A fan’s guide to athletic competition in the 405.
Game day. For many in Oklahoma City, that equates to the best day. The “schedule your life around it” day. The “wake up early and pack your car with tailgating supplies” day. The “fill your cooler and invite your family over” day. The “scan your ticket and sing the national anthem” day. The excitement, anticipation, discipline, commitment, loyalty, joy — in OKC, ball is life.
Sports are no small part of living in Oklahoma City; the culture and community are deeply influenced by our love for and participation in athletic competitions. The can-do Oklahoma spirit, commitment to hard work and prioritization of sports participation at young ages have put us in a position to produce some of the highest caliber athletes in the world.
In this feature, we break down the state of OKC sports. The athletes, both legacy and current, who crushed records and made worldwide waves. The teams whose colors and mascots decorate our homes and fill our closets. The systems — professional, collegiate, youth and recreational — that drive us to greatness. We don’t touch on every sport — there’s just no way — but we do cover six of the main ones.
So whether your voice is hoarse from shouting “Thunder up!” or “Boomer Sooner!” or “Go Pokes!” or something else, get your gear ready … because this is your guide to game day in Oklahoma.
Did gymnastics in OKC begin in 1992? Nope … but it sure felt like it. As you drive north on Route 77 and I-235 becomes Broadway Avenue, you will see a “Welcome to Edmond — Home of Shannon Miller” sign. Drive a little farther north and you will run into Shannon Miller Park along with an $80,000, 26-foot statue of the Olympian.
It is fair to say Miller, the most decorated U.S. female gymnast in Olympics history (tying Simone Biles), put OKC gymnastics on the map. She holds seven Olympic medals, two world championships and two national championships. She was also a member of the “Magnificent Seven,” the 1996 U.S. Olympic women’s gymnastics team that won the first-ever gold medal for the United States in the women’s team competition at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, edging out the Russian team. After that, women’s gymnastics in America hit an all-out frenzy.
Another flagship gymnast with Oklahoma ties is Bart Conner. While not homegrown, like so many incredible gymnasts, he moved to OKC to be a part of the OU team. Conner won two gold medals for the team all-around and for the men’s parallel bars. He helped the U.S. win its first men’s Olympic gymnastic gold medal in 80 years. Conner went on to marry famous Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci; the two currently run Bart Conner Gymnastics Academy in Norman and are involved with the Special Olympics.
The long-lasting effects of these legacy athletes have culminated in a city that produces and acquires some of the highest caliber gymnasts in the world.
On April 16 of this year, the OU women’s gymnastics team secured its fourth national title in the last six years. OU’s first title came in 2014 when it tied with Florida, and the next three were secured outright in 2016, 2017 and 2019. In all, the Sooners have won 13 conference titles and 7 NCAA Regional championships.
Children in OKC have no shortage of options to choose from to hone their craft. In addition to Conner’s namesake academy, Metro, Dynamo, Tumble Stars, OKC Gymnastics, Bounce Academy, Oklahoma Gold, Primo, Victory and more all offer classes, lessons and many competitive teams.
There is no doubt that the next generation of all-star coaches and gymnastics are ready and waiting in the wings for their turn on the apparatus and in the spotlight.
Lu Dort grabs the rebound and finds Josh Giddey on the outlet pass, who hits Shai Gilgeous-Alexander in full stride for the breakaway dunk. The youthful exuberance of these three seem an echo of Harden, Westbrook and Durant just over a decade ago when the Thunder were new to this city.
Professional basketball is the sport of unity for Oklahomans. While many are split between shouting “Boomer Sooner” and “Orange Power” at the Bedlam football game each year, Thunder games bring out the same kind of passion in fans — only this time, we’re all cheering for the same team.
Basketball isn’t just taking place at the Paycom Center under the watchful eye of a carefully coiffed Sam Presti. Oklahoma City is evolving as a basketball city.
Whether it involves playing at Santa Fe Family Life Center, late night downtown at The Cage, Earlywine before the sun rises or even the runs in private courts that are invitation-only, OKC’s involvement with the game continues to expand. The ball bouncing, sneakers squeaking and nets being snapped by a jump shot are the soundtrack — perhaps accompanied by a glimpse of Trae Young playing at The Hive Sports Complex in Edmond.
