Oklahoma is known for lots of things, including crazy weather, great football and a fanatical sports culture that thrives on everything from T-ball through the NBA.
But for all the other good things about Oklahomans, the No. 1 thing they have proven to have since the days of the original Sooners almost a century and a quarter ago is compassion for their fellow citizens. They have proved through one distaster after another, both man-made and natural, that when times are tough, they can depend on one thing — each other.
The folks at Stonewall will continue that tradition of giving Tuesday, when the Lady Longhorns (ranked No. 3 in Class 2A) host Tushka (No. 6 in 3A) in a slowpitch softball game (set to start at 4 p.m.) that will be more than just final prep for each team’s regional tournament. A cookout for the players will be held afterward, and donations are being accepted to help the Tushka softball and baseball programs recover from the tornado that destroyed their school and much of their town earlier this month.
“We just wanted to do something for Tushka,” Stonewall softball coach Christie Jennings said Friday. “Roff was going to have a cookout for them when they came there (last week), but that got cancelled by another storm.
“We’re going to have a cookout, and we’re making goody bags for their softball and baseball players for the playoffs,” she added. “We’ve also collected water and Gatorade for both teams, and any money that’s left over, we’re just going to give it to them.”
Jennings said the idea grew legs after the cookout was planned, and it sprouted wings in the days that followed. “It didn’t start out as a benefit, but it just turned into a lot of people wanting to help,” she explained. “Word’s getting around and people have just been coming up and giving me money.”
And, although the money raised won’t make up for the damage done to their school, their town and their lives, Jennings said Tuesday’s game and fellowship should help make it a little easier for the Tushka players to move forward.
“Their field got torn up pretty good,” she noted. “They saved their equipment, but they can just use this money to maybe take the kids to eat after their playoff games.
“I know they’re emotionally drained,” Jennings added, “and athletics is a good outlet for them.”
While Stonewall, Tushka and most of the area’s other top softball teams claimed district titles and moved forward in the playoffs, the Roff Lady Tigers saw their season come to a sudden and unexpected halt with Thursday’s loss in a Class 2A District Tournament that, while on their home field, was much tougher than they deserved.
The OSSAA has, for some reason, repeatedly challenged Roff softball more than the state’s other high-profile programs at playoff time over the past few years, matching the Lady Tigers with other ranked teams while squads with similar credentials are handed much easier playoff roads. This spring was no exception.
While fourth-ranked Tupelo and third-ranked Stonewall in Class 2A, No. 2 Latta and No. 5 Konawa in 4A and even unranked Sulphur in 5A were handed district assignments that barely caused them to break a sweat Roff (No. 6 in 2A) was paired with No. 11 New Lima.
The district was the only one in the state in any class to match top-15 teams, so one team that deserved to have one of 16 spots in regional tournament this week was going home. Unfortunately, that team was Roff.
After blanking Strother, 12-0, in their opener, the Lady Tigers overcame deficits of 9-0 and 12-9 before dropping a 13-12 decision to New Lima. Roff then eliminated Strother, 17-7, beat New Lima 8-3 in the championship game and built an early 6-1 lead in the if-necessary game before the Falconettes rallied to tie it, 7-7, with four runs in the sixth and two in the seventh and win it, 10-7, with three runs in the top of the eighth.
The loss was the first ever in a slowpitch district for Roff’s Kathy Gregson, who had missed the state tournament just once in seven seasons as head coach.
In retrospect, Gregson and school officials shouldn’t have been surprised by their district draw. In the fall of 2009, the Lady Tigers were ranked No. 2 in their class and had to get past No. 10 Tupelo in their regional tournament, and last fall they were again a top-five team and had to plow through a district tournament that included two-time defending Class B fast-pitch state champion Sasakwa.
Although it’s a given that the the powers-that-be in Oklahoma high school athletics aren’t going to make everybody happy with playoff assignments, and mistakes will made, those miscalculations seem to be coming Roff’s way a little more often than they should. Gregson’s program had been able to overcome tougher-than-deserved postseason draws before, but it figured that eventually the Lady Tigers were going to fall into one of those snakepits the OSSAA placed in front of them.
And last week that finally happened.
Gregson has a young squad that will return intact this fall, so the glory days for Roff softball aren’t over. But the 2A state tournament won’t be quite the same this spring without the Lady Tigers in the field.