TERRE HAUTE —
When the College World Series for softball took place in Oklahoma City and tornadoes ravaged the state of Oklahoma in the last few weeks, Terre Haute native Craig Cress found himself in the middle of it all.
Having moved to Edmond, Okla., in 2002 to become director of membership services for the national Amateur Softball Association headquarters, Cress and the ASA assisted the NCAA with the College World Series, which conducted its games on the main field at the four-diamond ASA Hall of Fame Stadium.
“Our employees basically run the facility while that’s going on,” Cress told the Tribune-Star over the weekend.
Cress attended every day of the tournament, which concluded June 4 with Oklahoma’s 4-0 victory over Tennessee in Game 2 of the CWS championship series.
“It’s very high-quality softball,” Cress emphasized. “When you’re there in person, you get to see a lot of the behind-the-scenes things, such as the movement of the players before every pitch. … The atmosphere, especially when Oklahoma played, was very electric.”
Cress said about 68,000 spectators attended over six days of the tournament, with roughly 8,600 there on the final day.
As for the tornadoes that hit the Oklahoma City area two weekends ago, Cress admitted that the experience was terrifying and challenging.
On the Friday afternoon of May 31, the NCAA and ASA jointly decided not to let anyone into the stadium because of the ominous weather forecast. But some workers, including members of the ESPN television crew and ASA staff members, already entered earlier in the day. So they were forced to stay in basement areas of the facility until the all-clear signal came later.
Cress, who also remained in the stadium most of that day, said the nearest tornado struck about 4 miles from them. But he made efficient use of text-messaging to help keep everyone safe.
“There were some very strong winds,” he recalled. “With several tents set up outside the stadium, you could see them blowing and flapping around. You were wondering if they were going to come loose and start flying around the sky. Fortunately, they remained secure in the ground.”
Cress mentioned that 6.3 inches of rain fell in Oklahoma City on the Friday night, but the field crew worked hard to make sure games went on as scheduled the next day. All the infields had been covered with tarp, so the effect of excess water was minimal.
“It was a great relief to be able to play softball again,” he noted. “Some of those kids from around the country had never seen a tornado before. There had been some very worried people around the city.”
Cress, 52, certainly is not afraid of making tough decisions. That’s one reason he is being promoted to ASA executive director, effective Nov. 15. That announcement came in April. He’ll be replacing the retiring Ron Radigonda.
“I’m extremely honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization that will have its 80th anniversary in softball this year,” Cress said. “Having come through Terre Haute and had the opportunity to see softball at many levels as a player, as an umpire, as an administrator … it has been very rewarding to follow that complete path and reach the level of the executive director’s position.”
In a statement on the ASA’s website, Radigonda expressed approval of the hiring of Cress as his successor.
“Craig will bring a wealth of knowledge and softball expertise to his new role in ASA,” the outgoing executive director said. “He has progressed through various levels and roles within our association and has excelled in all of his endeavors. He has gained valuable experience in his most recent role as our director of membership services and has had direct contact with our 76 local associations for the past decade. He is well versed in all aspects of softball and our association and will provide outstanding leadership to ASA for many years to come.”
Cress graduated in 1979 from Terre Haute South High School, where he served as a student-manager for the late coach Bob Clements and the Braves’ football team.
Cress didn’t play any high school sports, but he did join the Coca-Cola fastpitch softball team — coached by brothers Duke and Joey Bennett — when he was a sophomore. They played their games at the old Terre Haute Softball Stadium at First and Farrington streets.
“I liked the pace of the game,” Cress explained. “We played seven-inning games. They were a lot shorter [a little more than an hour] compared to baseball games.”
By his senior year at South, Cress had been hired by the late Wayne Myers to umpire games at the same stadium.
As an adult, Cress played fastpitch and slowpitch softball in Terre Haute and served as executive director of the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center from July 1999 to May 2002. He umpired games at the old Glenn Civic Center as well.
“As I continued in my umpiring and advanced in the slowpitch world, I was grateful for [longtime Terre Haute softball administrator/coach/player] John Benton giving me the opportunity to work games at Glenn Civic Center,” reflected Cress, who eventually was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame in the umpire category.
On the education front, Cress earned an associate’s degree in electronic technology from Ivy Tech in 1981 and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Indiana Wesleyan in 2007.
Back in the 1980s, he married the former Karrie Kehrt and they have two sons — Rich and R.J. Craig Cress said his parents and Karrie’s parents still live in Terre Haute.
Looking toward the future of the ASA, Cress said he’ll continue to work with all of its associations, including the one in Indiana, to help their softball programs grow.
There also is a big-picture goal for Cress, even before he assumes his new position in the ASA.
“We’re trying to get the sport back in the [Summer] Olympic Games,” he pointed out. “We have made the short list with two other sports [squash and wrestling] that will be allowed back in [in 2020]. We will work with other softball organizations around the world to convince the IOC [International Olympic Committee] that softball should be in the Olympics.”
The version of softball that Cress mentioned is women’s fastpitch, which last appeared in the Olympics in 2008. He said the IOC will make its decision about the 2020 Summer Olympics on Sept. 8.