In June (12-14), two Dallas County residents traveled to Birmingham, Ala. to play in the National Senior Games Championship softball tournament.
Adel resident Tom Spear (76) and Waukee resident Don Stifel (76) were part of the 13-man team, the Iowa Buzzards, that played in the 75 plus division of the tournament. Both have stayed very active in their retirement. Spear began playing senior softball in 2002 and Stifel began in 2009. Stifel also competes in the Senior Games distance bicycle races.
Teams from all over the country traveled to Birmingham to play in the tournament. In the 75 plus division, there were six teams; Texas, Florida, Tennessee, New Jersey, Alabama and, of course, Iowa.
This isn’t the Buzzards first time playing. Since the founding of their team in 2014, they have annually played in senior softball tournaments around the country with one goal in mind: to be competitive at the championships.
The National Championships are held every two years in a different city. In the Senior Games’ 30-year history, the Buzzards were the first Iowa softball team to win first place in their age division.
“When we had gone, we hadn’t anticipated doing as well as we did, because we knew we were up against some really tough teams,” said Stifel. “We were very focused and played seamlessly as a team and could almost read each other’s minds. I believe, we played, not totally error free ball, but close to it.”
Of the eight total games the Buzzards played, they had played two against the Tennessee Legends leading up to the Championship; one win, one loss. When the two teams went head-to-head in the championship, the Buzzards came out with a 13-9 victory and the National Senior Games Championship title.
The Legends were led by former Detroit Tigers’ second baseman, Jake Brown, who played in the 1960s. It is not uncommon for these athletes to have also been competitive athletes in the past.
“The guys on the team [the Buzzards], some of them were baseball coaches through high school, some of them played in little league, some of them played all their lives, some of them played in college,” said Stifel. “Our pitcher, I think, he played in Triple-A ball or Semi-Pro ball.”
Each athlete also has their own reasons to continue to play.
“We all still play and enjoy Senior Softball for a variety of reasons, it forces us to stay in shape, the fellowship and being on a team, we still like to compete and even at our advanced ages it is still fun to play ball,” said Spear.
The 2019 National Senior Games will be held in Albuquerque, N.M. and the Buzzards are are already planning to defend their championship title.