Central Oklahoma has long been home to basketball, whether at a Cage Camp at Oklahoma Christian University, Sherri Coale pacing the sidelines in Norman, Eddie Sutton just 50 miles north in Stillwater leading his team to the Final Four, or Blake Griffin catching alley-oops at Oklahoma Christian School.
Basketball carries a poetic beauty for this city. As Sam Anderson described in his book Boom Town, Oklahoma City was overlooked for opportunities, experienced tragedy and has been abandoned by one of its favorite sons when Kevin Durant left in 2016. Yet, just like the ball when it’s dropped, we bounce back. That’s who we are: a bounce-back city of hope that is now one of the top 20 largest cities in the nation.
As Russell Westbrook said in 2016, “There is nowhere else I’d rather be than Oklahoma City.” This is a basketball city full of fans who show up at the airport to welcome our team back, win or lose. Oklahomans don’t know another way to live. We bounce back. Will this always be a basketball city? Why not?
Switzer. Bosworth. Sims. Peterson. Bradford. Murray. Shepard. Owens. Another Murray. Mayfield.
Sanders. Bryant. Thomas. McQuarters. Blackmon. Rudolph. Blackmon. Bailey. Washington. Gundy.
It’s an 85-mile drive from Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater to Memorial Stadium in Norman, where this year’s installment of the infamous yearly battle of Bedlam takes place. For those new to the area, Bedlam refers to a bitter rivalry and “a scene or state of wild uproar and confusion.” However, there is no confusion as to what is important in Oklahoma in the fall. It’s the passion for this game that leads Les Thomas Sr. to hype up 60,000-plus fans in Stillwater on Saturday nights. It’s the ferocity of competition leading Baker Mayfield to plant the OU flag on another OSU’s field 936 miles away in Columbus, Ohio.
In Oklahoma, football doesn’t just happen on Saturdays; it’s an everyday religion. This zeal is felt statewide, and especially in the 405 area code. So much so that high school students start two-a-day practices the first week of August.
Two-a-days don’t create the passion, they simply showcase it. For some, it begins at Friday Night Lights Youth Flag Football, Youth Football League for others, or the Oklahoma Inner-City Youth League. For others, it is when they hear the stories of their grandparents playing Pop Warner football that are shared at the table every Thanksgiving.
The Oklahoma dream is captured while kids are young. The Sooner gridiron dream is filled with memories of Bud Wilkinson, Barry Switzer, Bob Stoops and now Brent Venables, watered by Jim and Al on WWLS – The Sports Animal. Pat Jones carries the Cowboys baton as families talk about Mike Gundy and his mullet. The hope for many is that youthful days on the field will translate into playing, and starring, in Bedlam one day.
Friday night lights showcase the often-dominant Heritage Hall, Carl Albert in Midwest City, Deer Creek, Putnam City, Jones and Bishop McGuinness. Whether you’re following Choctaw, Edmond Santa Fe, Del City or Millwood, you can expect hard hits and close games. On any given Friday night, you might find yourself watching a future undrafted 5x Pro Bowler like Wes Welker, who spent his high school career rushing and receiving at Heritage Hall before catching touchdowns from Tom Brady in New England and Peyton Manning in Denver.
Football season is upon us. After all, it never stops in Oklahoma.
Lauren Chamberlain is the Commissioner of WPF (Women’s Professional Fastpitch). You might remember her as the NCAA home run queen. That is, until Jocelyn Alo, the new queen of crash, took her place as the record holder this year. Both Chamberlain and Alo played for the University of Oklahoma, and both won national championships while there. The first player drafted in WPF? Jocelyn Alo. Where is the home base of the WPF? OKC.
It’s poetic, and it is fitting they both spent their college years in the 405. As Mayor David Holt said, “Oklahoma City is unquestionably the world capital of softball, so of course it makes sense that this would be the headquarters of the WPF.” While Oklahoma is nationally known for both football and basketball, it is softball that has claimed Oklahoma City as its Capital of the World.
Each year, the NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) is held in Oklahoma City’s Hall of Fame Stadium. It only makes sense that a sport quickly rising in national popularity is positioned in the Adventure District, as this is a can’t-miss experience for sports fans. The Hall of Fame stadium played host to multiple age divisions in the Triple Crown OKC softball tourney for the 15th straight year.
