by Ho Hoffman 19. October 2010 10:07

GALLATIN, TENNESSEE – The Maryland Roadrunners “Band of Sisters” rolled through the four team bracket with a 6-0 record to win the SPA National Senior Softball 50 Major championship at Gallatin, Tennessee.

The team, lead by SPA 50 Major Co-Managers of the Year Mary Byrnes and Janet Mitchell were started 11 years ago and today still have sixteen of the original members on the roster.

“The team was started by Maggie Bennett and Tina Hayes when we were allowed to have a few players between 45-and-50 on the 50-year old roster,” Mitchell said. “It just shows how well we get along when we still have 16 originals on the team.”

 They also get along so well, they don’t even have a coach.

“We don’t have a head coach,” Mitchell said. “Delores Grandison volunteered to take care of our travel arrangements, I do the administrative managing and while Mary (Byrnes) and I make out the line-ups together.”

 We also make sure everybody plays in at least half the games. It is important to all of us that everyone has a chance to participate and contribute.” Mitchell added.

The “Band of Sisters” philosophy paid big dividends in Gallatin as they knocked off Jolico 10-7 in the opening round of the double-elimination tournament, followed with a 23-12 win over the Kentucky Fillies and took the title with a 9-2 rematch win over Jolico. 

 Surprisingly the biggest win was the 23-12 extra inning victory over the Fillies. The Roadrunners erupted for eleven runs in the eighth inning, nine after two out. The games with Jolico were typical of the previous encounters between the two rivals.

“Jolico and the Fillies are both excellent teams,” Mitchell said. “The opening win over Jolico was really important because it kept us out of the loser’s bracket.  We always have close contests with Jolico. In an earlier tournament at Pensacola the two of were declared co-champions.”

Rising to the top in the Gallatin tournament and earning the MVP Award was short stop Joyce Kraimer. The smooth fielding infielder was rock solid in the middle and it .700 for lead-off spot in the batting order.

Selected to the All-Tournament team were pitcher Maggie Bennett (3-0,525 BA), Pam Truxal (P/DH .600), Lori Grimm (2b, .600), Tami Maull (C, .750) and Trish Gill (OF, .750). Gill had a number of outfield assists while Maull was like an extra coach on the field with her enthusiasm and directions.

A couple of others who also were very instrumental in the sweep were Byrnes (OF, 600 BA) and Gail Chambers, who had a great tournament with both the glove and the bat.

“We could actually list everybody’s name as contributing to the title,” Mitchell, who hit .600 in the tournament, said. “Because everybody had such a great tournament, it is difficult to single out one or two players when it took all fifteen of us to win the championship. It was truly a team championship.”

 The Roadrunners, although a 50’s team this year, may not be there long.

Four players Maggie Bennett, Patti Martin, Liz Donnel and Linda Frazier are ready to cross over into the 60-age group.

“Our next tournament at Fort Myers we are going to enter as a 55-year young team,” Mitchell said. “Right now we are an old 50’s team and next year we will be a young 55’s squad. We will most likely play a combination of 50’s and 55’s tournaments.’

The girls also do a lot of traveling having played at Pensacola, Columbus (Oh), Raleigh, Gallatin, Huntsman with Fort Myers up next.

“We just love playing softball,” Mitchell said. “Whether it is just practice or games, we just love being together and playing softball.

“The team concept and being together like sisters is the most important thing to us,” Mitchell continued, “Being together and playing softball as a team is the main thing, winning championships is just an added pleasure.”

The Band of Sisters now has a National Championship to prove that point.

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Tournaments | Women


by Ho Hoffman 18. October 2010 13:27

GALLATIN, TENNESSEE – The Maple Leaf took center stage in the finals of the SPA WOMENS 70 Division title as the Ontario Province Sportaculars edged the British Columbia Swingers  10-9 in the championship game.

“People were saying  since you guys are right next to each other you could have played the championship game in Canada instead of coming to Tennessee,” Sportaculars’ manager Sylvia Mergl said. “What they didn’t understand is British Columbia is on the West coast of Canada and we are on the east near Niagara Falls, so we really aren’t next to each other.”

The Sportaculars didn’t just have to beat the Swingers once, it took two wins to put them away.

The Ontario Province team first beat the Tennessee Senior Stars 9-8 in the opening round of the seven team tournament and then beat the Swingers 9-6 in the semi-finals and 10-9 in the finals.

