By Sue Botos
Cleveland sports fans can relate to the term “building year” as their favorite team tries to put the pieces together for a winning season. The Kenilworth women’s softball team is no different, having spent the past several years assembling a squad for the National Senior Games, which are being hosted by the city of Cleveland July 19-27.
“It was a long process, but we made it,” said team coordinator Ann Zubricky-Kocur, of Rocky River, as she recalled the approximate four-year process of putting together the squad of women, age 50 and over, which will represent the Cleveland area at the games.
Over 10,000 athletes ranging in age from 50 to over 100, from across the U.S. and Canada, are expected to compete in the 14th National Senior Games. There will be 19 sports featured, including archery, cycling, track and field and triathlon. In addition to softball for men and women, there will be team competition in basketball and volleyball. Started in 1987 in St. Louis, Mo., the games are held biannually. Winter games were added in 2000.
A total of 19 teams, including two others from Ohio, will compete in the “50 plus” age group for women’s softball. Another Ohio squad will play in the “55 plus” group, and there is also a category for “60 plus.”
Zubricky-Kocur laughed when asked if she was the team organizer. “That’s exactly what I call myself,” she said. Having played softball for over 40 years, Zubricky-Kocur, a shortstop and infielder, decided several years ago to put together a team for the senior games.
“I called people I knew 25 years ago, but some didn’t want to play – there was that ‘age thing.’ It was hard to find people over 50,” she recalled, adding that family and work schedules kept others away.
It was a lot of networking and “word of mouth” that brought together the group, which qualified for the games during a tournament in Parma last year. One of those players who got the word was Rockport Assisted and Independent Living’s marketing director, Kitty Kadus.
Kadus, 57, said that she played on a team until she was 40, but hadn’t been a regular player in 10 years, when she ran into a friend who knew Zubricky-Kocur. After hearing about the team, Kadus decided to dig out her mitt.
“You have such a passion for the game, but you have to start relearning it,” Kadus said, adding that those who have not played in a while have to adapt their style to accommodate age-related issues.
After finding players, Zubricky-Kocur’s next task was securing sponsors. Since local watering holes often back softball teams, the combination of the Kenilworth Tavern in Lakewood and Rockport seemed to be a logical one. “When we first decided to go to the games, we went to (Kenilworth’s owner) and asked, ‘Would you buy our shirts?’” recalled Zubricky-Kocur. She added that Rockport donated funds for the squad’s entrance fee.
While there are no official leagues for older women, both Kadus and Zubricky-Kocur play on a Tuesday night “pick-up” league for women over 45 in Eucild, where players are assigned to a team and play on the same day. The Kenilworth squad plays in various tournaments and qualified for the senior games by winning a match in Parma last year at James Day Park, which will be a site for senior games softball. Other contests will take place at Volunteer Park in Strongsville.
“It’s amazing how some of the girls have kept focused all these years,” said Kadus, who said she was a member of the Raney Tire championship team when she was 19. “I’m a little nervous. When you’re younger, you just go out and play. Now, I want to walk away with good memories.”
Kadus added that support will come from some special fans, as Rockport residents plan to attend a game.
Zubricky-Kocur said that Kenilworth will start the senior games on July 20 facing a tough opponent, a team from Washington state, which came in second at the last games. “If nothing else, it will be a good experience,” she added.
SIDEBAR: National Senior Games softball games will take place at James Day Park, 11828 W. Pleasant Valley Road in Parma, and Volunteer Park, 21500 Lunn Road in Strongsville. The events are free and open to the public. Visit www.nsga.com/nationalgames.aspx for more information.