The Arizona Ramblers
The Arizona Diamondbacks may have won the 2001 World Series, but it was the Ramblers, a professional women’s softball team, that brought home the state’s first national championship.
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By Sally Benford
Phoenix Phoenix is one of only a few cities in the country with all four major sports: the NFL, the NHL, the NBA and Major League Baseball. But long before the arrival of the Suns and the Cardinals and sports legends like Steve Nash and Larry Fitzgerald, another sport and its players put Arizona on the map.
Women's softball had a huge following in the 1940s and '50s, thanks in large part to the popularity of two teams: the Ramblers and the Queens. According to sports historian Laura Purcell, both were forces to be reckoned with as Phoenix became known as the unofficial softball capital of the world. "The tradition of Arizona softball began in the early 1930s," Purcell says. "And the games routinely outdrew minor league baseball."
Back then, admission was inexpensive and loyal fans filled the stands. In 1940, the Ramblers won their first national championship — the first national sports championship of any kind in Arizona. The team repeated the feat in 1948 and 1949. And if the Ramblers were Arizona softball royalty, their catcher, Dot Wilkinson, was queen.
Wilkinson joined the Ramblers as a batgirl in 1933, when she was only 11, and before her first summer was over, she was a regular player on the team. She eventually won 19 All-American awards and helped secure three national championships for the Ramblers before retiring in 1965. In 1970, she was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame. Purcell says that many softball aficionados consider Wilkinson the best catcher to ever play the game.
Another Arizonan also played as a young girl. In 1939, Rose Perica left the small town of Globe to play for the Arizona Cantaloupe Queens. She played only one season before moving on to a 49-year career in Arizona state government, a career that included a stint as governor. By that time, however, she was known as Rose Mofford.
Although the Queens and the Ramblers are long gone, local softball fans still have plenty to cheer about. The University of Arizona has won eight NCAA softball championships, and Arizona State University won its first NCAA softball title in 2008.
Purcell believes that today's softball teams have the Ramblers and the Queens to thank. "Everybody loves a winner, and when those women brought the national championships to Phoenix in the '40s, they were heroes. So much of the roots of American softball lead back to Arizona."
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