September 22, 2013

Boyd, 77, still on the softball field

Devin Golden
devingolden@daltoncitizen.com

— Helen Boyd isn’t exactly sure when her last home run was, but she doesn’t think it was in this century.

All those years later, though, she’s still swinging for the fences.

The Dalton resident celebrated her 77th birthday Tuesday and two days later played for the Freedom Spirit of Florida slow-pitch softball team in the Softball Players Association World Champion-ships held at Heritage Point Park. The tournament concludes today.

Boyd’s team — consisting of women all at least 75 years old — won two of three pool play games through Thursday and Friday morning and the first in bracket play Friday afternoon for the 70-75-and-older age group, which includes five teams. Because of inclement weather, no games were played on Saturday.

Originally from Maryland, Boyd met her teammates when she lived in Florida. She moved to Dalton with her daughter and her daughter’s family, but stayed in contact with her softball friends through the years and travels with them to a handful tournaments a year.

“It becomes a social event for us to catch up,” Boyd said. “We all love the game of softball, and we’ve been playing for a long time.”

With this one in Dalton, she didn’t have to go far for the tournament, and her family is able to watch the spectacle.

“They’re good. They just move a little slower,” said Cyndee Boyd, Helen’s daughter. “When they come to town, I usually have them all over for dinner to socialize.”

Boyd may be pretty good, but she lost her power somewhere around age 63.

“I haven’t hit one since I was playing with the old men,” Boyd said. “That was probably 1999.”

The SPA World Champion-ships, which have taken place in Dalton for seven consecutive years, are a three-week event with different age groups starting pool play on Thursday and crowning a champion by Sunday.

Men play for the first two weekends and include 50-and-older, 55-and-older, 60-and-older, 65-and-older, 70-and-older, 75-and-older and 80-and-older age groups with around 100 teams total.

Women play in the final weekend and include around 50 teams total in the same age divisions as the men, except with 35-and-older, 40-and-older and 45-and-older brackets, plus the 70-and-older and 75-and-older groups combined. The women also don’t have an 80-and-older division.

“Senior softball is the fastest-growing softball in the country,” SPA executive director Ridge Hooks said. “Younger softball really has taken a hit. I had someone from the 80-and-older men’s division hit a home run. We have these fences we put in. After he hit it, he wanted to buy the piece of the fence where the ball went over. It’s a lot of fun to watch all of these people come from all over the world and play, no matter their age, just because they love the sport.”

In Freedom Spirit of Florida’s division, all players must be at least 70 years old. If a 75-and-older team plays a 70-plus team, the older squad automatically receives five runs.

“In the first inning, we get one run,” Boyd said. “In the second inning, we get another. It’s the same for the third inning, and then in the fourth inning, we get two.”

Boyd admitted many people are surprised when she says she plays slow-pitch softball.

That doesn’t mean she isn’t good enough.

In the final pool play game, a 15-6 win for the Freedom Spirit, Boyd played pitcher in the final inning and started the game-ending double play.

For Boyd, this is about continuing to play a sport she has grown to love over the past 42 years.

“It’s fun competition for us,” Boyd said. “We are out here to have fun, but we want to win, as everyone does.”

And her teammates share the reasoning for making the trek from as far as Largo, Fla., where 83-year-old shortstop Ethel Lehmann is from.

“Most of us are grandmas and some of us are great grandmas,” Lehmann said. “We just love the game of softball. You never know from one day to the next how our health will go. So we usually like playing in five to six tournaments a year.”