A League of Their Own: Some of OKC’s Lesser-Known Sports

There Were Only Four Television Channels Available Under
The Roof Of My Childhood Home. And That Was On A Good Day And Only If My Mother Wasn’t Using The Vacuum Cleaner.
The Three Major Networks (Yes, Only Three – ABC, CBS and NBC) Dominated The Airwaves. That Eccentric Oddball Uncle, PBS, Had Some Clever Shows For Little Kids, Heady News And Political Roundtables And A Bunch Of Other Programs Populated By Actors Speaking A Foreign Language – British.

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For one ignominious television season, NBC aired a campy, segment-driven series titled “Games People Play.” The dark, fuzzy amateurish video was oh-so-tantalizing to my preadolescent imagination. Skiing down a snowy hill into an icy pond while wearing nothing but a bikini? Yes! Playing polo – with cars? Yes! School bus demolition derby? YesyesyesyesYESSSS! The world’s toughest bouncer contest? Huh?!? Well, I didn’t know what that meant, but it did introduce the world to Mr. T.

Despite the mouthwatering, endorphin-releasing teasers promising a sporting world gone mad – MAD, I tell you! – the show was a terrible disappointment. Not even the occasional cameo by Binger-bred Big Red Machine superstar Johnny Bench could salvage the program. He never looked comfortable in that sports coat. And yet for a little kid on a school night, “Games People Play” succeeded in providing a glimpse into the world beyond the front porch, outside the county line and even around the world. Somebody else got the message, because nowadays there are games aplenty to play or watch beyond the traditional major American sports … check out this sampling of the many things to see and do locally to get your heart pumping.

Football’s Big Brother

American football, as we now know it, rules the roost here in Oklahoma and around the country. But the popular sport that we embrace today evolved from the game of rugby over 100 years ago. Rugby came to Oklahoma City in the mid-1990s after emerging on the University of Oklahoma campus in the ’70s.

Even if your college days are over, you can still take the field. The Oklahoma City Crusaders Rugby Club will happily introduce you to the sport. The Crusaders are a rugby union squad, playing with 15 people on the field. Many of the positions and player types are similar to football, explains Crusaders President Brad Allen. “Big guys play offensive line in football, and the fast guys are the running backs and receivers.”

In rugby, the idea is the same but the positions have different names. Bigger, stronger players take the forward eight positions – think offensive and defensive linemen. Their role is to gain possession of the ball, relying mostly on strength to accomplish the task. Having gained possession, the forwards relinquish the ball to the seven remaining players called backs. These are faster players who are skilled at advancing the ball, eluding would-be tacklers, and scoring points for their team.

Cobb Brandon, Matt Mason, and Tucker Cason

Players can advance the ball only by running with it or kicking it down the field. Passes to teammates are permitted, but the ball can only be tossed laterally or backward. Points are scored via the try – similar to football’s touchdown but worth five points instead of six. A conversion kick following a try is worth two points if successful. Penalty kicks and drop kicks, worth three points each, round out the scoring options.

Rugby action can be fast and furious, but it’s hardly a free-for-all. The scrum, a fairly recognizable setup to those unfamiliar with the sport, resembles a street brawl outside a public house. In reality, it is a highly coordinated contest for possession of the ball, in which brute force and finesse must both be employed diligently to win the struggle. The speedy backs must also be skilled at catching, passing and kicking the ball, often while on the run and under hot pursuit.

Like soccer, the game is played in two halves. Rugby halves are timed at 40 minutes each with additional time added on for stoppages in play. Limited substitutions are permitted, but players who leave the game may re-enter only under certain conditions. In addition to the 15-per-side union matches, the Crusaders play a seven-on-seven version of rugby in the summer. To find out how you can get in on the action, visit the Crusaders website at okccrusaders.com or contact Brad Allen at osurugby10@gmail.com. If you would rather start by watching from the sidelines, you can still catch the Sooners in action at the OU Rugby Fields in Norman. For dates and times of remaining home matches, visit ousoonersrugby.org.

