ADA — Any real fan of Oklahoma fast-pitch softball can reel off the names of the state’s elite programs, both past and present. Anyone who’s not so well-versed can visit the Web site of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) and see them there in black and white.

Davenport has won eight of the last 12 Class A fast-pitch titles, Washington has won three of the last seven in 2A, and Meeker has captured three of the last four 3A championships. Among bigger schools, Coweta (Ada High’s regional opponent) is the defending 5A state champ and has won three of the last four titles in that class, and Broken Arrow has won eight championships since 1977 in 4A, 5A and 6A.

But in the days when there was only one class, Atwood High School WAS the class of fast-pitch softball in Oklahoma.

Atwood — a small community located on SH 1 between Allen and Calvin — is still on the map, but the school closed in 1967, and these days the little community is one of the quietest places in the state. In the 1950’s, though, Atwood was the site of a softball dynasty — south central Oklahoma’s only softball dynasty ever, in fact.

The list of OSSAA state champs only goes back to 1953, but from 1951-53 Atwood won an amazing 56 straight games — a streak that ended with a loss to Capitol Hill in the 1953 state championship game — and from 1950-53, the fast-pitch squad went a remarkable 82-3 under J. H. (Henry) Wood, who, in addition to being the softball coach, was also the superintendent for Atwood schools. Wood coached at Atwood from 1948 to 1959, and during his tenure he established a tradition of excellence that is largely forgotten these days — except by the women who played for him. (The team was state runner-up in 1950 and won state titles in 1951 and 1952 before finishing second again in 1953)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Wood’s last state championship at Atwood, and while many of the details of the 1956 state title game — when Wood and his team made the long trip to Gotebo to beat the host Lady Tigers 11-6 and claim what was, remarkably, the last state fast-pitch championship for an Ada-area team — have faded for the players on that squad, their memories of playing for Wood — and at Atwood — haven’t.

“It was great,” recalled Loretta Legg, who still lives in Allen and who played on undefeated teams for Wood in 1951 and 1952 and was also a member of the 1953 squad that ultimately lost the title to Capital Hill. “We had the best coach you could have. He made it fun. He took care of us just like we were his kids.

“It wasn’t like today, when you have to have a bunch of chaperones — it would just be a bunch of us girls and him,” Legg added. “We would stay in the other school’s gym when we played and stayed overnight. Anything we needed, he took care of it. A male coach could never do that today without stirring up some controversy.”

And travel arrangements weren’t the only difference between fast-pitch in the 1950’s and today. Until 1976, Oklahoma had just one class in the sport, and winners ran the gamut from tiny Atwood to Tulsa Union, which captured the last state title before schools were divided into classes based on enrollment.

A quarter-century before Union won the 1976 title, though, Atwood was the state’s most successful program, and 50 years after the school’s last state championship, Legg and the other remaining members of Wood’s teams still remember what it was like to be the very best.

“We were known statewide as the best team in the state,” Legg recalled. “That was our reputation. We played a lot of the bigger teams. We played Choctaw, and one time we beat Preston 47-2. They didn’t have run-rules back then.

“I was the catcher, and you didn’t have to wear a mask if you didn’t want to,” she added. “I didn’t wear a mask until they made us start wearing them in 1953, because it just got in my way. I never got hit in the face.”

The Cowgirls played all of their regular-season games on Friday afternoon, and, because the field had no lights, they also held all of their practices in the daytime.

“School would always turn out for the ballgames,” recalled Jo Etta Harrington, another Allen resident who was a catcher on the 1956 championship team. “Almost everybody rode the buses, and the games had to be over by the time the buses ran ... or thereabouts.

“We wore jeans and red and white jerseys,” she added. “My mitt wasn’t like the ones they use today, it was one of those regular old round mitts. The bats were all made of wood, and we had metal cleats. We were pretty gentle, but every once in awhile somebody got spiked.”

Although Atwood had a statewide reputation, the fast-pitch team rarely left Hughes County to play its games. The list of Atwood victimes included Gerty, Stuart, Moss and Calvin, along with Fairview, Spaulding and Yeager — shools that, like Atwood, were absorbed into other systems long ago.

“Fairview, Spaulding and Yeager were little country schools,” Harrington recalled. “They’re not there anymore.

“Our main rivals were Gerty and Moss,” she added. “The year we won state, we played the regional at Checotah and went from there to Gotebo. We thought we were a powerhouse, I guess. It was a lot of fun back then.”

Longtime Ada resident Lena Stick, who, as a freshman, was a utility infielder on the 1956 team (her sister, Dee was a senior pitcher), said she and her husband, Bob (a former banker who is now a self-employed real estate appraiser), recently returned to Gotebo on business and visted the field where the state championship game was played 50 years ago. She said the trip brought back memories of a hot afternoon long ago and a game that signaled the high water mark of the Atwood fast-pitch dynasty.

“The field still looked the same ... they might still be using it,” she said. “There was a building that I guess houses the restrooms. I think back when we played they might have been outside.

“I’m not sure if I got to play that day, being a freshman,” Stick said. “I was probably just lucky to get to go with the team. I think only three freshmen got to go.”

Like Legg and Harrington, Stick said she doesn’t remember a lot of details about individual games, but the experience of playing at Atwood is still vivid.

“I don’t know that Mr. Wood knew that much about softball — he wasn’t really a sports-minded person,” she said. “His daughter was on the team, and he was real supportive and worked with us a lot. I can remember catching a lot of grounders.

“We were just corn-fed country girls, and we could hit the ball out of the ballpark,” Stick added. “We were strong kids, and he just showed us the right way to hit the ball. We had a good softball field, and we only practiced during school hours. Today the girls practice at 7 o’clock at night five days a week, but back then we only practiced during our activity hour.”

Bobby Bryant, who, like Stick, has lived in Ada for over 40 years, said it was “exciting” to play at Atwood in the 1950’s, and, like the other team members of that era, she had fond memories of Wood.

“He was a very good coach, and we all liked him,” she said. “I don’t know of anybody that didn’t like him.

“Everybody on the team just loved to play softball,” Bryant added. “We didn’t have band, football or cheerleaders, so for girls it was either softball or basketball. I played basketball too, but it wasn’t my favorite.”

A junior outfielder on the 1956 team, Bryant didn’t remember a lot of details about the win over Gotebo, Bryant said she drove her car to Gotebo for the state title game to accommodate her No. 1 fan.

“My grandpa (Leonard Lively) never missed a game ... he even went to Gotebo for the championship game,” Bryant recalled. “I drove that day. Some of my friends rode with us, and Grandpa rode with us. That’s one of the reasons I drove, so he could go.”

Atwood’s community center still has a trophy case filled with reminders of the school’s past athletic triumphs and an era that, sadly, is gone forever. Still, the week of the 2006 fast-pitch state tournament is a fitting time to pause and remember what happened at the tiny Hughes County school 50 years ago.

For the players on the four area girls teams — Tupelo, Latta, Konawa and Roff — who will be in Oklahoma City this week competing for a state title, Atwood will literally be the farthest thing from their minds. But the little school’s legacy — and its once proud tradition of excellence — are, ultimately, what high school sports are all about, and the example set by J. H. Woods and his players is as timeless as the game itself.