When Northern Illinois University's softball complex began a new era as both the home of the Huskies and the IHSA Class AA Tournament, it was perfect timing to dedicate the facility in honor of the "founding mother" of NIU women's athletics - Dr. Mary Bell.
Bell began her association with the university in 1957 and worked as a major mover and shaker in ushering Northern Illinois women's athletics into the forefront.
Bell's coaching experience ran the gamut of sports on the NIU campus. At one time or another, she coached field hockey, basketball, badminton, volleyball, swimming, and softball between the years 1957 and 1976.
Bell Field is the third facility on campus named after a Northern Illinois Athletics Hall of Famer, a tradition which includes George "Chick" Evans Field House (dedicated in 1974) and Ralph McKinzie Baseball Field (1993).
When she was inducted as a member in 1986, Bell was one of the first women in the Hall of Fame, joining her former student-athletes Ruth Fender (1963-66) and Jean Pankonin (1957-61).
The Northern Illinois softball program's original diamond was located near the Anderson Hall physical education complex. The NIU women then moved to the former baseball field when that sport was curtailed in 1982. However, when baseball was reinstated in 1991, the softball program was able to start from scratch and build its current home.
Initially, the new facility consisted of enclosed dugouts, a portable press trailer, and wood bleachers down the first baseline. With each year, an addition here and an improvement there keep the complex in a progressive state.
By 1993, the current raised-aluminum bleacher seating structure behind home plate took its form. The 600-capacity grandstand features an enclosed press box with lights, electricity, and phone lines with radio and television capabilities. The public address system and the scoreboard computer are operated from that space and a reinforced roof serves as a camera deck as well. In addition, a media deck was added above the third-base dugout to create more space during the state tournament and field lighting was added to allow for night games and practices.
Bell Field is considered by many to be one of the best playing facilities in the Midwest. It consists of a regulation field complete with two batting cages, running water, and an infield tarp. In addition, aglime bullpens are available for pitching practice and warm-ups outside each foul line fence. The outfield fence dimensions measure 200 feet down the lines and 220 feet to center field.
NIU played host to the 1994 Mid-Continent Conference Tournament at the facility, while the 1996 Huskies won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference title with the home field advantage. Most recently, Bell Field has been the home of two Mid-American Conference tournaments.