“All our games were close because they were all very good teams,” Mergl said. “All the games went back and forth they (Tennessee and BC) would score and then we would score, everything was decided in the last inning.”

Tight games and tournaments are not new to the Sportaculars team since over the past twenty years they have seen it all. Ironically the very first tournament the team entered as a 50-year young team they won.

Mergl, Adeline Rosmus, Jean Mills, Jackie Crawford, Jeannette Kalynuik and Earlene Fogal are original Sportacular players from their first full year of tournament ball and still going strong.

Over the years they have all won their fair share of tournaments in the 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 age divisions as well as individual recognition.

Both Mergl and Rosmus have received the highest honor SPA can bestow on an individual. Mergl was inducted into the SPA Hall of Fame in 2004 while Rosmus joined the HOF at this year’s Gallatin tournament.

So what keeps a team like the Sportaculars keep playing for over twenty years?

“Our passion for softball and our love of each other,” the SPA 70 Division 2010 Manager of the Year said, “We are motivated to keep in shape during the off season so we will be ready to play in the spring.”

Off season activities for the ladies include indoor tennis, curling, bowling and indoor softball workouts.

Scott Bullett of Bullet Proof indoor training facility in Welland, Ontario has graciously allowed the women to use his facility to keep their game sharp.

Bullett’s off season training sure showed its results at Gallatin as the ladies won their second straight SPA 70 National title.

Earning the MVP award was rover Delsie Clayton, who hit .750 and was also dynamite in the field. Her glove hand and strong arm were instrumental along with  2B Fogal and SS Judy Bolton in turning a number of double plays.

Selected to the all-tournament team were pitcher Barbara Keller (6-0, .600 BA), Rosmus (3B, .813), Mary Cole (RCF, .875), Mary Lynn Patterson (LCF, .750) and Mergl, who moved from the outfield to first base for the tournament.

Other ladies who contributed greatly to the repeat title were Doreen Garrett (LF), Crawford (RF), Mills (C/DH), Marjorie Boyd (C/DH), Kalynuik C/.DH) and Arlene Marshall (1b/C). Coach Dave Keller, with his calm attitude and his knowledge of the game, was  also a big factor in the team’s success.

According to Mergl playing travel ball is a great experience and the players plan their lives around softball tournaments..

“We see so much of the country, both Canada and the US, by playing softball, it is really a great experience,” she said. “It may be a little expensive but it would also be expensive if we were traveling to these places just for a vacation.”

In addition to the titles., the Sportaculars are also very proud of receiving the Sportsmanship Trophy in Phoenix a in 2008 at the SSUSA worlds.

Mergl also has high praise for Judy Lee Schreiber and the SPA Gallatin tournament.

“Judy Lee has put a lot of time and effort into this tournament and it shows,” Mergl said. “This is the best women’s tournament going. We have lots of teams in our division, it is organized, we are kept informed, there is a nice dinner and SPA makes all of us feel welcomed.”

   “SPA runs a great tournament and God willing we will return next year to defend our title”

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Tournaments | Women


by Ho Hoffman 15. October 2010 09:53

GALLATIN, TENNESSEEE -  “Defense is the name of the game,” NY Double Play manager Maryann Bubelnik said, “ You win with defense and timely hitting. If the other team can’t score and you take advantage of your opportunities you should win.”

Bubelnik’s philosophy worked great at Gallatin, Tennessee as her NY Double Play team won the five-team SPA women’s’ 50 AAA National title by going 3-and-0 in the double elimination tournament.

Following a first round bye, the Long Island squad started their championship run with defense by beating  Missouri  Sho-Me 14-2 ; used timely hitting to down LA Sports 15-14 and used the whole package in the title game 24-15 victory over the LA team.

“The first game against LA Sports was the key game,” the NY manager said, “We were ahead going into the top of the seventh but LA Sports rallied and went ahead . Then in the bottom of the seventh we came back.”

Right fielder Pat Klammer  started the comeback with a triple and Tournament MVP Julie Dooney took care of the rest with a home run to win it. 

“That was key for us to win that game and stay out of the loser’s bracket,” Bubelnik said. “Those extra games just wear a team out and that is what happened to LA by the time we played them again in the championship game.”

Dooney had a tournament to write home about. The centerfielder not only hit .524 with double digit RBI’s but sparkled in the field. According to her manager, Dooney “ saved as many or more runs for us with her glove as she scored with her bat.”

