'This is real': How Oklahoma softball secured a record-setting donation for new stadium

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·7 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

NORMAN — Joe Castiglione broke the news to Patty Gasso.

She broke down.

Oklahoma made official Thursday what has been known behind the scenes for a few months — Love’s Travel Stops is making a donation that could be as large as $12 million for the building of a new softball stadium.

It’s the largest gift ever for women’s sports at OU.

Castiglione called Gasso with the details while she was on the West Coast recruiting this summer. While the Sooner softball coach knew a gift from Love’s was in the works, she had no idea how big it would be until Castiglione, the OU athletic director, gave her the number.

“The amount just knocked me off my feet,” Gasso told The Oklahoman. “I thought it might be a million dollars.

“When I heard the amount, I just broke down because I’m like, ‘This is real.’”

More than four years ago, OU announced plans to renovate Marita Hynes Field, then had a change of heart and decided to build an entirely new stadium. More than three years, the Oklahoma Board of Regents approved the proposal for that new facility. But with a $27 million price tag, a pandemic hitting athletics hard and an athletic department philosophy at OU not to start any major project until money is in hand, the plans remained on hold.

Until now.

xxxxxxx
xxxxxxx

Love’s is donating $9 million and has pledged a dollar-for-dollar match up to an additional $3 million. In a statement, OU said more than $20 million has been raised to date, which includes the $9 million from Love’s. If an additional $3 million is donated, then matched by Love’s, that would push the project across the finish line.

If all goes as planned, groundbreaking on Love’s Field is expected next year. The Sooners may be in their new home as early as the 2024 season.

“Love’s has made a gift of historical proportions for a facility that will be second to none and will impact the lives of our student-athletes for generations to come,” Castiglione said in a statement. “We are profoundly grateful.”

So, how did everything come together?

It started last spring.

Late in the regular season, Gasso was looking for someone to speak to her team. She wanted a woman who was a leader, maybe even in a male-dominated industry. Gasso sought a fresh voice who could motivate and inspire her players.

Jenny Love Meyer agreed to do it.

As the chief culture officer and executive vice president at Love’s, she is one of the few women in upper management in the travel-stop business. She had never met Gasso but has long cheered OU and appreciated what Gasso and her teams had done.

Love Meyer spoke to the team for a while, then answered some questions from the players. She was struck by the maturity and humility they displayed.

OU softball coach Patty Gasso strikes a pose on June 20 after her Sooners won the national title.
OU softball coach Patty Gasso strikes a pose on June 20 after her Sooners won the national title.

“Despite the fact that these folks are superstars,” Love Meyer told The Oklahoman, “they don’t actually act like that.”

Driving home that day, Love Meyer realized something.

“It just hit me in the face,” she said. “How Coach Gasso runs her team, the similarities of her championship mindset, that high integrity and work ethic mirrors so much how we run our business.”

Even though nothing had been said to her about it that day, Love Meyer knew OU wanted to build a new stadium. She thought there might be an opportunity for Love’s to partner on that project, and she tucked the idea in the back of her head.

But the Sooners stayed front-of-mind. Soon, they won regionals and super regionals in Norman, punching their ticket for the Women’s College World Series.

Gasso stayed in touch with Love Meyer along the way. Even though Gasso has won five national titles and is one of the most successful coaches in college softball, she is always looking for people to include in what she calls her “board of directors.” People she can call for advice.

“That are not necessarily in the softball world,” Gasso said.

She wanted Love Meyer in that circle because of her career success and her calm demeanor.

“I thought, ‘This could be someone that I could really learn a lot from,’” Gasso said. “So I shared that with her, and we shared our numbers.”

OU softball coach Patty Gasso asked Jenny Love Meyer (pictured) to speak to the Sooners last spring. It was inspirational, but it became transformational.
OU softball coach Patty Gasso asked Jenny Love Meyer (pictured) to speak to the Sooners last spring. It was inspirational, but it became transformational.

Gasso then invited Love Meyer to the super regional against Washington. Because Gasso had things to worry about on the field, she tasked her husband, Jim, with looking out for Love Meyer.

At one point during the game, Gasso looked across the diamond to the outfield deck where Love Meyer and her husband were.

“And I just saw Jimmy’s back to me,” Gasso said, “so that means he’s talking to them. I’m thinking, ‘Are you gonna let them watch the game?’”

She laughed.

“He’s very animated, like he’s telling them stories, because I can see his arms moving.”

The Gassos connected with Love Meyer, but so did several others who love OU softball, including director of operations Jackie Livingston and former Amateur Softball Association stalwart Karen Weisman. She has been friends with Love Meyer for years and was the original point of contact for Gasso.

Love Meyer had a front-row seat as the Sooners marched to the national title last spring at the Women’s College World Series.

But even as Sooner Nation relished that title, Love Meyer was thinking about the future. She had started talking to members of her family about a donation for the new softball stadium. The company has a vetting process for such donations.

“I’m a practical person,” Love Meyer said, “but I’m also a person that when I believe in things, it’s hard for me to let go.

“And it just kind of snowballed from there.”

After Gasso got the news about the donation from Castiglione, she immediately called Love Meyer. They have built a strong relationship, but Gasso admits she fumbled around so much Love Meyer told her to chill out.

“I didn’t even know what to say,” Gasso said. “How do you thank someone? How do you thank someone appropriately for a $12 million gift? I want to send the OU band out there, and I want to have a parade.

"Words are not enough.”

What you need to know about Love's Field

With the announcement Thursday of a multi-million-dollar gift from Love’s Travel Stops, plans for a new OU softball stadium will soon begin coming to life. Here’s what you need to know about the new facility:

► Love’s Field will be located at the northwest corner of Jenkins Avenue and Imhoff Road, just north of the Lloyd Noble Center parking lot or just south of the Marita Hynes Field, current home of OU softball.

► Groundbreaking is expected in 2022, and if all goes as planned, the Sooners will start playing there in the spring of 2024.

► Love's Field has an estimated cost of approximately $27 million. Including the $9 million base gift from Love’s and other donations from Sooner Club members, more than $20 million has been raised. The remainder? Love’s has pledged a dollar-for-dollar match up to $3 million, which if maxed out to match outside donations would cover the last $6 million of the project.

► Capacity at the new stadium will be 3,000 with an option for future expansion.

► The stadium will include an indoor training facility, locker rooms, training room and classroom.

By the numbers

Here’s a look at Love’s Field by the numbers:

2022: Year when OU expects to break ground on the new softball stadium.

2024: Year when OU expects to play its first softball season at Love’s Field.

3,000: Seating capacity, more than doubling the capacity of Marita Hynes Field (1,378).

5,375: Square feet of team space, compared to 2,949 square feet currently.

10,500: Square feet for an indoor training facility, compared to 4,700 square feet currently.

44,000: Square feet total, nearly tripling the current total of 15,150 square feet.

This article originally appeared on Oklahoman: New Oklahoma softball stadium nears finish line with record donation