 that included reigning NCAA champion Texas A&M, plus OU, OSU, Kansas and others. “That helped break the Omaha lock,” Boyer said.
Alas, the NCAA took the tournament from Omaha to Sunnyvale, Calif. But in 1987, Don Porter’s great project, Hall of Fame Stadium, was built at the Amateur Softball Association headquarters, and suddenly no one in America had a better venue for softball.
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