As the Oklahoma Christian University women’s softball team prepares for its fourth season to compete on the Tom Heath Field at Lawson Plaza, the $3.9-million field and indoor facility is still a source of pride for the coaches and players.
Head Softball Coach Tom Heath started the softball program at Oklahoma Christian in 1995 and, along with pitching coach Steve Gault, built the original softball field by hand.
“The infield was crushed lava rock from Aztec, NM, and we put together that field, along with some volunteer help,” Heath said. “It did not have bathrooms, a press box or a concession stand, so by 1996 I had already made plans to add on to the facility.”
From 2001 to 2010 Heath met with various architects, discussing different plans to make his dream field reality.
“The further we got into it the more I was told that in order to do what I wanted, I might as well build brand new because it was going to cost a lot of money to add on to the original facility, so that was what we finally decided to do,” Heath said. “Then, about eight years ago, I was talking to Kent Allen, who was the head of fundraising development at the time, about fundraising to get this facility built and he brought Ricky and Kelly Lawson out to a game.”
Ricky, a 1992 Oklahoma Christian alumnus, knew Heath when he was the intermural director and watched as Heath maintained the three intramural fields and later the softball field on campus.
“When they came out to the game, they were looking for something to do on campus where they could get financially involved and they just fell in love with the softball program,” Heath said. “We got them involved in the program by inviting them on spring break trips to Orange Beach, AL and Coco Beach, FL. They stayed where we stayed and they went to our games for three years. They had us over to their house to eat and they came to our Christmas parties.”
Heath said it was during one of the spring break trips when he took out a set of plans and asked the Lawsons for one hour of their time.
“We were in a condo about six stories up, overlooking the ocean, and we sat down and looked at our dream for this field,” Heath said. “They took it all in, then later called and said they wanted to take me out to lunch, where they said they wanted to build one of the nicest softball facilities in the country for a school this size and they wanted to pay for it. I was speechless. It was probably one of the best days of my life as far as being a coach is concerned.”
The facility, which features locker rooms, coaches’ offices, training rooms, a players’ lounge, a press box, an indoor training facility, artificial turf, a bullpen and batting cages for both the home and visiting teams, was dedicated in 2013 and announced open the following February.
The Oklahoma high school All-State games were played at the facility in 2014 and Oklahoma Christian was selected to host the National Christian College Athletic Association Central Regional tournament that same year. In 2015, the NCCAA Division II semifinal and Championship games took place on the Lady Eagle field after rain left the Hall of Fame Field in Oklahoma City, OK, unplayable.
“Besides the varsity team, we do so much with our facility, with high school games and with other colleges coming in and playing games,” Heath said. “We had the University of Florida practice on our field before the College Women’s World Series so our facility is known all over the country.”
For sophomore outfielder Kayla Eichler, the complex was one of the reasons she chose to come to Oklahoma Christian.
“When deciding where I wanted to play college ball, I made a pros and cons list of each school and the facility here ranked higher than any of the other schools I had in mind,” Eichler said. “I’ve spent countless hours in the locker room studying and playing pool with my teammates. We even watch the Bachelor as a team in the lounge on Monday nights. The facility is like our home.”
Senior outfielder Haley Squier’s class was the first to play on the new field, and although it did not directly impact her decision to play softball for the Lady Eagles, she said she feels the complex helps recruit new players.
“It gives future players a visual of how they would fit into the softball program and just how much fun it could possibly be to play here,” senior Haley Squier said. “As for the Lawsons, we just want to say thank you. They are the reason we as players get to show up to this amazing complex every day and play in one of the most incredible facilities in the country.”
As Heath works to add the finishing touches to the facility, he said he hopes the other sports on campus will have similar complexes in the future.
“The feeling is, yes we have this $4-million softball complex, but we also want our facility to be a model for what everyone else can have someday,” Heath said. “We hope this is the standard that, eventually, whether it is 5 years or 15 years down the road, soccer, track and all of the other sports can have facilities like this as well.”
Statistics provided by the Oklahoma Christian University Sports Information office.