By Larry Hightower
Photos from Kansas city Metro Senior Softball League
The batter drives a shot down the left field line. He rounds first and considers going for second, but the left fielder gets to the ball and makes a strong throw to the cutoff. This play could describe Royals action, or that of the Monarchs, or at any level of competition from college and high school down to T-ball. What makes this different is that it is slow pitch softball played by men and women who are members of the Kansas City Metro Senior Softball League (KCMSSL) where the batters and fielders may be in their sixties, seventies, eighties and older.
The league has grown from humble beginnings in 1989 to now being the largest member-based senior softball league in the country (according to Senior Softball USA).The league began when area resident, Wes Weddle read an article about senior softball in the American Association of Retired Persons magazine. The article included contact information for Senior Softball USA and Weddle took the initiative to contact the league to learn more. Weddle followed up by contacting Bill Richardson, with the Kansas City Star, who wrote an article about the possibility of starting a senior softball league. The league that started with a small nucleus around Weddle’s kitchen table has grown since 1990 to the current membership of 976 men and women. In annual tribute to him, the league hosts an annual regional tournament, the Wes Weddle Classic. Additionally, a players from each conference who follows his creed of sportsmanship and respect for teammates, opponents and umpires is selected for the prestigious Wes Weddle Award.
Although action is winding down on the league’s 31st season, league play included games in 24 conferences, including men’s, women’s and co-ed. There were 89 teams (73 men’s, 11 women’s and 5 co-eds) ranging from draft league teams, to locally and regionally competitive teams, to teams that have appeared in and won major national tournaments. In 2019, an area women’s team, 50 Caliber, won the 50+ World Masters Championship in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not to be outdone, the KC Kids, a metro area team, brought home gold as the Men’s World Masters 65+ Champions.
There are conferences for players at all skill levels with the most options being in conferences that have the most players. Competitive conferences start with players as young as 35 and 40, and go up through all age brackets. There are draft leagues for 50 plus, 60 plus and 70 plus. The only requirements to play are joining the league and paying nominal conference fees. Venues are spread around the metro area with games played at Black Bob Park in Olathe, Independence Athletic Center, Roe Park and Heritage Park in Overland Park, and Hartman Park in Lee’s Summit.
This year saw a milestone with its first league member turning 90. Dick Skinner still plays a solid game; in the field, at the plate and on the base paths. There are enough players ages 80 and up, to allow them to form a traveling team to compete in regional and national tournaments. Not counting Skinner, there are 27 players ages 80 and older, with seven players aged 85 and older.
The homepage of the league website (kcseniorsoftball.org) features a quote by George Bernard Shaw. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” As people approach or hit retirement age they are faced with a number of choices. They could choose to retire to the rocking chair, but as the saying goes, “if you rest, you rust.” A healthier choice is to be physically active. Recreational sports boosts confidence, stamina and frequently inspires senior athletes to further trim and tone to enhance existing skills.
“Aside for the COVID drop in membership in 2020, we have gained membership every year,” says KCMSSL President, Clint Berger. “Back in 2012 we had 650 members. We now have 976 men and women playing—50% more. We look forward to having more than 1,000 members in 2022.” Men and women interested in starting their own team, or joining an existing conference next spring can find additional information at kcseniorsoftball.org.