Hailing from the Lone Star State, Gary McGlasson knew what the Spokane Sparx could expect at a summer softball tournament in Houston. Still, the over-50 women’s softball team’s experience at the Summer National Senior Games exceeded all expectations.
The team returned home with the silver medal.
“I kept telling them that it would be hot, I knew that,” the longtime Bowdish Middle School coach said. “When we left, we hadn’t had a day over 65 degrees here. When we got off the airplane, it was 105 degrees and that’s where it stayed the whole time. On top of that, there was 60 percent humidity and we were playing on artificial turf, and that makes it about five degrees hotter on the field.
“I know it helped, but I don’t care if I ever have to drink Gatorade again as long as I live. And even though we’ve been back for a while, I’m only just now getting back to normal. It was tough tournament and the way these women stepped up and played together was one of the most incredible experiences of my life.”
It got a bit overwhelming at first. McGlasson called the atmosphere of the games incredible – with sportsmanship and camaraderie unmatched by anything in his career.
“The way they treated us was exceptional, but the way everyone there – with only a couple exceptions – treated each other was wonderful,” he said.
The artificial turf-covered fields where the softball tournament was staged were aptly named Field of Dreams, infielder Colleen DeWitt said.
“I think it all kind of got to us when we first got there – I don’t think any of us had ever played on a field like that,” she said. “I think it even got to Gary a little because he had to walk out into the outfield by himself there for a few minutes because his emotions got to him a little bit.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen Gary – he’s big and has a long beard and looks like the kind of guy who runs a motorcycle club, which he does. I think everyone was a little touched to see him get choked up a bit.”
In all, the only thing the Sparx could not overcome was the team from Tennessee that captured the gold medal. Spokane beat Serious Fun in the first game of the round robin phase of the tournament, but in the medal round, the Tennessee squad beat Spokane twice on the final day, the final time in the championship game.
“We played 10 games over four days, and that’s a lot of softball for any team to play, let alone under those conditions,” DeWitt said. “We played three games that first day and by the end of the day I got a little heat exhaustion. That’s when I realized I had to do a better job hydrating myself. We had several girls who were injured before we went down there and we’d been nursing them along so that they could play the tournament. Our shortstop got a black eye before the first game and then pulled a hamstring. We had three girls with torn meniscus in their knees and three more got plantar fasciitis.
“We went down there with 16 players and by the final game, I think there were four of us who could still run the bases.”
The team is ready to do it all again in two years when the summer games reconvene in Cleveland.
“We’re going to have to recruit some more players for next time because I think one or two of these girls aren’t going to keep playing,” McGlasson said. “One of them is going to help me coach and I am happy to have her.
“The thing is, we don’t have a league for women over 50. This team plays in a regular league made up of women 18 to 35 or so. In the tournament, every other team was made up of all-stars from a league. We were the only team that was formed the way this one was – with a group of women getting together with the express purpose of going to the national tournament.”
Still, DeWitt said, the Sparx don’t take a backseat to all-stars.
“I think we all have been all-stars in leagues we’ve played in,” she said. “I’m almost 60 and when I go out to play with a group of younger players, they always ask me to join their team. I think that’s true for all of us.
“The age range for this team runs from 50 to about 64 or 65. The other teams in the tournament were from 50 to 54 because of the way they were formed. Players 55 and over were put in different age groups. And still we held our own.”
The team, DeWitt said, would eventually like to move up to an older age group, but must wait for the youngest teammates to age appropriately.
“We’ll still be playing in the 50 to 54 age group in two years.”
For his part, McGlasson plans to stick around, too.
“My wife works with one of these players and she told me they were looking for a coach,” he said. “I wasn’t all that interested – I thought I was done coaching. I even went to watch them play one night and thought to myself ‘Nah.’ ”
But then, on second look, he started to see a few things he could help with. After that, he says, he was hooked.
“They say there is a big difference between coaching kids and coaching women,” he offered. “But no, there really isn’t.”
“I think the biggest difference Gary brought to us was his ability to help bring up our fundamentals and improve our base game,” DeWitt said.
On its own, the team sets a high standard for fitness. It has a trainer at Oz Fitness who helps the team maintain its core fitness level and several women work out far beyond that level.
“I think some of us may have overtrained,” DeWitt laughed.
In fact, McGlasson said, tournament officials had their own nickname for the Sparx.
“At the start of the tournament we had to tell everyone where Spokane, Washington was,” he said. “By the end of the tournament, they were calling us the Spokane Gun Show because all of these women have great biceps.”