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Grab the Reins and Go

Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972 mandated equal accessibility to sports programs for girls and young women. Nearly a quarter of a century before that, a group of cowgirls took the bull by the horns and established the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association. Founded in 1948, the WPRA predates the Ladies Professional Golf Association (LPGA) by two years. According to the WPRA website, it’s the oldest women’s sports association in the country and the only such organization governed entirely by women.

While roping events still exist, nowadays barrel racing is the WPRA’s signature event. Barrel racing is pretty simple in concept: a rider and her mount take off from a start/finish line, circle three individual barrels and race back as quickly as possible. The barrels are arranged in a triangular pattern, with the two barrels closest to the start/finish line positioned 60 feet apart. The third barrel, at the top of the triangle, is 105 feet away from the other two barrels. Riders circle the nearest two barrels first, round the furthest barrel last and then make a mad dash for the finish line.

The best barrel racers and their equine partners can run the route in the neighborhood of 15 to 16 seconds. Norman-based Better Barrel Races sanctions events throughout the state and region. BBR’s Robin Hofmann describes barrel racing as a partnership between horse and rider, albeit a slightly skewed one. “I like to say it’s 80 percent horse and 20 percent rider,” Hofmann says with the confidence of one possessing serious insider knowledge.

In a sport where winning times can be determined by as little as one-thousandth of a second, Hofmann explains, “Horsemanship sets the best racers apart from the rest. It takes a real bond with your horse.” Accordingly, barrel racing adheres to a strict code of ethics regarding the care and treatment of the animal athletes. “Participating in western sports is a great responsibility for kids,” adds Hofmann. Race administrators are also responsible for the safety of both horse and rider. The racecourse surface must be even and groomed continuously throughout the competition to ensure a fair and safe playing field.

2014 BBR World Finals Formula 707 Futurity Champion Kelsey Lutjen aboard KN Fabs Mist of Fame

Contestants compete in the youth (16 and under), adult (17-49), and senior (50+) divisions. Their horses typically have come from all areas of the industry, including cutters and thoroughbreds, but that is starting to change. As traditional rodeo and horse racing decline in popularity, barrel racing has emerged as the next big driver of equine economics. BBR events paid out over $4 million in prize money this year, and similar circuits around the country distribute as much or more in winnings. Not surprisingly, “Horses are now being bred for barrel racing,” says Hofmann.

The BBR circuit of qualifying races culminates with the BBR World Finals, held in April at the Oklahoma State Fair Grounds. This year’s finals featured over 2,000 racers. The traditional notion of rodeo evokes images of such spectator-driven events such as cattle roping and bull riding. But barrel racing should hardly be cast off as a purely participant-driven event. The sport offers viewers a family-friendly atmosphere in the stands and more than its share of excitement in the arena.

Barrel racing events take place through November around the state. To see the best in the business, saddle up and mosey on down to the BBR World Finals next April right here in Oklahoma City. For more information on events, visit Better Barrel Races online at betterbarrelraces.com/shows, call the office at 405.230.7167 or email betterbarrelraces@gmail.com. You won’t be disappointed!

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Get on the Stick!

With a history of perhaps 1,000 years behind it, lacrosse is hardly a new sport. Yet the modern version, more or less unchanged for the past 500 years, has been excruciatingly slow to spread outside the game’s traditional stronghold of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states. That sphere of interest is rapidly expanding, and kids are leading the charge. Field lacrosse is now the fastest-growing youth sport in the United States.

Field lacrosse is played outdoors on a grass or artificial turf surface that is 110 yards long and 60 yards wide. A 6-foot by 6-foot goal is positioned at each end of the field. Teams consist of 10 players per side. Three attackers play exclusively on the offensive side of the field and are focused on putting the ball in the goal by tossing it in with their sticks. Three defenders are confined to the defensive half of the field and are concerned with protecting their goal. Three other players roam freely between the offensive and defensive halves of the field. The goalkeeper stands in front of the net and attempts to prevent the opposition from scoring. Games consist of four timed quarters of play.