Judy Christ (mf/EH .706), Bubelnik (2b/.619), Klammer (.481), Pat Schiller (SS, .524 12 RBI’s) and Carole Tucker were selected to the All-tournament team. Tucker, one of the newest members of the team, pitched all six games (5-1) in pool and tournament play.

“Tucker was phenomenal,” Bubelnik, the SPA women’s’ 50 AAA manager of the Year said. “ She stayed ahead of the hitters, fielded her position and didn’t walk people”

In addition to the All-Tournament players, Double Play had a host of other big-time players.

Leftfielder Debbie Rossano-Cloke (.435), Laura Schiavone (3b, 420) and rookie Diane Zalewski, who was playing in her first major tournament came up with great defensive plays throughout the tournament in addition to supplying key hits. Another valuable commodity was RCF  Penny Zielinski, who did it all with her defense, hitting and running. 

Rounding out the squad were Gail Hamel, Arlene King, Anne DiPrima (coach) and catcher Jane Richards.

DiPrima did a fabulous job helping with the coaching moving players and runners in and out of the game while  Richards was the spark on the field throughout the tournament keeping everyone aware of the situation, where to throw the ball and in general  keeping everyone in the game.

 “I just wish we could have awarded everyone all-tournament status,” Bubelnik said. “Our team is built on teamwork not individual play and glory. Everybody contributed to this tournament win in some special way. I just believe you win as a team not as individuals.”

The current NY Double Play has been doing a lot of winning since being organized three years ago, but they have also been helping to “clone” other Double Play teams.

Started as a 50’s group, Double Play also has  40’s and 60’s teams and maybe soon a 55 group.

“Right now a lot of the girls on our 50’s could play 55 or even 60,” Bubelnik said. “But we want to play in that 50 group as long as we can compete and when we can’t compete then we will think about moving  up.”

This year they  have competed pretty well compiling a 17-5 mark and winning tournaments at Fort Myers, Connecticut and Gallatin in addition to a third at Raleigh.

The Double Play group has come a long way from just a few years ago when they were only playing League ball on the Island and participating in the New York state games.

“We didn’t know senior tournaments existed back then, “ Bubelnik said. “We are just learning about the opportunities open to women softball players and have become addicted to them. Playing in tournaments like the SPA National was just a great experience and one we won’t forget and are definitely looking forward to returning in 2011.”

Bubelnik is also like a proud mother when she talks of the twenty players on the Double Play roster.

“I am so proud of every one of these girls both individually and as a team,” the manager said. “ They are all so dedicated and have such a love of the game it is just a tremendous experience and an honor for me to be part of this group.”

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Tournaments | Women


by Ho Hoffman 14. October 2010 10:23

GALLATIN, TENNESSEE – Florida’s Village Vixens won the SPA 65 Major National senior softball crown in Gallatin, Tennessee but in doing so, they had to beat their next door neighbors the Golden Girls, who are also from the Village.

“That is pretty good and speaks well of the quality of play of the women’s teams from the Village,” Vixen coach Al Mahar said. “The Golden Girls beat us 17-16 in the second round of the double-elimination tournament and we had to come out of the loser’s bracket to beat them twice to win the championship.”

To get to the title game the Vixens edged their “neighbors” 12-11 setting the stage for the “winner take all” final. The champs erupted for seven hits and four runs in the sixth inning to take the title game 9-6.

The Golden Girls probably feel “snake bit” since in their 25 games against the Vixens the past two years they have only beaten them twice.

However, they aren’t the only women’s senior 65 team that feels that way about playing the Vixens. Since being formed two years ago the Village Vixens have gone 65-3 winning tournaments in Gallatin (2), Pensacola (2), Florida TOC, Fort Myers plus a few others.

“I would say we have won 15 of the 17 tournaments we have played in and took second place in the other two,” SPA 65 Major National Manager of the Year Mahar said.

The Vixens came into this year’s Gallatin tournament a little shorthanded with Tiny Cazel (broken wrist), Donna Mahailoff (broken ankle) and Brenda John all sidelined for the event. Despite missing three important members of the team the Vixens were still able to average 15.8 runs (127) in eight games while allowing an average of  7 (59 runs) and hitting at a .555 clip.

“Good hitting makes up for bad coaching and makes me look good,” Mahar said. “Our secret was hitting from top to bottom, with no weak spots in the order. Our bottom of the order hitters are just as lethal as the top of the order,  every inning we have the potential of scoring the maximum five runs.”

