Do you have a “Bucket List”? If so, what’s on it? I have a relatively informal one, but one item that has been on my list as long as I can remember is attending the NCAA Division I Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City. This past week, thanks to the graciousness of a dear friend, I got to check that dream off my bucket list.
If you followed the WCWS, you know that UCLA won their program’s 12th National Championship in impressive fashion last night. In honor of the their 12th time taking home the coveted hardware, this edition of Stoll on Sports features my 12 Lessons Learned from the 2019 WCWS.
|Pretty close to heaven for the mountain-dwelling tomboy!|
Here we go…
12. There is nothing better than being at a ballpark on a beautiful summer evening.
|Bama v. OU…2 powerhouse programs|
11. Softball is continuing to grow and 2020 is going to be awesome!
The history of the growth of collegiate softball would be a wonderful case-study (I should research that!). From the long-time Pac-12 domination, to the rise of the SEC, to Minnesota’s inaugural showing in the WCWS, the sport continues to grow. The NCAA tournament saw more than 500 hours of televised broadcasting. Seeing it back in the Olympic Games for 2020 in Tokyo will be epic!
10. Everyone should take a 26 hour road trip with their significant other.
Stan happily joined me on this trip and although we were crazy enough to drive the 13+ hours each way, we really enjoyed the (kid-free) time together. We listened to books and podcasts, talked about them, plotted out our goals for the next five years and enjoyed one another’s company. Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned road trip!
|On our road trip we realized it was 15 years to the day from our first date. So of course we got some Braum’s to celebrate.|
9. Life – like softball – is full of emotional highs and lows.
In Game 2 of the Championship Series, UCLA came out on top, then OU creeped back, then UCLA went up again, then “Big Play Shay” Knighten hit a 2-out homer in the top of the 7th to tie it up. Then UCLA got an epic walk-off base hit to win it all in the bottom of the 7th.
Enjoy the highs and lows, it’s how we know we’re really living. I loved the towels OU fans held up that read, “Joy in the journey”. So, so true.
8. Embrace your unique path.
Sitting there at the stadium it’s easy to let your mind wander to say, “I wish I would have done ___,” or “I wonder what would have happened if I ___.” Over the course of the weekend, I wanted to be Jessica Mendoza (who doesn’t?), Patty Gasso (again, duh), part of the USA Softball staff (heck yeah!), specifically the grounds crew (my dream job is actually to mow lawns like Forrest Gump — ask my husband, it’s true). But each and every one of us has our own unique path. The greatness lies in pursuing yours – one that is perfectly designed not to be the same as anyone else’s. I’m meant to be on the path I’m on, and you’re meant to be on the path you’re on. It’s a beautiful journey!
|Some days I wonder if I missed my calling. Photo: Spotern|
7. Sports is what we do; it’s not who we are.
Kelly Barnhill had a phenomenal pitching career at the University of Florida. She struggled at the WCWS. Florida wound up exiting after two straight loses. Here’s a great ESPN article reflecting that sentiment. Kelly, hold your head up high. No one can take away your accomplishments and softball is merely what you do, not who you are. This is true no matter what you do.
|ESPY Winner Kelly Barnhill is one of the best pitchers in history, despite the outcome of the WCWS. Photo: ESPN|
6. Honor the legacy.
UCLA did a great job honoring legacy throughout the WCWS and Head Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez spoke about the legacy of John Wooden on all of UCLA athletics.
As another example, Dot Richardson was sitting behind us for most of the series. People, DOT freakin’ RICHARDSON! I idolized her as a young player. She charted the course for so many of us in the game. Many notable softball vets came by and spoke with her, but it was amazing that many more young players did not. The truth is, many probably have never heard of her. There is a legacy in sport that if we do not share, will not get passed on. Kudos to the USA Softball Hall of Fame Museum for preserving this legacy.
|Dot Richardson. A legend. I met her once, I’m sure she remembers! Photo: Dr. Dot Richardson|
5. Softball is a family sport.
How many other championships do you attend where the game’s best players are sitting with fans, taking pictures and signing autographs? Where ESPN talent sits with the crowd regularly? Not many. There is something about this sport, and our host, USA Softball President Craig Cress nailed it when he told me, “That’s exactly what we want this event to be.” And it certainly is.
As an aside, we ran into a friend of ours (who was in our wedding and we haven’t seen in 12 years) sitting in the very seat in front of us! We bonded over softball, the glory days and caught up just like old times. It was awesome! It was family.
|Karen and me taking in some softball, just like old times!|
4. There is immeasurable beauty in game.
3. Oklahoma Head Coach Patty Gasso (among many others in the sport) is a class act.
|Love this picture of Coach Gasso enjoying the ride with some players. Photo: Baptist Messenger of Oklahoma|
My respect for OU’s remarkable coach grew immensely this week. Particularly by watching her response – and by example, her team’s response – to their uncharacteristic loss to UCLA in Game 1 of the Championship Series. No excuses. Clarity that the score, game or series does not define their team. Genuine care and love for her players. Acknowledgement of the quality of UCLA’s program. Patty displayed a shining example of sportsmanship, humility, leadership and resilience. Most of you know I’m an avid Ohio State fan, but Coach Gasso made an OU Softball fan out of me.
2. OKC is the epicenter of softball around the world.
USA Softball nailed it. OKC nailed it. The heartbeat of the sport of softball is unquestionably in OKC. And deservedly so. Everywhere we went we were greeted by exceptional hospitality, amazing food, fun-loving fans, and a community that knows how to roll out the red carpet. The value softball provides to the city – economically, socio-culturally and through exposure – and reciprocally, the way the city embraces the sport is second to none. Craig, Sue and teams, well done! Other organizations should take note.
|Always stunning and heart-wrenching Oklahoma City National Memorial|
And last but not least…
1. In case we forgot, life is about making memories.
|UCLA’s victory celebration. Photo: Extra Innings Softball|
For all involved, whether fans in the nosebleeds or players on the field, the WCWS displayed a microcosm of this truth. Just search #WCWS and look at the memories, stories, smiles, tears, and jubilation on the event’s social media feeds. At the heart of the WCWS, it’s about fostering an environment to make memories, contributing to the lives of each and every person touched by the event. The memories gained over this last week will be with me long after I forget which team won the championship.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” This is Stoll on Sports.