From kids coach, to college coach, to Athletic Hall of Fame inductee

Tom Heath (left), the founder and head coach of the softball program at Oklahoma Christian. Submitted photo.

Tom Heath (left), the founder and head coach of the softball program at Oklahoma Christian. Submitted photo.

Tom Heath’s name continued to prove prevalent on campus on Feb. 23 as Oklahoma Christian University’s only softball coach entered into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

“It’s been extremely fun, it’s been challenging, but I think it’s been really good for our university,” Heath said.

Heath began serving as the head softball coach at the program’s inception in 1995, which stemmed from his experience leading his daughter’s team. In the early days of his 21st season of coaching, he had recorded 656 wins and 454 losses.

“I coached my daughter, Kristin’s, summer team when she was eight years old all the way until she was 18,” Heath said. “About halfway through, I recognized how competitive and how much fun fast-pitch softball was. That’s when I made the proposal to Dr. North that we need to have a program at OC to help go along with our quality baseball program.”

Oklahoma Christian Athletic Director Curtis Janz said there are special characteristics that set the group of inductees apart from others.

“The traits they hold, especially that group, is they’re all driven — driven for excellence,” Janz said. “And not just in one area. They’re driven for excellence in all areas of their life.”

Heath led the Lady Eagles softball team to consecutive NAIA tournament championships in 2002 and 2003 and earned runner-up titles in the 2014 and 2015 National Christian College Athletic Association Championships. More than 12 NAIA/NCCAA All-Americans and 20 NAIA/NCCAA Scholar-Athletes have played for Heath at Oklahoma Christian.

According to Heath, the greatest honor of being a coach is his interaction with players.

“I think the part of my working with the student-athlete – that’s real important to all coaches here,” Heath said. “But the opportunity that I have had to recruit softball players, not just to play on the field, but we have had some outstanding students.”

In 1998, the National Fastpitch Coaches Association named Heath and Assistant Coach Steve Gault as the NAIA Southwest Region coaching staff of the year. A year later, the Sooner Athletic Conference selected him as the 1999 coach of the year and the NCCAA Central Region named him coach of the year for both the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

According to Janz, the Hall of Fame inductees are successful because they excel in working with others.

“I think there’s that drive to excellence, but I think they’re all pretty humble,” Janz said. “I think that goes along with participating on a team. If your team’s going to be good, you have to be able to blend together. Even if you’re the most talented, you have to be humble to get along with your teammates.”

Heath’s drive for excellence and his ability to work with others led to the construction of a $3.9 million softball complex built in his name on Oklahoma Christian’s campus in 2014, funded by a donation from Ricky and Kelly Lawson.  Heath said the generous act was overwhelming.

“For somebody to like our program that much, that they wanted to put that kind of money into building a stadium for us, that’s incredible,” Heath said.

As of Tuesday, March 7, the Lady Eagles softball team is 6-0 in conference play in the program’s 21st season.

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