Being 70 years old and able to play slow-pitch softball is an achievement. Winning the 70s portion of the Tom Williams Memorial Tri-Cities Classic is something to cheer about.
The Georgia Classics out of Lawrenceville, Ga., outscored Fairfax, Va.’s Hamel Cavaliers 27-25 to take first place in the tournament, held annually at Winged Deer Park in honor of Tom Williams, one of the organizers of the Softball Players Association for seniors.
Placing in the top spot was never a sure bet for the Classics, just one of the 16 teams that faced fatigue and hot temperatures Saturday.
“In senior softball, it’s all about who’s got the hot hand at the moment,” Georgia Classics Manager Harry Harrison said. “What team is hitting? What team is not making too many errors? How hot is it? We’re all in our 70s so sometimes this heat takes its toll.”
The Cavaliers may have lost first place, but they did record a 17-6 win over the Classics in pool play Friday. They faced off early Saturday, too, which is when the Georgia team tallied a 13-3 victory. Before their third meeting for the championship, Harrison seemed confident, but a little unsure.
“Anything can happen. We’ve played this team enough to know that it’s give and take. When two pretty good teams play it’s a toss-up.”
The seniors are competitive and take their games seriously, but the first thing any of them talk about is how much fun it is to meet fellow players and travel to tournaments. The Tri-Cities 70s had a home-field advantage, but say they always have a good crowd wherever they go.
“We have a good cheering section,” said Tom Sells, coach of the Tri-Cities 70s. “The wives follow us religiously. They know the good places to eat and if we start losing, they say ‘We’re going shopping’ so that’s an extra incentive to play hard.”
The Cavaliers do a lot of traveling as well. Manager Chuck Bailey says the team plays about 100 games each year, but it’s something they love.
“I’ve been playing ball since I was 6 years old,” he said. “I’m 71 years old now, so that tells you I’ve been playing for 65 years. I’m not tired of it yet.”
Another 70s team, the Georgia Nuggets, has been playing together for seven years. They’ve been coming to the classic for the last five years and part of the group recently moved from the 65s to the 70s league. They travel throughout the Southeast during the summer months and even make it out to Utah in November.
“We play for the fun, the exercise and the enjoyment,” said Georgia Nuggets player Stan Yarbrough. “We get old and we have to get something to make us get up and go.”
Within the mix of camaraderie and competition, there also comes a lot of risks.
“Anytime you’re dealing with a bunch of 70-year-olds, there’s always challenges,” Harrison said. “But the biggest challenge I have is keeping people healthy. Injuries take longer to heal and so many things can happen. It’s just life at this age.”
Without all the uncertainty, there wouldn’t be much of a reward. Though the Georgia Classics will go home with a big plaque, all the seniors can be proud of what they accomplished and who they met along the way.
“We all try to win for our teams, but if we don’t we’re still friends,” Yarbrough said. “You do the best you can. If it comes your way, fine, if it don’t, that’s fine, too.”