“The British are coming! The British are coming!” Oh, wait a minute…No. It’s not the British… it’s the Ohio Valley Conference… coming to Oxford! It may not have as much national impact as the British coming had on the original colonies, but the OVC coming will have a major impact on Oxford, as the OVC Collegiate Softball Championship will take place at Choccolocco Park in May, the first of many high-profile tournaments to come to our community. The conference awarded the tournament to Oxford for 2017 as well.
In May, the top eight finishing teams in the conference will converge in Oxford to have a showdown on the Signature Softball Field at Choccolocco Park, Oxford’s state-of-the-art sports complex. This will determine the conference’s representative to the NCAA Tournament. These eight ladies’ teams will play a double-elimination tournament beginning Tuesday, May 11 (with four games beginning at 10:00 a.m.), and ending on Saturday, May 14 with the championship game at 12:30 p.m.
The Ohio Valley Conference is in its 68th year and is the nation’s eighth-oldest NCAA Division I conference. The league has 12 member schools, the most it has had at one time in its illustrious history. Current member schools of the OVC include charter members Eastern Kentucky University, Morehead State University, and Murray State University. Other member schools are Austin Peay State University, Belmont University, Eastern Illinois University, Jacksonville State University, Southeast Missouri State University, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Tennessee State University, Tennessee Technological University, and the University of Tennessee at Martin. The OVC sponsors sports in baseball, basketball, cross country, football, golf, tennis, and track for men, and basketball, cross country, golf, soccer, softball, tennis, track, and volleyball for women. In addition, the OVC also sponsors the combined men’s and women’s sport of rifle.
In mid-March, representatives of the OVC, including Assistant Commissioner for Championships Scott Krapf, toured Choccolocco Park and called the facility “a first-rate venue.” This will mark the first time the tournament has not been held at the campus of the league’s regular season champion. Krapf said, “We are excited for the first time in our proud 23-year history of playing softball in the OVC to host the championships at a neutral site at a facility that is clearly first-rate. We are confident it will be a great experience for our student-athletes.” Krapf hopes the community will get involved, and, with the fans traveling from the schools, provide “a really big draw” for the tournament.
“We are delighted to host our softball championship at a first-class venue and are grateful for the support of the city leaders of Oxford,” said OVC Commissioner Beth DeBauche. Oxford Parks and Recreation Director Don Hudson returned the compliment to the OVC, saying “We are proud of the fact that we are going to have an opportunity to host the OVC Softball Championships. It will be the first tournament hosted at the new sports complex. We are very excited about hosting this tournament and look forward to having a lot of spectators as well as creating a lot of interest in fast pitch softball. We have an outstanding working relationship with JSU and the OVC.”
The OVC and Oxford have a mutually beneficial relationship, strengthened by the addition of Choccolocco Park. Greg Seitz, Athletic Director at JSU, said, “It was clear to the league’s softball coaches and athletic directors that what the City of Oxford is offering is the best for our league. The OVC and JSU already have a great relationship with the City of Oxford.”
City Council President Steven Waits thinks it is great to see the park come to life after many years of planning and construction. Waits said, “Starting it off with a tournament of this magnitude makes it even more special. While we expect the grand opening for the full park to be some time in August, this will give our citizens an early glimpse off what an incredible addition this park will be to our community.”
The Oxford City Council is hoping that the public will show support for the tournament, making this a point of pride for the community. Councilman Mike Henderson said, “I am really excited about hosting the OVC Softball Tournament at Choccolocco Park. I think this will be a great event for our community. I encourage everyone to come out and support the tournament. I think our citizens will be proud of this new facility and its potential. Hopefully, this tournament will just be the beginning of great things to follow.”
Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard is looking forward to welcoming this prestigious tournament as our major opening event at Choccolocco Park. “The opportunity to showcase this unique sports complex and our entire city is a time in which all citizens can take great pride.”
Economically, the OVC Softball Championship has already had a positive impact on the City of Oxford. City Finance Director, Alton Craft, said “The tournament is serving two very important purposes for the city: it is bringing in tax revenue to Oxford—I believe that we will surpass expectations for that week—and it’s letting citizens from our state and surrounding states know that the Oxford Sports Complex, along with the City of Oxford, is open for business.” Craft also said he is proud of the city employees involved with this event, “I commend PARD Director Don Hudson and his outstanding staff, as well as the OVC officials, on the hard work that they have done to get this tournament to Oxford and to make it a successful one.”
While Choccolocco Park is still under construction, the 130-acre sports complex has its signature softball and baseball fields finished. They are now being used as home fields by Oxford High School’s softball and baseball teams. Work continues on the 5-field softball clover and 4-field baseball complex, the NCAA- and AHSAA-standard track and field, the soccer fields, the 3-plus mile walking track, the 30-acre lake, the playgrounds, and other amenities that make this park a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind facility. Located on Leon Smith Parkway, the park’s close proximity to Interstate 20, near the Oxford Exchange, adds to its attractiveness to college conferences and tournament directors across the southeast.
Determining the success of this tournament, however, will hinge on community support of the event. Fans to fill the seats and volunteers to help ensure a smooth tournament are both needed. OVC and City of Oxford officials are encouraging the east Alabama area to come out and see great fast pitch softball, enjoy all the amenities that the Oxford area has to offer, and get a glimpse of the awesome facility that is to be Choccolocco Park. City leaders not only believe the fans will be impressed and entertained by the tournament and facility, but will also enjoy the restaurants, shopping, and accommodations Oxford has to offer. Adult tickets for the tournament are $10 per day and can be purchased at Oxford Civic Center beginning in May. Fans interested in volunteering for the tournament can also contact the Civic Center.
Greg Bagley, Athletic Director for Oxford Park and Recreation, has begun an initiative to allow area high school softball teams to attend at least one day of the tournament to see the quality and level of collegiate fast pitch softball the OVC offers. He is offering a block of tickets ($5 per ticket) to “sponsors” to purchase in multiples of $50 for a local softball team, allowing them to come watch a day of this exciting sport. The tickets can be given to the team or left at “Will Call” for teams to arrive together. Athletic Booster Clubs, businesses with a close relationship with a particular school, parents of high school players, community benefactors, and anyone with an interest in an area high school softball team can purchase these blocks of tickets. Advertisement in the form of company logos on the tickets and public address announcements are available to interested businesses.
There is a flurry of activity going on at Choccolocco Park these days. Heavy earth-moving equipment, construction workers, hard-hats, and a cloud of dust can be seen at any given time. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a rider on horseback riding through the park shouting “The OVC’s coming! The OVC’s coming!” Come and see for yourself!