“It is intended that this series become the premier high school all-star baseball classic in the country. Through the efforts and dedication of the coaches responsible for this classic event, it should become a reality.” Gordon Morgan, Founder – Sunbelt Classic Tournament, 1977-2004.
“No one loved high school baseball more than Gordon Morgan,” said Katie Morgan, daughter. At the time of his death in 2005, Morgan was maintaining the History of Oklahoma High School baseball records from the early 1900’s to 2005. For Morgan it was a labor of love. The Sunbelt was never about money or fame. It was simply based on integrity, passion for the game and the hope of lasting friendships. In 1976, Morgan flew to Portland, Oregon for the High School Coaches Baseball Association Conference. While there, a famous California high school coach named Al Endriss spoke and boasted that his California high school all-star team had beaten everyone from Hawaii to Japan. After listening to his speech, Morgan asked Endriss if he wanted to play the Oklahoma all-star team. There wasn’t one at the time, but Morgan believed that Oklahoma truly was the powerhouse for unrivaled talent. He believed it so much that he created the Oklahoma-California Series in 1977. This was a year round endeavor that began the day he flew home from Portland. Morgan worked relentlessly on finding the right location, the right support, team and coaches, all while teaching and coaching at Will Rogers High School in Tulsa. The coaches he selected for the series came in one month before the tournament and included John Schwartz, Don Phillips and Gene Hart. Al Endriss was only present for the 1977 series. Schwartz remained involved with the Senior Sunbelt in various positions through 2009. Bob Taylor, another familiar Sunbelt Committee member stayed on board until his passing in 2009. By 1989, there was no denying the success and talent the tournament produced. Morgan knew that it was time to expand and personally sought out the Florida Baseball Coaches Association and thus, the Sunbelt Classic was born. Over the years, Morgan contacted Baseball Coaches Associations from Maryland, Georgia, Ohio, Texas and Arizona. By 1999 the 8-team field was set and remained intact until a funding cut to Team California in 2004 thus allowing Canada to enter. Florida exited in 2005 which opened the door for a second Oklahoma team for two years. Illinois participated in 2009. In 2003 the Sunbelt Senior Baseball Classic came to Norman after playing in Tulsa, Stillwater, Shawnee and other cities across the state. However, its years of changing venues came to an end as the community embraced the tournament and became its permanent home. The Sunbelt Classic is a name that is prominently recognized in baseball circles. The caliber of talent is top-notch with many participants going to Division I universities, the NCAA College World Series and the "big leagues." Some of its greats include Johnny Damon, Randy Johnson, J. D. Drew, John Rocker, Mickey Tettleton, Troy Aikman, Norman's own John Russell and many more. With the addition of Team Arkansas and an ever-growing talent pool in the U.S. and Canada, the tournament shows no signs of going away anytime soon. With a permanent home and a stable foundation The Heartland Baseball Classic (formerly The Sunbelt Classic) has and always will have a rich tradition that deserves to be recognized, and honored. Though the name has changed, the records from the Sunbelt will carry over and certainly will be broken. In 2010, a new chapter begins. Morgan’s dream tournament continues, the only thing that changes is the name. What was formerly the Sunbelt Classic has now evolved into the Heartland Baseball Classic. In order to ensure a solid and bright future in Norman, Oklahoma, the present tournament committee felt it necessary for a name change. The new name moreover, is to highlight a change in staff and direction, in ideals and principal while maintaining a familiar feel to its original name. The Heartland Classic invites the community to participate in a storied tradition, fraught with rich memories and a continuation of our national past-time with a design that is meant to engage Norman even more in the event than in the past. Thus begins a tournament that is run by volunteers and set on a stage for everyone to enjoy. This is now the communities “Heartland Classic”. “I know for a fact that my father is smiling in heaven right now because your committee saw and embraced exactly what my father saw 33 years ago," said Katie Morgan, daughter of Sunbelt founder, Gordon Morgan. The Heartland Baseball Classic’s Board of Directors unanimously decided that the tournament’s MVP award would be aptly named the “Gordon Morgan, Most Valuable Player Award.”
FROM SUNBELT TO THE HEARTLAND