September 7, 2010
A.C. Williams, former longtime Prescott Parks and Recreation director and beloved state commissioner for the Arizona Amateur Softball Association, died Tuesday in his Prescott home, apparently from complications with diabetes and a heart ailment, according to family members. He was 85.
A.C. Williams, a softball legend in Arizona
Williams moved from Tucson to Prescott in the late 1950s and soon became instrumental in building the city’s reputation as the so-called “Softball Capital of the World” as ASA commissioner from the early 1970s through 2007.
A member of the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame and the ASA National Hall of Fame, Williams brought highly competitive national fast-pitch amateur softball tournaments to Ken Lindley Field, formerly City Park, while forging a cooperative relationship between the city schools’ athletic programs and the Parks and Rec Department for use of fields and courts.
“He was one of the greatest men in recreation,” said Cal Cordes, a close friend of Williams’ who refereed with him years ago. “He changed our recreation program around to the fact that it just ran smoothly all the time. He ran a good ship and trained a lot of good kids about ‘how to do this’ and ‘how to do that.’”
When he first arrived at Prescott Parks and Rec, Williams operated a one-man department inside the old Armory next to City Park at the corner of Gurley Street and Arizona Avenue, which at the time played host to both baseball and softball.
During his tenure from the late-1950s to 1983, Williams also oversaw the creation of several Prescott parks, including Bill Vallely Field next to Yavapai College and Willow Creek Park off Willow Creek Road. He also began the development for Granite Creek Park near the intersection of Sheldon Street and Montezuma Street, which later was named in his honor, and had a hand in the creation of Goldwater Lake Park.
“He was a legend in Parks and Rec and Arizona ASA,” Don Fishel, Arizona ASA’s current commissioner, said of Williams. “He was always amiable and always wanting to help.”
Jim McCasland, who eventually succeeded Williams as Prescott Parks and Recreation director in the mid-1980s and retired in 2007, said he met Williams in 1968 while he was still in high school. At the time, McCasland played summer softball and worked as a Little League umpire.
Not until 1973, as a parks and rec employee, did McCasland get to know Williams, a past chair of the Arizona State Parks Board who had already become an ambassador for softball and Prescott.
From the middle- to late-’60s to the early ’80s, Prescott became the place to play fast-pitch softball. International teams from Canada, New Zealand, Australia, Taiwan and the West Indies, among other countries, visited here to compete.
“He really made fast-pitch go in this town,” said Larry Bender, who scored softball games for Williams for years. “We had a great men’s league here.”
Williams, who brought the first national softball tournament to Prescott in 1978, developed annual invitational fast-pitch tournaments on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day that brought in some of the West’s best teams and a tremendous amount of tourism dollars to Prescott. He also was responsible for bringing the slow-pitch game here in the early 1960s.
“He just loved the game and was absolutely dedicated to it,” McCasland said. “He was a force for softball.”
For years, Williams labored at his East Gurley Street office and at the park seven days a week throughout the summer to ensure that the city’s softball operations went smoothly. He demanded a lot from his staff, too, whether it was maintaining the fields or umpiring.
“We just worked hour upon hour upon hour,” McCasland said. “I didn’t know anything else. It was what you did.”
McCasland, a former fast-pitch softball player, said Williams cared the most about the fans he drew to Ken Lindley Field for summer league games and tournaments. On numerous occasions during night contests in the early ’70s, it was common to see anywhere from 2,000-3,000 spectators, McCasland said, and nobody went home.
“That’s because of A.C. and what A.C. orchestrated,” McCasland said. “When you went to Ken Lindley Field, you’d see members of the city council and the school district, and young people were there.”
Today, the Arizona Softball Hall of Fame has its headquarters inside Grace Sparkes Activity Center, 824 E. Gurley St. – undoubtedly because of Williams’ influence.
Although softball was his first love, Williams also sponsored activities on the courthouse plaza seven days a week.
“With A.C.’s passing, I see an era passing,” McCasland said. “In Prescott, there were people who were unique characters to Prescott – Prescottonians who were Prescott through and through. A.C. was one of those icons.”
Williams’ survivors include his wife of 64-1/2 years, Dell, and his three children, Linda Cates, Vicki Mastriani and Byron Williams.
Funeral services are pending.
ORIGINAL REPORT, 4:33 p.m.:
PRESCOTT – A.C. Williams, former longtime Prescott Parks and Recreation director and beloved state commissioner for the Arizona Amateur Softball Association, died Tuesday in Prescott from complications with diabetes, according to close friends of the family. He was 85.
Williams came to Prescott in the late 1950s and soon built a reputation for the city as the so-called “Softball Capital of the World.” He brought highly competitive national fast-pitch amateur softball tournaments to this area while forging a cooperative relationship between the city schools’ athletic programs and the Parks and Rec Department for use of fields and courts.
Survivors include his wife of 64-1/2 years, Dell, and his three children, Linda Cates, Vicki Mastriani and Byron Williams.
Funeral services are pending.
I had the pleasure to meet A.C. Williams, and speak with him a number of times, during visits with my teams to Prescott, Arizona. He indeed put the town on the fastpitch map. For a number of years, including the late 1980′s, Prescott hosted a big 4th of July tournament, in conjunction with the town’s “Rodeo Days” celebration, which seemed to bring three-fourth’s of the population out to Gurley street, with non-stop traffic cruising back and forth, amidst the celebration, with American flags flying from the back of pick-up trucks, full of young people, and always large crowds standing at street level on Ken Lindley Field (which sits in a bowl below). Those tournaments were as Americana as apple pie – quite literally on the 4th of July. In 1987, we (San Diego Eagles, with future ISC Hall of Famer Alan Rohrbach) made it to the championship game against the Morgan Hill Nine – a team comprised largely of the Santa Rosa Guanella Brothers, and played before a packed house of 1000 or so, with fans lining the fence on Gurley as far as we could see. People stayed because it was too much fun to leave. That was Prescott. That was the environment that A.C. helped create. A.C. passed the baton to folks like Jim McCasland, Don Fishel and Sharon Mitchell. Teams could always count on one thing in Prescott, and that was A.C. Williams-like hospitality. Teams came first, with the folks going out of their way to be sure the teams enjoyed themselves during their stay in Prescott. That was A.C. Williams.