Upon entering the majestic Choccolocco Park, the crackle of intensity was apparent as you made your way to the GRAND stands to watch top level softball. There was music playing, and you could almost touch the exciting vibes as the Ohio Valley Conference student-athletes were smiling, high-fiving, and showcasing their dance moves to popular tunes during their warmups. The creative bows, masks, and other fun and quirky cheer props, as well as the laidback atmosphere among the contestants, had many of us fooled. Then, however, you heard the grunt from the pitcher as she threw what resembled bullets into the glove of the catcher. These girls were here for more than just fun and games. They were here for business. This, ladies and gentlemen, was going to be a tournament like no other.
If you were one of the thousands of people to attend the OVC Softball Championship between May 11-14, then you know exactly what we are talking about. The top eight schools in the OVC traveled to Oxford for the ultimate face off to determine which team would take it all: the pride, glory, trophy, and ticket to the NCAA tournament.
The positive and welcoming environment at the park had a significant effect on the teams. Eastern Kentucky University, one of the first teams to play during the tournament, shared that the atmosphere allowed them to play their best. “The environment at Choccolocco Park was awesome,” EKU Head Coach Jane Worthington said. “It went right along with what we like to do: have fun while playing.”
The tournament was an excellent way for the city to showcase the new complex and how it serves as a state-of-the-art, professional sports venue. Oxford Parks and Recreation, Honours Golf (grounds crew), and all the volunteers that contributed to the successful event received gracious compliments on how the tournament was executed.
Allen Ward, Murray State’s Athletic Director, was impressed by how welcoming the city, its employees, and residents were and how much the parks and recreation department went above and beyond to provide impeccable hospitality.
“The grounds crew was fantastic. All the staff were professional and knew exactly what they were doing,” Mr. Ward said. “They continued to impress the entire week, and it was very visible they wanted the week to be a success for everyone.”
The atmosphere of the tournament was palpable with intensity and excitement from fans, players, and workers alike. Throughout the championship, people from near and far came to watch the games. No matter what team was on the signature field, there were fans in the stands cheering for them to do well. One could easily tell that the excitement among the spectators helped the teams play to the best of their ability.
After several days of hard work, nerves, and lots of emotions, it was time to crown the champions. It was time to find out who would take home the pride, bragging rights, and conference title. With the signature field bleachers and stands filled with Jacksonville State University and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville fans, both teams fought an epic battle. Throughout the tournament, no other team worked harder, played with more passion, or left their hearts on the field like the JSUGamecocks and Coach Jana McGinnis. JSU impressed us all with their talent and entertainment and they truly deserved the “W” and the ticket to the NCAA tournament.
After the tournament, Coach Jana McGinnis said, “We thoroughly enjoyed Choccolocco Park. It was obvious there were much pride and effort put into making it a great experience for all student-athletes. It was the best fan atmosphere that I have ever been a part of for an OVC tournament championship.”