Supporting Mahar’s claim about team balance, one only has to notice the Tournament MVP with a batting average of .727 was the 11th hitter in the batting order, Terri Skinner. Skinner also pitched and won seven games in the pool and tournament portions of the event.

All-Tournament players from the Vixens were Jeanne Harrington (.667), Aileen Laing (.704, 17 RBI’s), Linda Landry (.727), Bobbi Crocker (.739) and the president of the “Wendy Whiner’s Club”, Wendy Neff (.759).

“The Wendy Whiner’s Club was formed for those players who dispute my moves,” Mahar joked.

Others who were equally important to the championship run were Darlene Huntsinger (.655), Lee Dragon (15 RBI’s), Rose Muse (17 hits, .607), Karen Clausen (.800 first two games), Bev Morgan (solid tournament both in the field and at the plate), Karen Adams (outstanding defensive play) and speedster Dianna Rhea (.667).

Mahar  is the first to admit running the team is more than a one person job.

“My wife Aileen is like the traveling secretary and handles all the travel arrangements , rooms and such,” Mahar said. “Tommy John is our assistant coach and does a great job for us.”

John ( Brenda),  Mahar (Aileen Laing) and  Tols Mahailoff (Donna)  together are all part of a senior softball  tournament oddity, When the Vixens  (Brenda, Aileen, Donna) won the women’s 65 national TOC title the men also were on championship teams in the same tournament. John played with the 60AAA men’s winner while Tols was on the 60 major plus squad and Alan played for the 65 AAA winners.

The Vixens followed up the Gallatin title with a second place finish at the Huntsman senior games . Next on the squads agenda is the Fort Myers Winter Nationals in February.

“We’ve had a great year so far,” Mahar said, “but I feel the championship in Gallatin was our finest hour. We not only beat the Golden Girls twice but also beat the 65AAA champs Delaware Blue Chicks and west coast champs Arizona Queen Bee’s. Those were some very talented teams.”

“To come out of the loser’s bracket and have to beat your neighbors two times to win the championship is a tough chore,” Mahar added. “The ladies really stepped up their game, it was a great finish and I am proud of every one of them.”

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Tournaments | Women


by DGordon 14. October 2010 10:15

Reprinted from the Daily Citizen Corespondent - with permission

At first glance, the Softball Players Association National Softball Championship at Heritage Point Park this weekend looked like just another group of games played by some really experienced ballplayers.

But look again, and you find people from all different walks of life with one purpose in mind: Serving God and supporting family and community. All while jogging around the bases and trying to hit a gapper to drive in a couple of runs.

Take Bobby Graham of Mustang, Okla., an information officer for the SPA. He describes an incident that is the essence of what the SPA is all about – giving back.

 “Ridge was sitting there reading his Bible in Arby’s ... and a young man was cleaning the floor and noticed,” Graham said. “He was in Bible college there in Oklahoma. He thought it was peculiar that we were sitting there in the restaurant studying our Bibles, so we got to talking and all got together. His father was a missionary in Africa and had passed away from malaria. The boy had to drop out of college to get enough money to go back home. We got in touch with the Bible college and presented him with a $1,000 scholarship. The college, of course, matched it. Now, he has since finished college and is now a missionary in Africa, following in his father’s footsteps. He’s still there today.”

The SPA has given $1,000 scholarships to students at Dalton State College for three consecutive years. On Friday at the start of this weekend’s festivities, the organization presented another scholarship to the school's administration. This is the fourth weekend of games that the SPA has held here. The Major/Major Plus Championship was held in July. This weekend's games were the last to be held in Dalton this year, but the organization hopes to make Dalton a regular stop for years to come even though its plans for next year in the Carpet Capital of the World are up in the air.

Ridge Hooks, executive director of the SPA, said there is a tremendous sense of community within both the organization and amongst the players and enjoys being able to serve and give back. He said he has also been appreciative of a gracious host like Heritage Park and the City of Dalton.

 “It is just a tremendous facility, and it’s a ministry opportunity,” Hooks said. “When I retired from Mars/M&M 10 years ago, I told God before I got involved here (in SPA), ‘take me someplace where You can use me.’”

