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Softball: Senior league grooming for a new year

Contributed • Updated Feb 21, 2018 at 6:24 PM

Last year, there were over 14 million men age 70 and over in the United States. That age bracket is now the fastest segment you’ll find playing senior softball around the country.

Some of those men can be found at Johnson City’s Winged Deer Park on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings all spring and summer. The Tri-Cities Senior Softball League has about 65 senior men ages 60 to 84 playing a game they loved in their youth, but playing it now with some pain, loss of motion and through the many ailments common to aging.

“We have players who have had stroke, heart attacks, cancer, knee replacement, shoulder or cataract surgery and a host of other issues,” league director Charlie Mattioli said. “It’s amazing to see so many playing through all those concerns and doing it with joy and grace.

“For so many, the fun, fitness and fellowship that is the motto for our league is extremely important for the healthy, active life they want to preserve. All are extremely grateful for still being able to be out there hitting, fielding, and enjoying the sport.”

The first baby boomers born in 1946 began crossing into that bracket two year ago now, and more of them will be doing it in the years to come. Yes, grandpas and great-grandpas are still holding on as boys of summer: batting, running bases, chasing balls, making plays and enjoying the friendly banter of the game.

An estimated 393,000 Americans over age 55 regularly play slow-pitch softball, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Last year, in the Las Vegas Tournament organized by Senior Softball USA, there were six teams 83 and over competing in their own bracket.

Two decades ago, the highest bracket was 70-plus. Dr. James Kirkland of the Mayo Clinic’s Kogod Center on Aging credits medical care that allows more people to survive heart attacks, cancer, and strokes.

Senior softball has special rules that allow for participation at all skill levels. Many of its rules are meant to avoid unnecessary collisions and provide generous substitution while improving everyone’s physical conditioning.

The Tri-Cities Senior Softball League’s new season begins in March, and registration is underway. The league’s free winter conditioning began Feb. 1, and will continue every Tuesday and Thursday from 9-9:50 a.m. at the Johnson City Senior Center (510 Bert St.) until the season starts.

“We are very fortunate to have two great sponsors who make all this possible,” said Mattioli, referring to Heart and Soul of Mountain State Health Alliance and Johnson City Senior Services.

The Johnson City Parks and Recreation Department, added Mattioli, “has been wonderful in providing first-class fields to play on.”

Beyond regular-league activity, age bracket teams play in regional competition with other senior teams and participate in association-sanctioned senior men’s tournaments in the Southeast.

Further information is provided online at www.tricitiesseniorsoftball.com “Fun fitness and fellowship”, and registration forms are available at area senior centers or by calling Mattioli at 543-1962.

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