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OKLAHOMA CITY — Hundreds of people from across the country packed the Oklahoma City Marriott on Monday for the inaugural Champions Festival. The day-long event brought together NCAA and Olympic champion softball players with current softball players, coaches and fans.
The event featured panel discussions followed by small-group round tables with one champion at each table in the Marriott’s main ballroom.
“I think coming into it, we didn’t quite know what to expect because it’s such a new concept,” 2004 U.S. Olympian Jenny Topping said. “I think it’s been a fantastic experience from 8-year-olds to 60-year-olds.”
The format featured panel discussions with former UCLA Hall of Fame coach Sue Enquist quizzing small groups of Olympic and NCAA champions seated on a couch on stage, followed by small-group round-table discussions.
Participants ranged from children in elementary school to coaches of all ages. Every participant had small-group time with at least a half-dozen champions, as Olympians and NCAA champions rotated around the room every 20-30 minutes.
“I think this is an amazing experience for the kids,” said Laura Berg, the only four-time U.S. Olympian. “Not only do they get to learn from some of the best softball players in the world, the kids understand that we are people too. We were in their shoes at one time, some longer ago than others, but we used to be in their position. You aren’t born Olympians, you’re made Olympians and you have to work hard and go after your goals and your dreams.”
That philosophy of hard work is one of the founding principles of the Champions Festival, which was filled to capacity in its debut event.
“I thought it was fantastic in regards to touching lives from the young kids all the way up to parents and coaches,” said two-time U.S. Olympian and NCAA player of the decade for the 1980s Dr. Dot Richardson. “It was a great opportunity to share more about the game than just the fundamentals that we usually share in fielding, throwing, base running, pitching and catching. It was character building and it was great to be a part of it along with so many other champions.”