Duhon's Behind the 'Seams': WCWS Patches
OKLAHOMA CITY, Okla. – LSU softball director of operations Quinlan Duhon recently spent time with Carolan Bledsoe, the official seamstress of the Women’s College World Series.
The 2012 Women’s College World Series, a dream beyond imaginable belief for so many young women across this country, is soon to become a reality for about 175 student-athletes. Exactly 289 teams began the 2012 Division I softball season in February. Only 8 remain here in Oklahoma City.
Entering its 31st year, the WCWS has exploded in local and national popularity in recent years. The tournament has grown exponentially. Attendance records regularly fall each year, and ESPN now broadcasts all of the games. So, what do all teams from the last 15 years of WCWS teams have in common? They share the same seamstress, Ms. Carolan Bledsoe.
My personal WCWS experience may only be 48 hours young. However, I am quickly learning it is the people of Oklahoma City that truly make this event into the pinnacle for college softball fans across the nation. The citizens of the city and of the surrounding areas take an extraordinary amount of pride in the event.
Carolan, a native of Yukon, Oklahoma, has enjoyed the undeniably unique responsibility of sewing the WCWS patches on the participating team’s jerseys since 1997. When asked how she became involved with the event, she quickly recalled a phone call from a friend: did she have any interest in sewing some patches on a few uniforms for an event? She accepted, and 15 years later, she is still the official seamstress for the WCWS.
“I had no idea what I was getting into when I told her I would help out,” she said about the acceptance. “I have enjoyed all of the people who have come to the WCWS. They’ve all got a different story about them of how they got to Oklahoma City.”
Indeed, Carolan spent last weekend watching all of the NCAA Super Regional games at home. After all, she had to be prepared to match thread color for at least 16 different teams.
“I have met some phenomenal people at the WCWS,” Bledsoe said. “Many fans come to the games with no specific team to root for. They just love the event.”
Bledsoe has used the same sewing machine for all 15 years, a machine that has seen the hallowed jerseys of Tennessee’s Monica Abbott, Stanford’s Jessica Mendoza, Arizona’s Jennie Finch, our very own Rachele Fico and hundreds of other legends pass through its foot press.
The patch process has evolved steadily throughout the years. For starters, Carolan remembers a time when players actually dropped off the uniforms themselves. The host hotel provides her with a room where she literally sets up a makeshift shop of her own. She brings her machine from home, gathers the uniforms from the teams, and gets to stitching. Last year’s jerseys took 24 straight hours of sewing.
“The patches were very large in 2011,” Bledsoe commented as she showed me an approximate size with her hands. “I actually brought the University of Oklahoma’s uniforms home with me on Saturday in an attempt to be one team ahead.”
In addition, the official WCWS logo has evolved throughout the years.
“I remember the triangular shape used just a few years back,” Bledsoe said. “That one had straight edges and was the quickest and easiest to sew.”
Teams drop off two sets of jerseys, almost always a white and a solid color according to Carolan, for stitching two days before the first day of competition.
“It would be a nightmare for teams to have to sew them on themselves. Teams don’t travel with sewing machines,” Bledsoe quipped. “When you sew, you notice things that others may not. I enjoy the creative things about the jerseys that I have to work around. Color schemes, sizes, fabric, weight of the jersey. They’ve all changed in the last 15 years.”
Her time spent as the seamstress has also given her a lasting family tradition:
“My grandchildren used to come and help me sort through the left handed batter’s jerseys,” Bledsoe said reminiscing. “Those players were their heroes on the field. I hope today’s athletes never forget that they were once that little girl.”
Unique to the WCWS, Carolan sews the patches on the non-throwing shoulder, or front batting shoulder, of all players. This ensures that the patch faces the camera while on the ESPN television cameras, something in which Carolan takes great pride.
“The NCAA has a very particular way that they want it to look,” Bledsoe said. “The patch is not just a patch to me. It is just a uniform to most, but to those little girls, they notice the patch on the sleeves. It turns into something special.”
The WCWS was held in Georgia in 1996 in conjunction with the Summer Olympics, the first Olympiad in which softball was recognized as a sport.
“I didn’t sew the patches that year,” Bledsoe recalled. “But, I did notice they sewed them on the wrong arm that year!”
Carolan, an avid OU Softball fan and season ticket holder, has attended all of the WCWS games dating back to her start as the official seamstress.
Here’s to hoping all of the student-athletes participating in the 2012 WCWS can remember the magical moment of seeing that patch on the sleeve of their hero for the very first time.
If you get a chance, stop by Section 8 at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium this week and ask for Carolan. I promise, you’ll meet one of the real WCWS heroes.