Add all that up and you get a sport that is part soccer, part ice hockey and part basketball mixed with a dash of water polo. The strategy and skill sets are easily identifiable as a result. Dave Heaton, Director of Lacrosse for the Oklahoma City Knights lacrosse club, explains, “There’s a lot of the same movement and physicality as in ice hockey.” Offensively and defensively, some familiar basketball terminology emerges. “We use a lot of the same plays to try to score – pick and roll, give and go.” On defense, man-to-man and various zone defenses will look reminiscent of what you see on the basketball court. It’s a fast-paced game with plenty of scoring and action. “It’s a great spectator sport,” adds Heaton. “There’s a lot going on.”

Lacrosse has been on the scene in Oklahoma City for about 10 years. Most of the focus is on youth camps, leagues and club teams. If you’re trying to get your kid off the couch and think lacrosse is just the thing, visit the Knights’ website at okclacrosse.com or give Heaton a call at 405.315.1900. The Edmond Lacrosse Club also offers programming for boys and girls. Visit their site at edmondlacrosse.com for more information.

If you are the one in need of some heart-starting activity, Box Lacrosse might be what you’re looking for. “BoxLax” is played indoors on an ice-hockey arena where the ice has been removed or covered by an artificial surface. Like hockey, teams feature six players per side including one goaltender. Box lacrosse shares elements with basketball, including a shot clock and time requirements for advancing the ball. Unlike field lacrosse, cross-checking is legal in box lacrosse (think full-on assault to disengage your opponent from possessing the ball). The result is a faster and rougher game than the outdoor version. Adult men’s leagues are available in Oklahoma City through okclacrosse.com. If you’ve never played before, you won’t be alone. Pick up a stick and give it a shot!

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Put On Your Dancing Shoes

Go ahead and admit it – you’ve watched at least one episode of “Dancing With the Stars.” And you’ve marveled at the grace and skill demonstrated by the top performers. Witnessing a well-performed dance routine is exhilarating, but it can also be intimidating for those of us with two left feet. How do they do that without killing themselves?!? Dance Makers, located on South Kelly Avenue in Edmond, can answer that question. Co-owner and dance instructor Michael Pone assures newcomers, “If you can walk in, we can teach you how to dance out.”

Unleashing your inner Fred Astaire or Ginger Rogers is as easy as making a date with your sweetie. Instead of dinner and a movie, try dinner and dance lessons. “Most people who come in for their first lessons are getting ready for something like a wedding, a cruise or a Christmas dance,” says Pone. Once bitten by the ballroom dancing bug, many newbies become converts who return to learn more dances or improve their technique.

Ballroom dancing is a general term for any form of lead-follow, couple-style dances. Over a dozen competitive styles fall under the ballroom dancing umbrella. The styles range from the slower waltz, foxtrot and tango to the peppier swing and “insanely fast” quick-step. Latin style ballroom dances include the cha-cha, salsa and rumba. Each style of dance is performed to a specific type of music and includes techniques that involve footwork (of course) as well as leg, hip, torso, arm and hand actions. You don’t necessarily want to waltz to a swing tune in dance-floor traffic. Pone and company can help you avoid committing that dangerous faux pas.

Like any sport, dancing takes practice and repetition to establish muscle memory. “It’s like golf or bowling,” posits Pone, “except instead of repeating one action, you’re coordinating eight or 10 techniques for each style of dance.” Dance Makers offers everything from one-on-one instruction to group lessons, so you can learn at your own pace while staying within your comfort zone. Some students make ballroom dance a hobby and rehearse to perform at a recital for peers, friends and family. Others take the leap into competitive or sport dance arenas, traveling to compete with other dancers or perform in shows.

