Don Porter, 90, Brought Softball to Olympics

(ATR) Don Porter was a tireless campaigner for women’s softball in the Olympics.

(ATR) Don Porter will be remembered as the gentle driving force who brought softball to the Olympic Games.

Porter died at his home in Oklahoma City June 7.

As president of the International Softball Federation for 26 years, he led the campaign that succeeded in winning a spot for women’s softball on the program of the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

After its debut the sport was played in Sydney, Athens and Beijing. But in 2002, the IOC came close to dropping softball and for the next three years, Porter and his colleagues at the ISF found themselves in a struggle to keep the Olympics status.

The limited field of contenders for medals from the US, Canada, Japan and Australia was one of the concerns of the IOC. Porter believed that anti-US sentiment was also at play. Softball along with baseball, were both chopped from the Olympic program in 2005. The Beijing Olympics would be the final round for both sports, although both are set for a one time return in Tokyo.

Charlie Battle was the first director of sports for the Atlanta Olympics who remembers Porter for his determination on behalf of women softball.

"Don was a truly great guy and a tireless advocate for his sport. I am glad that we were able to reward his efforts by including softball in the Atlanta Olympic Games," Battle says.

In 1995, Porter was in Columbus, Georgia for the test event for women’s softball in the 1996 Games. He spoke there about his dreams for softball, expecting the sport to be a part of the Olympics for years to come. Hear his comments from an interview with ATR Editor and Founder Ed Hula in this clip from the Around the Rings Archives.

AroundTheRings · Don Porter 1995 Speech

Discouraged by the IOC decision in 2005, Porter did not abandon efforts to bring back the sport. In 2013 he agreed to join forces with the International Baseball Federation, forming the World Baseball Softball Confederation. The consolidation of the two bodies and subsequent coordination of venue planning helped lead the two sports back to the Olympic program for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics now setfor 2021.

"Our long lasting friendship is full of special memories. He helped to establish, build and name the WBSC," says Confederation president Riccardo Fraccari in tribute.

"He will be remembered forever as one of the most influential leaders in the history of the sport of softball, which is now played in over 130 countries around the world. In fact, he launched 'World Softball Day' in 2005 and it's celebrated every year on June 13th. Softball would not be returning to next year's Olympic Games without the life and work of Don Porter," Fraccari says.

Porter was a fixture at international sports meetings for years whether softball was on or off the Olympic program. His constant presencewas likely one of the keys to the success he brought to the sport. Nonetheless, he would also express exasperation over the IOC rejecting a sport that increased the number of women athletes at the Olympics. A sport as well without the stain of positive drug tests, he would remind often.

Porter was born in California and lived there until joining the U.S. Army serving in Korea. After some time spent as a referee for collegiate and professional gridiron football, Porter became Executive Director of the Amateur Softball Association, serving from 1963 to 1998. In 1966, the Association moved its headquarters to Oklahoma City. The ASA soon after built a stadium and launched the Women’s College World Series. That annual event in Oklahoma City helped secure Porter a spot on a list of most influential sports figures for the state when the Centennial of Oklahoma statehood was celebrated in 2007.

Porter got involved in the international side of the sport beginning in 1965 as the first secretary general of the International Softball Federation.

Porter was also involved with the formation of the World Games, the multi-sport event which gives sports not the Olympic program the chance to grow and develop. He was the first secretary general of the World Games Federation.

He moved to Plant City, Florida where the ISF was headquartered for nearly 20 years. He returned to Oklahoma City when the ISF consolidated with the baseball Federation, now headquartered in Lausanne.

Porter had three children, 12 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his wife of 70 years, Jean. A memorial service is expected to be held in a few weeks.

Reported by Ed Hula.