Softball, invented in Chicago in 1887, flourished in Oklahoma during the twentieth century, especially in Tulsa where Bud Howe, a YMCA director, introduced it in 1930 through the Tulsa Church Athletic Association. Howe convinced R. N. Shanks, the association's president, to organize a league. Twelve teams participated that first year. In 1934 and 1935 the sport began to grow in popularity, not only in Oklahoma but nationwide after the formation of the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) in 1933. After Leo Fischer, sports editor of the Chicago American, and Michael J. Pauley organized a 1933 national tournament in conjunction with the Chicago World's Fair, the ASA was organized into associations nationwide.
Throughout its history Oklahoma has had some outstanding teams, but the state's greatest men's fast pitch team was the Deep Rock Oilers of Tulsa. The Oilers won the ASA Men's Major Fast Pitch National Championship in 1942 by defeating the Briggs Beautyware Bombers of Detroit, Michigan, in the championship game, 2-0, behind the pitching of Sig Lawson. Formed in 1937, Deep Rock won its fourth straight Oklahoma state tournament in 1942, then won the Southwest Regional title in five games without an error. Al Linde and Lawson pitched three perfect games during the regional. Lanky, six-foot, three-inch Lawson pitched four games in the national tournament in Detroit, including beating the Bombers on a one-hitter in the championship game. In all, Lawson hurled a total of thirty-six innings, allowing only two runs, both unearned.
A year earlier the Higgins Midgets (Tulsa) had won the ASA Women's Major Fast Pitch National Championship. No other Oklahoma team has ever won this title in the twentieth century. The Midgets defeated the Erin Brews of Cleveland, Ohio, 3-0, in the title game before eight thousand people at University of Detroit Stadium. Ed C. Higgins, who owned a Tulsa sporting goods store, sponsored the Midgets, a team built around solid pitching provided by Ruth Mitchell and Nina Korgan. Korgan hurled a three-hitter in the championship game. She was later elected to the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City. In 1953 the ASA added slow pitch to its national championship program, and since then Oklahoma teams have won various championships at the youth and adult level. Annually more than seventy thousand people participate in softball in Oklahoma.
One of the highlights of Oklahoma softball each summer is the annual Indian Fast Pitch Tournament held in Oklahoma City on the weekend following the Fourth of July. Started in 1952, this gathering has attracted more than one hundred men's teams and is one of the oldest American Indian tournaments in the United States. Teams have come from all over the nation to compete at Wheeler Park's Eggeling Stadium, named after former Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Superintendent Alvin Eggeling who, along with the late W. B. Auxier, former ASA state and metro commissioner, played major roles in the development of softball in Oklahoma City and throughout Oklahoma.
Eggeling and Auxier were both involved when the Amateur Softball Association, the governing body of softball in the United States, decided to move its national office from Newark, New Jersey, to Oklahoma City. The ASA moved to Oklahoma City in 1966 and used various temporary locations before finding a home at 2801 Northeast Fiftieth Street. The official dedication for the ASA's national headquarters and hall of fame was held May 26, 1973. Since then the facility has been expanded twice, and in 1987 the Don E. Porter ASA Hall of Fame Stadium was built. The stadium is named after former ASA Executive Director Don E. Porter, who guided the organization for thirty-five years.
The stadium also hosts the marquee event in college softball, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Women's College World Series. This event brings together the top eight college softball teams in the United States and annually draws more than 25,000 people. The University of Oklahoma won the 2000 NCAA title with a record 38,108 people attending the event. In 2001 the ASA Hall of Fame Stadium planned future expansion with three thousand more permanent seats and two additional fields. Oklahoma and its people have played an important role in the development of amateur softball.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Berry Wayne Tramel, "The Significance of Sports in Oklahoma," in The Culture of Oklahoma, ed. Howard Stein and Robert Hill (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993). Archives, National Softball Hall of Fame, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City), 15 November 1987.
Bill Plummer III
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