Dance Makers also hosts the Oklahoma Challenge in February at the Cox Convention Center. Competitors from around the country participate for fun and prizes. Admission is free for the morning session, but tickets must be purchased to see the professionals perform in the evening. Vendors of everything from dancing shoes to dazzling costumes will be there as well, so you can look like a pro even if you’re just a casual dancer.

After delighting in the dances of others for a day, you’ll be eager to try your hand – or feet – at it. Dance Makers will be ready to make your dance dreams a reality. “We make it easy, fun and quick,” says Pone. Take the first step by visiting Dance Makers online at dancemakers.net or call the studio at 405.285.0095. Remember: if you can saunter in, you can sashay out.

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Old School Favorites

  If a completely new sport is too daunting a challenge for you, plenty of other options are available. The Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department offers some familiar games and other activities that are easier to pick up. If you desire the fun and camaraderie that team sports have to offer, the city has games that everyone can play.

Take kickball, that timeless schoolyard classic. “Anyone can play, regardless of their ability level,” says Jennifer McClintock, Spokesperson of the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department. Since it’s an organized league with teams registering in advance, you don’t have to worry about being picked last. Now you can exorcise those painful elementary school memories by playing a fun game with friends who have a lot more to do than antagonize their uncoordinated peers at recess. “A lot of 20-somethings get a big kick out of it,” puns McClintock. “It’s competitive but people have a lot of fun.” The city offers leagues for men, women and co-ed teams, and competition continues in other leagues like the World Adult Kickball Association’s.

For the more rough-and-tumble types, the city plans to offer dodge ball leagues again in the spring. As far as playground games go, dodge ball is a notch or two above kickball in terms of competitive spirit, but it’s still all in fun. “People get intense about it, but in a fun way,” laughs McClintock. The game is played indoors at some of the city’s recreation centers, so there’s potentially a lot of contact with a hard gymnasium floor. “You can get pretty bruised up playing dodge ball.” Like kickball, dodge ball is most popular with the young adult crowd.

If you are past your playground prime and want to enjoy some lower-impact activities, the parks and rec people have other games off the beaten path that you may enjoy. The city maintains three disc golf courses around town at Will Rogers Gardens, Woodson Park and Dolese Youth Park. Disc golf combines the sports of Frisbee and golf. Rather than swinging a club to hit a ball, disc golf entails throwing a specialized disc (it’s not really a Frisbee in the traditional sense) toward a target. In disc golf, the target is a raised metal basket positioned a few hundred feet from the “tee” area.

While golfers use different clubs depending upon their ball’s distance from the hole, disc golfers use different types of discs. Some discs are designed to be thrown long distances, much like a driver is designed to hit a golf ball far off the tee. Other discs are made for shorter throws closer to the basket, similar to irons or a putter. Hazards at the various city courses are presented in the form of trees and even water, so it is possible to lose a disc on the course. The object is the same as “regular” golf – put the disc in the basket in the fewest number of shots possible. If you are on a budget or in a time crunch, this may be the sport for you. It’s free to play disc golf and you can show up whenever you like without having to reserve a tee time.

Pickleball, a combination of paddle ball and badminton, has emerged as a popular sport among the city’s 50-and-over crowd. Pickleball is played indoors on a court roughly similar to the singles area on a regulation tennis court. Playing singles or doubles, competitors use the equivalent of a large table tennis paddle to strike a wiffle ball back and forth over a net. The ball is roughly the size of a baseball, and the net is a little lower than a tennis net. Players have to strike the ball while it is in the air and keep it from hitting the ground when it is returned.

If you are interested in testing the pickleball waters without making too much of an investment, the city provides all of the equipment necessary to play. While wooden paddles are still in use, higher-end paddles made of graphite or composites are available on the market. Serious players will likely want to upgrade to these better products. After all, Roger Federer probably wouldn’t have won too many tennis tournaments playing with a wooden racket.

Information about all of the adult sports available through the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department is available online at okc.gov/parks. You can also call the adult athletics department directly at 405.669.8415 or the main recreation line at 405.297.2211.  

Categories: In The Magazine