Professional women’s softball catches fire with Oklahoma City Spark
There have not been avenues for female athletes to play professional softball after college in the United States, but as excitement and the softball fan base grows in Oklahoma, so do the opportunities.
Softball is stepping up to the plate with the introduction of a new professional team called the Oklahoma City Spark. Women’s Professional Fastpitch, or WPF, announced the Spark as its third franchise, a goal that WPF commissioner and Oklahoma softball alumni Lauren Chamberlain had for a while. In a Zoom interview with Sports Illustrated, Chamberlain said,
“It was that thought as a player like, ‘Man, I wish I could play professionally in the city that I love so much, in Oklahoma City.”
Chamberlain said she had this goal on the top of her to-do list for as long as a decade.
“The challenge is having experienced the height of NCAA softball and just the beast that it is and all the support that it has… How do we carry that into the professional level?” she said. “That’s been the age-old question I’ve always wondered is: Why is there such a drop-off? Why can’t we continue to follow these players?”
Oklahoma City is the softball capital of the world, and the latest Women’s College World Series has helped the city deliver on that name. According to ESPN, in Oklahoma City, the WCWS set a single-day attendance record with 12,533 fans in one day this year. They also averaged millions of at-home viewers, and the 2022 championship game between the Texas Longhorns and the Oklahoma Sooners tied for the most watched 2-game series in the WCWS, according to ShowBuzzDaily.com.
Amelya Huggins, a senior UCO softball player has played the sport since she was ten. Huggins said this announcement couldn’t have come soon enough.
“I think it is so awesome and about time that we have a professional team. Not only are we the softball capital because of the Hall of Fame Stadium, but from D1 to NAIA, we have top-tier collegiate softball teams who are constantly nationally ranked, not only in the Top 25, but in the Top 10,” she said.
Growing up in the world of softball, Huggins said opportunities like this were rare.
“For me growing up in softball, it was just college. There wasn’t an opportunity to play past that or even think about it being a possible career choice, other than the opportunity of a scholarship,” she said. “I think girls now playing can see it as something beyond college and seeing the opportunity of doing what they love and getting paid will create a more competitive softball community in Oklahoma which will just increase the talent levels.”
Huggins said the introduction to more professional teams will help serve as inspiration to the UCO softball team, as well as to the younger generation.
“It definitely motivates me and my team. My team is passionate about giving back to the sport. A lot of us do lessons and camps and truly enjoy sharing and teaching about our passion for the sport. So even if we do not personally use this opportunity, it motivates us to provide for all the little girls out there that can and will use this opportunity of playing pro softball.” Huggins said, “The Oklahoma softball community is already a very proud group of people. I think this will just continue that movement and further the softball culture here.”
The Spark’s inaugural season will begin in June of 2023 right here in Oklahoma City.