One year ago, I was sitting in the rehab wing of a nursing home, helping my Dad get settled in for his stay while he recovered from pneumonia. As we were chatting, I remember looking up at the TV screen to see CNN covering the tornado damage that just hit Moore, Oklahoma. Even as I looked at the debris on the ground and neighborhoods where houses once stood, I couldn’t comprehend the depth of it all. My head was in San Antonio with my Dad but something began tugging at my heart. That was my home of 7 years, Oklahoma. Shortly after the news, I got a phone call from Coach Gasso, the head coach of Oklahoma Softball. When I brought up the rain, she said “Rain? How about the tornado?” Once I heard first hand, all I wanted to do was go home. Coach Gasso shared with me that the team’s academic advisor had lost her home in the storm and asked if the Diamond Club would be interested in helping her and her family. Later that night, I set up a fundraising site for people to donate.
A day later, I was headed to Austin, Texas for a conference. As soon as I checked in at the registration table, they saw my Oklahoma shirt and said “We’re thinking of you guys.” I smiled, tried not to choke up and said thanks. After multiple introductions to conference attendees, I was frequently asked how everyone was doing. It was really sweet. On the opening day of the conference, they announced each state. When it came to Oklahoma, there was a rousing round of applause and I put up my hand in acknowledgment. I almost teared up and definitely felt the outpouring of support. I received another call from Coach Gasso that day. She shared with me that one of the children that died was a huge Keilani Ricketts and OU Softball fan. She was survived by her sister and parents. With super regional play just days away, Coach wanted us to do something in recognition of the “Bring It” team and Game Time little league teams that coming weekend. I basically told her we were on board for whatever she wanted. Per her prodding, I got in touch with a friend who at the time, worked for Printing Services. We arranged for a banner to be made welcoming the teams. At one point in the conversation, Coach stopped and said, “Oh sorry, are you at the conference already?” I told her it was fine and even replied, “Gosh, I’m tempted to get on I-35 and come home.” Her response was simple “Do it. I could really use your help.” I was not in the right frame of mind to be at the conference and after letting my colleague know, I headed north getting into Norman a little after midnight. I drove all the way through on adrenaline, stopping only a few times to stretch my legs. During the drive home, I kept thinking about the team and Coach Gasso. Their priorities made me so proud to be affiliated with them.
Due to anticipated rain, the first day of super regional play was postponed. Instead, we welcomed the little league teams to the field, gathered around for a prayer with our players and just comforted each other the best we could. In an effort to serve as a distraction, Coach Gasso invited the group of young girls to run the bases with the OU players and just let loose. I peeked in on the team during this and smiled at not only the little ones having fun, but our players as well. Anyone who watched Keilani Ricketts during college knows she is a pretty serious person and player. The quiet yet determined player, who can throw a change-up and hit with a vengeance….was full of smiles as she held Casey Angle’s hand (sibling of Syndey Angle). Casey became a fixture in the OU dugout throughout the rest of post-season play. She was “one of the girls” and was welcomed with open arms by the team every time they saw her.
As I think back to the day we won the national championship, I can’t help but smile. Yes, the plays, the pitches and the hits were unbelievable. However, there is one memory that will stick out in my mind…seeing the team carry around the state of Oklahoma flag around the field after they won. They did not win the championship for themselves, or for Coach Gasso….they won it for the state-the place they have called HOME during college. They were playing for something MOORE than themselves. Anyone who has watched the team play this year will notice the stickers on their helmets. The HOME sticker was first placed on their helmets during the WCWS. The other stickers represent Sydney Angle and the other lives that were lost. I loved hearing Coach Gasso say that sticker was not going anywhere.
Fast forward to today….one year has passed. The lives that were lost will forever be remembered. The house and businesses are being rebuilt. Briarwood Elementary had its new dedication today. There is hope and the community has come together once again.
You never know what kind of impact you will have as a person, a player or a team. The seniors from the 2013 team may not be playing anymore, but their legacy will live on forever. Their talent and work ethic are intangible and sorely missed along with their unapologetic values. They didn’t play for the individual glory or accolades…they played for their team, their school and in 2013, their state. If you attend a game where OU is playing, pay attention to what the girls do after every single game: they pray. They take the time to thank God for their health, their safety and the gifts he’s given them. Win or lose, they “give the glory to God” as you’ll frequently hear Coach Gasso say. What parent would not want their little girl to emulate that action?