SPA started a scholarship program 10 years ago for kids attending college. They continued to give over $125,000 over the next decade in scholarship money toward sons and daughters of firemen and policemen who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

Locally, the Dalton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau estimates that the SPA brings in roughly 4,200 visitors who contribute more than $1.7 million to the economy.

The SPA is a national organization which promotes and sponsors senior softball, with ages ranging from 55 to more than 70. It coordinates and sponsors more than 40 national invitational tournaments around the country.

More than 200 teams participate, with more than 400 teams total and nearly 10,000 dedicated players, some of whom have some very high praise for Dalton and its surroundings.

Moman Bates of Hot Springs, Tex., whom the “SPA Umpire Award” is named after, is a big fan of the city. Bates, who has been an ASA, SPA and NSA umpire for 45 years, suffered a heart attack two years ago while attending the tournament here in Dalton.

“I owe a lot to the people at Hamilton Medical Center,” he said. “The people were fantastic. The whole city has opened its arms to us, everywhere we go. We’re blessed to be here and they really take care of us. It’s a magnificent place.”

The teams have enjoyed their time here. The whole community has embraced the teams, from the hotels to local shops and restaurants. Places like the Dalton Depot, the Oakwood Cafe and Outback Steakhouse have really embraced and cared for the players, Hooks said.

Players like Ray Hairston of Baltimore, a cousin of former Chicago White Sox player Jerry Hairston, has been involved with the SPA since 1976. He had nothing but praise for the facility and the city.

 “This is our third year here and we have really enjoyed coming here,” Hairston said. “The first year we came we didn’t know anything about Dalton. The people in the area have been very hospitable. The [people in the] community have thanked us for coming and supporting the city.”

Those stories were repeated by player after player at the complex on Saturday. Barbara Hedge and her husband Rick of Backyard Fiddy-Five Softball Club in Indianapolis, Indiana are appreciative of the park layout. Rick has been playing for 30 years and is a utility player and catcher.

“We play about 50 or 60 games a year and this place has beautiful diamonds,” Barbara Hedge said. “We really like playing here.”

Jim Bunch is from Knoxville and has been in softball for more than 50 years. He was a softball umpire for 18 years and has since been a player. He recalls umpiring an average of 24 games per week until it “got to be too much on the family.” He gave it up until his wife passed away just recently. Ezzard “Big Easy” Bryant and his wife Gail have really enjoyed the Dalton area on their trips, which is their third to the area. They also own “Champ's Classic Barbecue” in Valrico, Fla., and make their own wing sauce.

Hooks, who served in the military, definitely has a heart for his country, and for the ministry he serves. He took pride in showing the awards and plaques that are given out to the tournament winners. Each plaque is adorned with a distinct symbol for America, an eagle, in the middle.

According to its website, the SPA was established in 1992 in Chattanooga, Tenn., by Herb and Yvonne Oliver. During that time there were only two senior softball organizations in America. As the sport grew, there became a need for means to keep the organization intact. There was also a desire for more teams to compete regionally and nationally. The SPA is an organization “driven by players and managers who were looking for new and exciting ways to play the game. One of the SPA goals is to maintain the honesty and integrity of the game. The SPA also wanted to give teams the opportunity to play closer to home. Therefore, consideration was given to geographically rotating its national championships.”

 It is definitely a ministry first and a softball organization second.

“The ministry aspect is very, very important to us,” Hooks said. “We’re very proud of the men and women that are serving our country. We are at war, and men and women are putting their lives on the line every day. We just want to celebrate God but also celebrate our country. It does my heart good to see the reception of the community and also the reception of the players.”

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General | Tournaments

About the Editor

Ho Hoffman of Wadsworth,Ohio is a sports writer for the Medina (Ohio) Gazette daily newspaper. Hoffman also has been playing competitive softball for nearly sixty years and 3,000 games starting in the adult fast pitch leagues as a teenager and continuing through into today's 70's senior division.  

Hoffman for the past twenty years has also been playing on senior softball travel teams. In addition, he along with Red Bole are the tournament directors of the highly successful SPA Ohio Buckeye Classic June senior softball tournament which last year drew 77 teams, in the 50, 55, 60, 65, 70 and 75 AA and AAA only divisions. 

He is also married. He and his wife Sue have three sons who are also active in softball and baseball. The youngest Matt plays adult slo-pitch softball, Mike plays Roy Hobbs 40-and over baseball and Marc is the founder, owner and president of U.S. Baseball Academy, the nation's largest baseball training program.


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