While it’s no surprise to event directors inside Triple Crown Sports, the youth softball community is getting another push forward in terms of skill and tenacity from the midsection of the nation, including Oklahoma.
In previous years, we’ve talked with and about Gametime Stars and OK Exclusive, and now it’s time for the spotlight to hit the Oklahoma Athletics, founded in 2010 by the father-son unit of Mike and Brian Madden. Brian Madden coaches the 18 Premier squad, which finished 2019 in the US Club Rankings Top 25. Dozens of A’s players have earned college scholarships, and the program now fields 35 teams, 26 in the greater Oklahoma City area.
Previous to his coaching run, Brian played baseball through high school, then at (D-II) Southern Nazarene University (Bethany, OK), where he was a two-time All-American, setting multiple program records before graduating in 2007. He coached baseball for one year as a graduate assistant, then moved up to a softball coaching position at SNU in 2009.
Q: From a distance, it sure seemed like you were all baseball, all the time. How did you get involved with softball?
A: I didn’t know how I’d take to it or like softball because I was a baseball guy, and I ended up loving it. I’m still at SNU, where I was an assistant for 11 years, and now in my first year as co-head coach.
Softball seemed like good avenue; I was helping my sister in the summer. I enjoyed working with the girls, they listened well and played hard. Girls are very team-orientated, and I saw it as fun, fast-paced and a different style of coaching. I jumped at the opportunity at SNU (with a small pay raise). I was nervous about it, but it worked out really well.
Q: Anytime you hang your own shingle and start your own club, there are no guarantees for success. How did the Athletics get started?
A: My dad and I were working with a group of 10-year olds at the time (2010); when my sister was younger, her team was called the Athletics, so that’s how we came up with the name … it was a solo team. That 10-year-old group became kind of our base team; eight of them stayed together through 18u ball, six went Division I and all of them played in college. I then had a group of 18-year-olds who were looking for something different, so we had them as an 18 Gold team and then dad’s 10u team. We hired a coach for 16u and 14u and then held tryouts, trying to get maybe four or five teams so we could open up a facility. We had 350 girls try out, so we filled eight teams right off the bat.
It grew from there; we weren’t planning on getting to 35 teams, but we kept expanding. We have five total national-caliber competitive teams, 18’s through 14’s.
Q: There’s a lot of pride and passion in softball anyway, but how fierce does it get in Oklahoma?
A: It’s become very competitive in Oklahoma over the past few years. How it breeds around here is kind of a love-hate thing. We dislike each other on the field, but we love that we are around that level of competition all the time. We are all trying to get better and one-up each other; we all work hard. We don’t have the quantity of talent that they have in Texas and California, but the teams we have that finished top 10 in PGF, those were all Oklahoma girls. We don’t draw from multiple states. Our players come from about a 100-mile radius, and we take a lot of pride in that. I think we are tough; we definitely have that underdog mentality. We know people don’t take Oklahoma super-seriously, and that eats at our coaching staff, for sure. We definitely have some of the best kids in the country and that’s been proven over the last few years.
Q: What is the guiding philosophy and mindset for the Athletics?
A: We want to be a family, and players know we care about them more deeply than just as a player. We want them to have a good career, we care about their families, and we try to keep the cost down as much as possible. We want them to feel they are developing as a player and a person, and that there are good people around to help them do that. We want to work hard, and we don’t make excuses. We want to be known as a blue-collar organization that gets after it and does the right thing. We’ll try to make you get better, reach the next level, and hope you have fun doing it.