Whether it’s competitive nature, for love of the game or just a way to stay active by getting out of the house for a couple of hours a few days a week, the Wilmington Senior Softball Association (WSSA) heads into its 21st season this month.
After weeks of training and tryouts, managers from the Coastal Division met at New Hanover County Library on Wednesday for the league’s annual draft. Players looking to participate this year – all at least 55 years old – worked out at Ogden Park through the month of March, trying to earn a spot on one of six teams leading into the year.
Despite their years, players still exhibit Little League-style frustration after making a mistake in the field, and exhilaration while cheering on their teammate at the plate. Once these players get back in between the lines, some things really don’t change.
Founded in 1995 by Phil Rose, who passed away this past year, WSSA has grown from just a bunch of guys getting together to scrimmage teams from Brunswick County to a league with three divisions whose members range from 55 years old to four men in their 80s. The 60-game schedule begins in April, with an all-star team already setting their sights on Raleigh as they represent the area in the North Carolina Senior State Games.
Rose was a former minor league ballplayer with the Pirates and a retired New York policeman and detective. WSSA has come a long way from when he was distributing flyers around town to spark interest to now having upwards of 160 players and three separate divisions.
The Atlantic Division features four teams between 55-65 years of age for the “guys who can still swing it,” as one player noted. It’s such a competitive league another player after a recent scrimmage didn’t want to comment to a reporter because it was “too early in the season to be talking to the media” after he came back into the dugout from rounding third and crossing home plate.
Managers from the Coastal Division (65 and older) picked five players to their roster and drafted the rest of their respective teams, which total between 14-15 players per club. Those coaches were out with their clipboards during tryouts as players wore numbers on their jerseys as a way to be recognized during training and batting practice.
New to WSSA this season is the Legacy division. Because of the overwhelming growth the association has seen, league members thought the Legacy Division should be created to allow players in their 80s to participate in a less competitive environment along with those who were not selected from the pool during Wednesday’s draft.
“The 60-game schedule runs April-September, with games on Tuesdays and Thursdays across New Hanover County,” said Ken Denne, 79, a Wilmington Senior Softball Hall of Famer. “The Coastal Division plays at Ogden Park and Empie Park. The Atlantic Division plays their games on the bigger softball fields at Olsen Park.”
Most of the rules are similar to high arc softball, although there are two bags at first base to give room for the fielder and runner, with a second home plate used by the runner to avoid collisions.
One of the league’s original members, Lou Cardimone, is such a die-hard player and fan he recently took a trip to Port St. Lucia, Florida where he took part in the New York Mets’ fantasy camp during spring training. During a recent workout, Cardimone was moving in the outfield, chasing down fly balls and line outs with the best of the team during batting practice.
“It’s something to do and I’ve enjoyed it for a while now,” Denne added. “It’s a fun league and by nature, gets competitive. The league has come a long way to now having three divisions. We’ll have teams go to Raleigh for state games and we’ve been successful there in the past. A lot of the guys are out here to have fun. They’ll play nine holes of golf in the morning, then come out here for softball, but we have the tryouts in March so others can get into shape moving into the long season.”
You can also still see Richie Price out on the ball field as one of the founding fathers of WSSA. While Denne has given up his team in the Coastal Division, he still plans to help the Legacy Division get off the ground.
The league inducts new members into its Hall of Fame each year, with four criteria to be considered for the Hall of Fame: at least 10 years in the Wilmington Senior Softball League, playing ability, leadership and character.
Follow the Wilmington Senior Softball Association at www.wilmingtonseniorsoftball.net.