If victory is sweeter to those who have known defeat, try tasting the nectar after a nearly 10-year wait.
Since 2005, members of the over-50 senior women’s softball team A-1 Auto have played winless in the city of Spokane’s Slow-Pitch Masters League in a men’s over-60 division.
Until July 2. That day, they won 13-11 over the team, White Elephant, then ranked No. 1.
A-1 player Terry Itami recalls feeling momentarily speechless as the celebration kicked into gear, even drawing attention from members of men’s teams playing in adjacent fields, she said.
“Other teams playing came over to thank us,” Itami said. “They were happy it wasn’t them.”
Curly Rousseau, A-1’s coach as of this season, remembers a near pile-on of cheering women.
“I haven’t seen a celebration like that in 30 years of coaching,” he said. Years ago, Rousseau coached Central Valley High School girls’ softball, and American Legion teams, among others. Now, many of the women he’s working with are older than 60, with the eldest turning 70 this year.
For the banner game at Franklin Park, the women went to bat in the last inning trailing by one.
“We had a runner on second, and that runner on second just flew running when someone got a base hit, and that tied the game,” Itami said. Eventually with one out left, the women got other players onto bases, and then safely to home plate with another base hit.
Itami, 64, and teammates Elaine George, 64, and LaDonna Schuster, 67, say they keep playing for the love of the game.
Several players also are trying to qualify for the National Senior Games, and playing in the city men’s league, as well as in an August tournament, gives them a chance to do so. The city league hasn’t had enough over-50 female players to form other senior women’s teams, Schuster said.
The group hopes the win will inspire other women to join them, perhaps for a full senior women’s league.
“We need to get those ladies back in the game,” Schuster said. Ideally, the goal is to have at least four senior women’s teams of roughly 15 players per team, although only 11 play on the field.
George said A-1 always invites any over-50 player, even inexperienced ones.
“We have one lady who started when she was 66 years old two years ago,” George said. “She had never touched a bat before. All she says now is, ‘Why didn’t I start earlier?’ ”
This year, Schuster said she’s noticed a shift of more players going to practices, and working at new skills they’re learning from Rousseau. Itami met Rousseau last year, and asked him if he’d coach them.
“We’re more competitive this year,” Schuster said. “We’re a completely different team.”
About two-thirds of the A-1 members also play on a county team, Ageless, which has all ages of female players, including a few younger than 40. Ageless plays solely against other women’s softball teams of multiple-age players, except for one other over-50 team in the county league, the Spokane Sparx.
While excited about the July 2 win, Itami said she’s thankful that the men in the city’s over-60 division are inclusive of the A-1 ladies.
“I want the men to know we really appreciate that they let us play with them,” she said. “It gives us a venue we wouldn’t otherwise have.”
The women do get some rule advantages in the men’s league, under terms agreed upon years ago. One is that the men stand behind a 200-foot outfield line until the ball is hit. The ladies also start innings at bat with a runner on second, and they get one extra fielder.
George said senior recreation softball normally has a five-run rule for all teams, meaning an inning ends after the team at bat gets five runs, but the women can keep scoring until the third out.
“Some of the men are saying we’re getting better each year,” Schuster said. “We know other women are out there who would love to play.”