By Marty Farmer
The Oak Park Windmills 11U girls fastpitch softball team recently won the OKC Challenge in Oklahoma City. There were two big draws on this trip. First, was the highly competitive field, which included 11U teams from Texas, Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Illinois. Secondly, the Windmills attended the NCAA College Women's World Series games when they weren't playing in the tournament.
Along with developing premier softball players, a central part of the Windmills' mission is community service. Since the team was playing in Oklahoma shortly after the devastating Moore tornado, Windmills 11U head coach Dan Karnatz organized a tornado relief effort.
The entire Windmills organization helped out by participating in a clothing and supplies drive, organizing a gift card drive to Dick's Sporting Goods for the Moore Softball Association, raising funds for a memorial bench in Moore for a softball player who lost her life in the tornado.
The Windmills 11U team chose to do something special because they have played Moore's softball travel team multiple times over the last several seasons in various tournaments.
Karnatz, who lives in Elmhurst, also reached out to friends and families in his community. Jim Pickell, also of Elmhurst, got the Elmhurst Extreme Boys Travel Baseball team involved in the relief drive as well. A number of parents and coaches drove the supplies down to Oklahoma.
The night before the tournament was scheduled to begin, another tornado hit the Oklahoma City area. Half of the 11U Windmills team was in the thick of it, while the other half of the team had their flights diverted to Dallas, Tex.
"To say it was an unnerving experience would be an understatement," Karnatz said. "More than one tornado touched down in the Oklahoma City area that night. At one point the biggest tornado in recorded history, over 2.6 miles, was headed toward the Windmills' team hotel. Luckily, it changed course."
After that Friday night, the rest of the team drove up from Dallas to participate in the tournament that ran through Monday.
The Windmills 11U team won the OKC Challenge as undefeated champions, beating the Oklahoma Vendetta team 7-1 in the title game. It was an impressive accomplishment for the Windmills, who lost twice to the Vendetta last season.
"I'm very proud of the girls and the entire Windmills organization for assisting in the tornado relief," Karnatz said. "One of the most inspiring things about our country is volunteerism and the willingness of Americans to help out others in need."