Michael Womack doesn’t like to stop during road trips.
Just grab a caffeinated drink before you hit the road and try to make it straight through. That was his standard procedure when he coached the 16U Altus-based Southwest Shockers baseball team while a student-athlete at Cameron University.
During Cameron’s baseball offseason, he would coach in Dallas at weekend tournaments and drive back to Lawton on Sunday nights to be back for 6 a.m. weights.
Womack, an Eisenhower High School graduate who has spent his entire life in the Lawton baseball scene, has another road trip in his future. After the Shockers’ summer season is over, he will become an assistant coach at 6A Forest High School in Ocala, Florida. And while the infrastructure of youth baseball in Lawton helped give his life direction, he says young baseball players in Lawton today do not have the opportunities that players once had in Lawton.
“Lawton has always been kind of a struggle in baseball of recent years,” Womack, 25, said. “In high school we didn’t win a whole lot of games. We had some players that helped compete, but going to play against teams like Westmoore, we’d get like 20 guys out for baseball. You’ve got Westmoore, who gets 90 guys out and has a JV home, JV away and two freshman teams. It was always a struggle playing against those guys.”
Rodney DeLong Sr. agrees. The head baseball coach at MacArthur with more than 30 years of coaching experience, DeLong said he averages about 25 kids who come out for baseball.
He has an idea about why less high schoolers come out for baseball in Lawton, and it is more than the pull of football, basketball and soccer. Both DeLong and Womack think it starts in elementary school.
“My theory on baseball in this town: When you have good players on elementary teams, guess who’s coaching? Their dads,” DeLong said. “So the good players’ dads were pretty good coaches. They would share their knowledge with the group that went to that particular school. Those kids would be better players…there were more good players because more good dads were coaching them.
“What happened is when the travel ball craze started, where all these good kids are playing on these travel ball teams, well now you don’t have high-level coaches coaching those same schools. It becomes a snowball effect.”
Providing opportunities for little leaguers is important. Levi Garrett, Elgin’s baseball and softball coach, said it can be tough for little leaguers to find places to play in Lawton.
“We’ll get several young ones coming from Lawton over to play in Elgin League just so they have a place to play,” Garrett said.
Womack said it is hard to see the most talented young baseball players leave Lawton in search of more competitive leagues in Oklahoma City or Duncan.
DeLong said Lawton has many talented, athletic kids eager to play sports, and that Lawton can be a really good baseball city. He doesn’t view the situation as a downer, but more of an opportunity.
Womack said he guarantees little league popularity in Lawton will exponentially explode if given the proper care.
“I think if Lawton was to be more focused and care about baseball more, then we could produce really, really good teams,” Womack said.” We have the athletes for it. I think it starts at the youth and tee-ball level.”