Oklahoma City - The impact of Title IX was on full display inside and out at USA Softball Hall Of Fame Stadium for the Women's College World Series.
The parking lots were filled with lifelong fans of the sport and the stadium was loaded with energy from the very first pitch on Day 1. An unreal turnout was eye-popping as the event continues to grow every year by substantial numbers.
The WCWS drew in a total of 67,631 fans in 2011, which was then tenth-most in the history of the event. The second-most number of fans to show up was in 2019 when 78,361 people showed love for their favorite teams.
A staggering 115,514 fans showed up in 2021, which blew away the record set just two years prior. The 2022 tournament is on pace to break the previous one held, after a record-high 24,602 people appeared at the first two sessions -- with an average of 12,301 per session. There was an average of 11,551 in attendance during 2021, showing the strong potential for 2022 to be bring in the highest attendance thus far.
Longtime fan and LSU alumni Sinah Goode spoke with SEC Network's Emily Proud about the turnout and was ecstatic.
"I love that there's so many fans here," Goode said with joy. "That is one of the neatest things. The last few years we've come it's been sold out every time and it's just great. It's wonderful, no doubt."
How long has she been coming?
"Since 1973, but that was in Omaha," Goode continued. "Somewhere in the 1990's we started coming almost every year. Probably for the last 20 years we've come every year."
With the 50th anniversary of Title IX around the corner, Goode said this is a perfect time to reflect on the adversity women have faced.
"Going back to old times, we were all in this together," Goode continued. "There was no support, no monetary support or any kind of support.
"It changed (women's sports) dramatically. Before I came to Norman High, there was just gymnastics and tennis, maybe track and field. After I came, and because of Title IX, we had all those other sports. The women never played, but they always wanted to. We were teaching people the rules while they were playing on these high school teams.
"All that stuff is true. We had no budget, we had no uniforms and we had the throwaways (uniforms) from the boys. If we wanted to have the gym, you got to the gym at six in the morning, because it was not available to you at any other time."
The uniforms and budget were a huge issue for women in sports, along with the venues in which they played in. USA Softball Hall of Stadium is one prime example of the drastic changes that have been made over the last half century.
The NCAA detailed the renovations made since 2011 that have allowed for the continued growth of the event.
- In 2011, a multipurpose field house was constructed behind the scoreboard in left-center field. During the WCWS, it is used to house the umpiring crews, and teams use to gather before and after games.
- In 2013 and 2014, four new locker rooms and larger dugouts were part of a renovation to improve the student-athlete experience at the event. Concession stands and additional restrooms were also built. Also, during this time, batting cages were added down each baseline to help for possible pinch-hitting duties or to warm up before games. This is in addition to the two practice fields that were built at the complex in 2003, where teams prepare for their upcoming games.
- In 2018, metal roof coverings were added to the batting cages. The following year, the press box and broadcast areas were renovated. Teams can walk through tunnels in the complex to reach locker rooms and to reach rooms where they answer questions from the press.
- All the renovations have led to Oklahoma City remaining the host of the WCWS through 2035.
These changes have been beneficial for all collegiate teams, including the SEC groups that have had at least one team present since 2002.
Florida, led by Tim Walton, was the sole SEC team to compete in the WCWS and it was present with an unlikely run. The Gators outscored opponents 47-0 in the NCAA Softball Tournament and landed in the WCWS on what some would consider an off year.
Three former Gators that were on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic team were at an autograph session and two of them discussed the impact of Title IX in a conversation with Proud.
"When I think about my life and the person I've become, so much of it has been fostered through softball," former Florida catcher Aubree Munro said. "I grew and played a little bit of volleyball and a little bit of basketball, but I fell in love with softball at a young age."
"It's made me a better person, a better leader, a better teammate and it now translates to my real life. All of that goes back to softball, so to have the opportunity to compete at a high level and to pursue a dream has taught me so much that I get to carry the rest of my life"
Michelle Moultrie played a few years before Munro and she gave more insight on the impact that Title IX has had on women in sports.
"I just think it's really awesome," Moultrie said. "I think for women to get the recognition that they are great athletes and that people come to see them and want to see them. I think it's really cool for these athletes to go to a big school, or go to a small school, and get this experience that's equal to a man. I think people and fans in general are supporting women and it's really awesome to see."
Players like Munro and Moultrie help build on a sport that was cherished and protected by fans like Goode.
"This is my favorite week of the year, when I get to come to Oklahoma City and watch softball," Goode concluded with a grin.