While Hall of Fame Stadium is a coveted place to play, fastpitch tournaments like the Perfect Game Softball tourney are played in venues across Oklahoma City. Young women are stepping up to the plate to take on a pitcher just 43 feet away, throwing between the mid-40s and high 60s in mph. While baseballs are thrown faster, the shorter distance gives the softball batter less time to react.
In Oklahoma, it isn’t just the Sooners who gave a strong showing at the WCWS; the Cowgirls of Oklahoma State University came within striking distance of the 2022 championship game. If you haven’t noticed, women’s fastpitch softball has gone from a smaller, devoted fan base to spreading like wildfire. The players hear the fever-pitch roar and respond with chants on the field, and by stepping up to the plate to win.
Softball isn’t vying for our attention any longer. Softball now commands the attention of the world. It’s happening right before our eyes.
It is still America’s pastime. The crack of the bat, the fastball low and away, the classic 6-4-3 double play. This might be the modern era, but there’s still something beautiful about life on the baseball diamond.
The game beguiles us with the reminder it’s okay to slow down and enjoy what is happening before our eyes. For some, it’s watching a runner steal second at an OKC Dodgers game at Chickasaw Bricktown Ballpark. For others, it’s the diving catch of the center fielder at Bishop McGuinness. For a few, it’s holding up the memory of Oklahoma’s baseball past — Mickey Mantle, Johnny Bench and Joe Carter — as they watch their kids play at Lakeshore Park Baseball Fields.
Baseball has led the way in bringing people together with the courage of Jackie Robinson bridging racial divisions. It’s as if we’re all still living in Field of Dreams when we show up to buy “some peanuts and Cracker Jack.”
Young dreams begin at Tee Ball, then evolve into playing in the Little League World Series, to American Legion, all the way up to the Major Leagues. Baseball builds relationships, because life can be as simple as saying to your dad, “You wanna have a catch?”
The sport of golf ranges close to Oklahoma City — both literally and figuratively to its sports identity. The James E. Stewart Golf Course lies only about three miles east of downtown OKC. Named after the prominent civil rights leader, the public course’s nine holes equal about 1.5 hours of playing time. Its fresh $3.8 million clubhouse holds new locker rooms and a restaurant, and its easy-access location makes the course prime for anyone looking to learn or pick up a quick round.
The most influential OKC golfers paved their own path for success on the greens. Charlie Coe opted for a business career instead of professional golf, but with two U.S. Amateur titles and most amateur records in the Masters, he’s commonly cited as one of the greatest amateurs to play the sport. Norman native Betty Jameson was one of the few women in pro golf in 1945, but her Hall of Fame career included multiple championships and her co-founding of the Ladies Professional Golf Association in 1950.
In the present, Oklahoma’s golf excellence is most evident in its universities. OCU dominates the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics in both men’s and women’s championships. During the ’60s, OCU was the collegiate home of Susie Maxwell Berning, who was inducted this year in the World Golf Hall of Fame with four major championships and 11 LPGA victories. In the NCAA, OSU Men’s Golf holds 11 national championships, and OU follows with two titles. OSU’s Women’s Golf has made 21 championship appearances.
The prolific OSU programs have produced some professionals as well: College champion and OKC native Bob Tway won eight tournaments in his career, including the PGA Championship in 1986, and world champion Hunter Mahan was ranked the #4 golfer in the world in April 2012.
The more you gaze at Oklahoma’s rolling green plains, the more it makes sense; the Sooner State is an underappreciated golf haven.
The FIFA World Cup is only a few months away. In 2026, the World Cup will make its way back to the U.S. for the first time since 1994.
Over the past 28 years, soccer has risen in popularity in the U.S. A MAPS 4 proposal identified half of OKC residents as fans and followers of the sport, and our civic future will become more soccer-oriented with plans to build a new multi-purpose stadium. Soccer isn’t an individual sport as much as it is a team and community experience. As Superintendent Chris Brewster of Santa Fe South Schools said, “Across OKC, soccer has invigorated school districts and unified our communities.” The OKC Energy FC has become a staple of sports in our city, and fans across the city are eagerly anticipating the opportunity to cheer them on when they return to the pitch.
Whether you’re participating at the YMCA, playing at North Oklahoma City Soccer Club, facing off in a field off Western Ave. in south OKC or escaping the heat at Soccer City or Edmond Indoor Soccer, you can expect a lively crowd and a fast-paced sport. People will keep attending games. People show up all over the world to watch, cheer and celebrate together. Maybe that’s why they call it the beautiful game.
