Players in Brunswick County Senior Softball League Redefine Age
On a crisp, early spring morning, the Brunswick Bombers take on Ocean Ridge at Shallotte District Park. For this season opener, the dirt on the field is newly groomed, the white lines are freshly drawn and the crack of balls hitting bats fills the air. From their dugouts, players from both teams joke and trade insults in jest. A group of men ranging in age from 50 to 70-plus cheer on the batter up. But these men didn’t come as spectators — they are the players.
Every Tuesday morning from April through June and then again from September through November, nearly 150 players on eight different teams make up the Brunswick County Senior Softball League (BCSSL) and prove that age is just a number.
Since its inception in 1996, this two-season program has grown in popularity among area seniors. The league began 22 years ago with five members — not even enough players to make a team — and has now expanded to eight teams. Each team is made up of approximately 20 players per team. Teams play doubleheaders — two 7-inning games — each week, and each season ends with a league tournament. The league has a single, simple philosophy: Have fun, meet new people and get some exercise.
On opening day everybody is enthusiastic, says Tony Calise, commissioner of the league as well as a player for the Brunswick Bombers. You can hear Calise offer up words of encouragement like “way to be guys” or give advice for a better grip on the bat. The age bracket might be higher, but the spirit is still there.
And this might be a senior recreation league, but these players have game. Most of them can hit a line drive. Many of them can hit a home run. The infielders and outfielders have good eyes. Maybe some can’t run like they used to, but make no mistake, they can play hard.
All skill levels are welcomed. Calise encourages anyone to come try it. “It’s helpful if you have had previous experience playing, but not a requirement,” he says. “We’ll size your skills up and put you on a team so all the teams are balanced.” So that the games don’t become too one-sided, the league has implemented a five-run maximum limit for each inning until the last frame.
Being at least 50 years old and bringing a glove are about the only requirements of the league. But Calise is quick to include that participants have to be a team player. “If you’re not, then this isn’t the game for you,” he says. The players in the league have become friends, on and off the field. “We support each other and compliment each other,” Calise says.
BCSSL attracts players from all across Brunswick County and into South Carolina. Ron Dohanish makes the drive for practices and games from Longs, South Carolina. Dohanish is the manager, coach, score keeper and sometimes pitcher for the Brunswick Bombers. He even designed their jerseys. On how he got involved, Dohanish says, “Some friends asked me to join about six years ago, and I’ve been here ever since.” He appreciates that the season has started again. “It’s nice to be back after the long layoff.”
The same is true for David Low, 66. “The first couple of games of the season are a little more difficult because we’ve been sitting around all winter,” he says. Low has been playing softball since the early 1970s. He got involved with BCSSL after a golf partner told him about it.
According to Low, there are still teams looking to fill spots. “You don’t have to be what you were 30 years ago to play,” he says. Low recalls the first game he played with the league when “I took off running for first base and landed flat on my face.” No worries, he says. “It’s all part of the fun.”
Recreation sports like BCSSL are helping to redefine what it means to be a senior in the community. Of course, exercise is vital for keeping the body and mind healthy, but these silver softballers are also motivated by camaraderie and a competitive spirit.
Tommy Boggs is just getting started in his senior years. At age 60, the Oak Island resident thought joining BCSSL would be a great way to make new friends after relocating to the area. “I saw an article in the newspaper about the league and thought I’d give it a try,” he says. “I hadn’t played ball in 15 years but I came out and watched a game and I’ve been with them for two years now.”
Although the main goal is for everybody to be active and have a great time, the players do still enjoy the competitive nature of the sport. Larry Long, 65, of Calabash admits he had to give up playing ball with the younger guys but feels he’s found his niche. “I love this team. It has been a great way to make a lot of friends,” he says.
Long got the 2018 BCSSL season started with a bang, when he hit the first outside-the-fence home run in the game. A strong hitter, he’s good for approximately 100 home runs during a season. He also plays with Reality Check, a traveling softball club from Charlotte. He typically plays twice a month and travels all over the country with them.
Low urges anyone who’s interested in playing to attend a practice in Shallotte. “So all of you guys sitting at home, come watch a game and see if you wouldn’t love it.” Boggs adds that “If you get on base but aren’t quite sure you’re up to making the trip home, you can have a runner run the bases for you.”
After some pulled hamstrings, sore muscles, arthritis pain and maybe a bruise or two, the Brunswick Bombers defeated Ocean Ridge in both games in this season opener. But there’s always next Tuesday.
Want to play with the Brunswick County Senior Softball League?
For more information about the league, call Tony Calise at (910) 367-1529. Or stop by Shallotte District Park at 5550 Main Street in Shallotte on Tuesdays at 9:15 a.m. to watch a game.