OUvBaylor Softbal

OU’s Lauren Chamberlain celebrates as she comes down the third base line after hitting a home run during the Sooners’ game against Baylor Saturday, April 18, 2015, at Marita Hynes Field.

A familiar Oklahoma face will serve as the commissioner for the new Women’s Professional Fastpitch league.

Lauren Chamberlain was named commissioner for the WPF on Thursday, a new professional softball league set to launch its debut season in June 2022.

The WPF, co-founded by USA Softball along with the USSSA and Smash It Sports, will be headquartered in Oklahoma City and aims to provide a viable option for softball players to continue their careers after college.

“I am deeply humbled and incredibly excited for my role as Commissioner of WPF,” Chamberlain said during a YouTube broadcast press conference on Thursday. “I have worked hard to build good standing with existing softball athletes, people of influence in our sport, and those outside of our sport.”

Chamberlain emerged as one of the best players in college softball during her four years at Oklahoma, and currently holds the NCAA record for career home runs with 95. She also graduated in 2015 with Big 12 records in RBIs and runs scored.

She was also a member of the OU softball team that won a national title in 2013.

Chamberlain acknowledged she is in an interesting position as a contemporary of many of the players bound to compete in the league.

“I’m not far removed from the sport. A lot of the players that would play in WPF have been my teammates before,” she said. “So, creating a standard that’s new and holding everybody accountable … to meet that standard or they’re not a part of it is a really important thing for me to drive home.

“So, if there are players out there that are considering this opportunity and really want to know what my level of investment is, it is not in any single one of our founders, but in softball as a whole and in professional softball as a whole.”

Her challenge is real.

National Pro Fastpitch existed from 2006 into this year. The league was marked by the folding and launching of old and new franchises throughout its history. It lost the 2019 and 2020 seasons to the COVID-19 virus but waited until Aug. 1 to announce it had suspended operations. In each of its last seven seasons, the USSSA Pride, based in Viera, Florida, either claimed the WPF championship (four times) or finished runner-up (three times).

USSSA has also been at apparent odds with USA Softball over the years.

Following the 2013 Women’s College World Series, Oklahoma pitcher Keilani Ricketts was expected to join the U.S. national team but could not come to terms with USA Softball. On July 16 of that year, barely five weeks after the Sooners claimed the Women’s College World Series championship series over Tennessee, Rickets signed a three-year deal with USSSA.

Chamberlain herself played several seasons with the Pride.

That USA Softball and USSSA are partners in the new league is not insignificant.

“I am confident that I can bridge the gap between all parties and create an exceptional professional level of softball, one that our sport and its athletes deserve,” she said.

The WPF’s inaugural season is schedule to begin on June 15, 2022 and end in August. While the league will be headquartered in OKC, teams will play games all over the country.

The location of the WPF’s teams has not been announced.

The launch of the WPF adds more softball pedigree to Oklahoma City. The state capital is home to the Women’s College World Series each season, which is played at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium, the campus of the National Softball Hall of Fame.

“Oklahoma City is unquestionably the world capital of softball, so of course it makes sense that this would be the headquarters of the WPF,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said via a WPF press release. “We value being the host of this new endeavor. We’re excited for what that will mean in the years ahead, and we’re grateful to Commissioner Lauren Chamberlain and the WPF for choosing us.

“We look forward to watching the story of the league unfold.”

Jesse Crittenden is the sports editor of The Transcript and covers OU athletics. Reach him at jesse@normantranscript.com or at 405-366-3580

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