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Former Oklahoman reporter Ray Soldan, who was state's premier sports historian, dies at 91

Ray Soldan, pictured in 1993, wrote about Oklahoma sports for half a century and chronicled its history for longer than that. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]
Ray Soldan, pictured in 1993, wrote about Oklahoma sports for half a century and chronicled its history for longer than that. [OKLAHOMAN ARCHIVES]

Ray Soldan, who for more than half a century covered sports for The Oklahoman and is considered the state’s premier sports historian, died Tuesday at age 91.

Soldan, a 1994 inductee into the Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame, retired from The Oklahoman in 1985 after 33 years but spent the following two decades continuing to write for the newspaper but also chronicling the state’s sports history.

Much of Oklahoma’s high school sports history would have been lost without Soldan’s peerless efforts. The records Soldan researched go back to 1919.

“You think of the cliches, the walking encyclopedia and the term legendary, they all really applied to Ray,” said former Oklahoma City mayor Mick Cornett, who grew up in Oklahoma City reading Soldan in The Oklahoman.

“He was a person with the credibility to tell me that Wes Welker was the greatest high school football player in state history. When he said it, it meant a lot more than me or my other brother saying it.”

Soldan was born Sept. 18, 1929, in Manhattan, Kansas. He was raised in Salina, Kansas, and knew at an early age he wanted to be a sportswriter.

Soldan covered high school sports at The Oklahoman from 1952-65 and again from 1975-85. From 1965-75, Soldan covered college sports and is believed to be one of only two writers nationally who covered all three of the showdowns dubbed “Game of the Century” — Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966, Texas-Arkansas in 1969 and OU-Nebraska in 1971. Soldan also covered the 1968 Olympics and two NCAA Final Fours.

But high school sports were his passion. At his own request, Soldan returned to the scholastic level, where he had established the first rankings for high school football, basketball and track.

“He set the standard for high school sports,” said Van Shea Iven, media relations director for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association, who himself spent many years covering the high school sports scene. “If anyone ever needed any information, as far as records or stats or history, there was only one person to go to, and that was him.”

The OSSAA honored Soldan as recently as March during the state basketball tournament.

“He wasn’t the most outgoing person, but you could always tell when he was in his element, and that was the high school sports scene,” Iven said.

In 1959, Soldan was the inaugural winner of the Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year Award.

Soldan was preceded in death by his wife, LeClaire. He traveled extensively, making all 50 states and six of the seven continents (all but Antarctica). Soldan is survived by his four children: Tim, Nannette, Angela and Penny. Penny Soldan followed her father as a sportswriter at The Oklahoman.

Berry Tramel

Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,... Read more ›