Where are they now?
Russell Westbrook — After being traded from the Thunder in 2019, Russell Westbrook spent a season each in Houston and Washington before settling with his current team, the Lakers. But 11 seasons in Oklahoma City haven’t been forgotten, and Westbrook continues to show appreciation for the team and city that grew with him. In June 2022, the point guard and his Why Not? Foundation funded a new basketball court at Capitol Hill High School. Before the ribbon-cutting, Mayor David Holt handed Westbrook the key to Oklahoma City. “This place for me was home, and it still is home,” the star said to the local crowd, which responded with cheers. With the Thunder focused on building up its young core, a Westbrook reunion with the team seems unlikely at the moment, but that doesn’t keep his presence away from the 405.
Trae Young — The young Hawks star might’ve only attended one year at Oklahoma before declaring for the NBA Draft in 2018, but he’s still a Sooner at heart. Trae Young gave back to his hometown of Norman with a $4 million donation to the Young Family Athletic Center, a facility that broke ground in July 2021 and was named after his foundation. The point guard also maintains his passion for his alma mater, as he was spotted rooting for the OU softball team during the first game of the 2022 WCWS Championship. Young’s been making his mark in the NBA with All-NBA honors and All-Star game selections, but his most significant impact might be on his home state.
Blake Griffin — The OKC native’s been in the league for 12 years, and throughout his career he’s bolstered basketball and other causes in the city. Blake and his older brother Taylor founded the youth squad Team Griffin, which is the only Nike Elite Young Player League team based in Oklahoma. Their foundation also funded two courts for basketball and futsal at the City Center that were completed in 2018, and it sponsored the court at Together Square in downtown OKC. The former Sooner and six-time All-Star now plays for the Brooklyn Nets with Kevin Durant, a combo that makes you wonder what could’ve been.
Shannon Miller — Following her historic Olympic career, Shannon Miller completed bachelor’s degrees in both business administration and entrepreneurship from the University of Houston in 2003, and in 2007 graduated with a law degree from Boston College. In 2011, the former gymnast was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after having a baseball-sized mass surgically removed, and she underwent chemotherapy afterward. Miller told Sports Illustrated that her encouraging and competitive spirit from her gymnastics training pushed her through recovery. She’s now 11 years cancer free, and she’s partnered with Our Way Forward, an organization that supports women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Miller tours the U.S. as a motivational speaker on health and her “gold medal mindset,” and the Edmond native also hosts ESPN’s NCAA Gymnastics Countdown, which covers women’s collegiate gymnastics.
Billy Sims — After his brief but impressive NFL career with the Lions in the ’80s, Sooners football legend Billy Sims tried his hand at numerous short-lived business ventures, but had trouble sustaining them. Sims sold his ’78 Heisman Trophy in 1995 after late child support payments and declaring bankruptcy. The former number one NFL Draft pick eventually struck success founding Billy Sims Barbecue with business partner Jeff Jackson in 2004. Its 25 locations in Oklahoma alone is one of the reasons Sims’ name is all over the state. A larger-than-life statue of Sims stands in OU’s Heisman Park, and the star running back can be heard during every OU-winning Heisman ceremony passionately cheering, “Boomer!”
Where will they be?
Talyn Shettron — The four-star wide receiver recruit shocked the Sooner State when he switched his school commitment from Oklahoma to Oklahoma State. Why flip? So he could once again play football with his brother Tabry, a top tight end who committed to the Cowboys. The Shettron brothers, who also lined up together at Edmond Santa Fe High School, spell exciting times ahead for OSU football.
By the numbers
- 6.4 million — average number of viewers of 2021’s Bedlam game between OU and OSU football, according to ESPN — the most since 2013.
- 21 and 27 — number of national championships won by Oklahoma City University men’s and women’s teams respectively.
- 88,308 — the largest crowd ever to watch football in Oklahoma, when OU defeated TCU Nov. 11, 2017.
- 39.274 — the total number of points (out of a possible 40) Shannon Miller scored to win her second world all-around championship in 1994.
- 9,250,720 — the cumulative attendance of Thunder games during the franchise’s history in OKC, more than six times the population of the OKC metro.
- $72 — the average ticket price of an OKC Thunder game; average price of a Golden State Warriors game is $150.
- 8 — the total number of Heisman Trophy winners in the 405.