OVAC softball tourney named after Bechtel

ELM GROVE – The Ohio Valley Athletic Conference can’t function at the level that it does without the work of its commissioners and event directors.

Such is the reason why the OVAC has made a conscientious effort to recognize those people whenever possible.

It did that again Saturday morning prior to the start of the softball championship games at the Chambers I-470 Complex.

Executive Secretary Tom Rataiczak officially announced that the softball tournament will now be known as the “OVAC Tom Bechtel Softball Championship,” honoring one of the people who has allowed the sport to grow by leaps and bounds in the Ohio Valley.

“I am really appreciative and I like when people honor people, but I am not big on that because I am not planning on retiring or anything,” Bechtel said. “Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful of (the honor).”

The honor comes as Bechtel is involved with his 40th year of umpiring fastpitch softball in the Ohio Valley.

“I have been involved with the sport for a long time, and I am proud of that,” Bechtel said. “I have no intentions of walking away right now. I am hopeful that I’m healthy and I can continue to do it for a few more years.”

Bechtel, who graduated from Wheeling Central and Wheeling Jesuit, was the first and only OVAC softball commissioner and has been the director of the championship tournament. Ironically, the tournament is held at the complex that Bechtel played a huge role in developing.

“This tournament is and will always be about the girls and the teams,” Bechtel said. “My name being on this is totally unimportant to me.”

Bechtel was on the umpiring crew of the Class 3A final, which saw Steubenville Catholic Central defeat Bellaire, and was tending to an issue involving the line-up cards as the announcement began.

“I was talking to the coaches about the DP and flex,” Bechtel said. “I really didn’t even hear the entire speech.”

Bechtel was a self-proclaimed baseball junkie as a kid and got into fastpitch softball by playing in a men’s league.

“I loved baseball immensely, but when I started playing softball, I loved it the same,” Bechtel said. “It’s really neat what these girls have done with the game because some of these girls pitching now are better than the men who I used to play against.”

Bechtel, who often tells stories that he was umpiring games long before he even had an official sanctioned card by either state, worked the very first organized softball game in the Ohio Valley in 1974. He was behind the plate for the initial OVAC Championship in 1978 and has worked games in every conference tournament since.

On top of his work with the OVAC, Bechtel’s involved with the game through his full-time job as the City of Wheeling Recreation Director. He’s organized and built the junior spring and fall leagues.

“When those leagues started, you’d look over and see this little girl and think, “Oh my … that girl can pitch,” Bechtel recalled. “We have spring leagues now and every team has two, three or four pitchers. The game has really progressed so much in that area because you used to hope you had one pitcher.”

Bechtel’s softball resume also includes working 27 state tournaments between Ohio and West Virginia. He also worked collegiately and umpired games in both the NCAA Division II and III Tournaments.

But, it was the OVAC, Ohio Valley, high school and kids ball where Bechtel’s passion for the sport remained.

“This is just a great place,” Bechtel said. “I was progressing pretty well in college (umpiring), which was a great experience. I worked a pretty limited schedule last year, but I am back to pretty much full time now at the high school level.”