Central Honors Longtime Softball Coach
As Gerry Pinkston, Ed.D., approached the softball facility at the University of Central Oklahoma Oct. 22, 2021, the former coach and educator was overcome with gratitude. Surrounded by former athletes, colleagues, friends and family, the stadium was officially named Gerry Pinkston Stadium in recognition of her decades-long commitment to women’s athletics at Central.
Growing up in Chickasha, Oklahoma, Pinkston played a variety of sports alongside her brothers and neighborhood friends. When it came time to select a sport in high school, females had one sport to choose from – tennis, which she played. As a teenager, she was approached to play in a women’s summer softball league and that is how she got her start in the sport that would play a huge role in her life.
Her affinity for sports only grew when she started college at Oklahoma State University.
“I thought I had died and gone to women’s sports heaven at OSU,” Pinkston recalls thinking back to the variety of sports available to her. “I went out for all of them; I played field hockey, volleyball, basketball, softball, badminton, track and tennis.
“I knew in fifth grade I wanted to be a teacher… I knew all my life,” Pinkston says. “Walking onto campus at OSU and seeing all these women coaches, I thought, ‘Oh wow, that’s something I want to be.’ They were so inspiring.”
Upon college graduation, she returned to her hometown to teach physical education and history, and coach the tennis team. But after being away at college for years, returning home was a bit stifling, which led her to become a physical therapy aide at St. Anthony Hospital. During that time, she pursued a master’s degree at Central State University in 1975 and soon after, was hired as a teacher and coach at the university, beginning her lengthy career at Central.
Early Years at Central
In the early days of teaching at CSU, she would coach different sports depending on the season – softball in the spring and volleyball in the fall. In the early ‘80s, the university decided to decrease the number of sports offered and begin having each sport year-round. This prompted Pinkston to select one sport to coach; she went with her gut and chose softball.
Around this time, former university President Bill Lillard decided to combine the men’s and women’s athletics departments.
Her athletes had one uniform, equipment would be stored in Pinkston’s personal vehicle and there were no locker rooms. She repeatedly made the case for the softball team to have a storage shed and field improvements, and finally was told yes – a momentous step in the right direction for women’s athletics.
Focused on Education
She likes to joke with current coaches about how much simpler they have it, Pinkston looks at coaching and teaching today with a different perspective. “Coaching now is so much more pressurized,” she says. “The coaches who just coach have that added pressure of year-round playing, recruiting and team conditioning. In the offseason, they’re recruiting and that can be competitive. It’s a yearlong commitment – coaching.”
As a professor in the kinesiology department, Pinkston also served as adviser. Once she retired from coaching in 1997, she coordinated the Kinesiology graduate program and Teacher Education program. She prided herself on each student who left her office knowing exactly what classes they needed to take to graduate.
“My whole thing is – it’s the circle of life,” she said. “If you go on to be a teacher and coach, you have to pass it on. That’s my theory – pass it on. A lot of my students didn’t go on to teach or coach, but they’re now maybe a wife, a mom, a nurse… even grandmothers. It’s been fun to be a part of that.”
A Look Forward
When asked if she would do anything different, Pinkston would not change much. “I would do everything over again – there were several times I’d do something different, but the rest of it was part of the deal. My softball players can tell you everything they didn’t have… but at the time, we didn’t concentrate on that. We just navigated the way.” It was this intrepid spirit that led UCO President Patti Neuhold- Ravikumar to declare Central’s softball stadium as Gerry Pinkston Stadium. Upon hearing the news from the president, “tears started coming down my cheeks,” Pinkston recalls.
Pinkston hopes to see more support of women’s athletics in the future. Since the dedication event, she has received messages from friends and neighbors who have said they plan to watch more softball because the games leading up to the stadium renaming were a fun experience. “Those kinds of things… that’s what makes me most proud.”
“If women softball players can see the scoreboard at the UCO softball stadium with my name on it and be inspired to coach, then I hope the doors are open for them to do it,” Pinkston says. “Women are making more roads in places we haven’t before, such as college presidents, a chancellor of higher education… I don’t think there’s a conscious effort to discriminate, but there needs to be more of a conscious effort to hire and honor women. Oklahoma softball is on the rise.”