ST. GEORGE – The women’s softball teams California Express and Sho-Me 55-plus have never met, but at the 2012 Huntsman World Senior Games, both were unified in their determination to recover from losing one of their own and continuing along the path to gold.
The members of California Express, an ages 60-plus team, hail from across their state. Though most only see one another when they play at a tournament, they are a very tight-knit group, drawn even closer by the death of their coach and manager, Daretha Canadas, less than a month before the start of this year’s Games.
A lifelong resident of Half Moon Bay, Calif., Canadas originally ran an informal team called A League of Their Own before making the jump into competitive senior softball 14 years ago. During her tenure at the helm of California Express, she was an advocate for the advancement of both women’s and senior softball. Even after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2009, her commitment to her sport never wavered. She attended every tournament, sitting in her car and coaching via cell phone when the weather was too cold for her to stay in the dugout.
Affectionately known as “Dee,” Canadas is remembered by teammates as a determined and firm, yet fair, leader. Her skill as a player was equally remarkable; a strength for hitting deep runs belied by her petite 120-pound frame.
“She held the team together,” said California Express player Barbara Ruzic. “She made the decisions and if you didn’t like it, you could move on.”
Ruzic, previously a 1st and 3rd baseman, was thrown into coaching after Canadas’s death alongside Pam Wimberly. Both saw the Games as a chance to honor their teammate and friend’s legacy by showing all they had learned from her.
California Express charged into the medal round, but halfway through a tough game against the Santa Cruz Blues Breakers, it seemed as though they might not walk away with the gold. During the final inning, however, they staged a remarkable comeback. As onlookers burst into applause, the team rushed into an embrace and finally let some long-suppressed tears fall.
“We felt more bonded than ever and we (gave) our all for Dee,” shortstop Connie Wolver said.
The game was especially emotional for Wolver, as she herself once played with the Blues Breakers. She said that regardless of who came out on top, she was thrilled for her friends on both sides.
Once the players collected themselves, California Express gathered to receive their medals. In their official photograph, all pointed heavenward in one final tribute to Canadas.
“This was a true team effort,” Wimberly said.
As was her final wish, a high school softball scholarship has been set up in Daretha Canadas’s name. Donations can be sent to: Daretha Canadas Scholarship at Wells Fargo Bank, 132 San Mateo Road, Half Moon Bay, Calif. 94019.
For the members of Sho-Me 55-plus, the sudden loss of coach and manager Jean Corrigan was as inspirational as it was tragic.
Sho-Me, based in St. Louis, Mo., was Corrigan’s brainchild. Originally a single team called The Flashbacks, her skills as a recruiter and manager drew enough players to fill all of : 50-plus, 55-plus and 60-plus teams. She created the Sho-Me Softball Organization in 2007 to connect athletes and better senior softball across the state. She also arranged fundraisers for players who could not afford gear and travel expenses.
Corrigan had long struggled with the autoimmune disease scleroderma, but nothing could have prepared those close to her for the news of her passing. She died of heart failure on Oct. 5, 2012, while driving to the Games, a testament to her unfailing dedication to Sho-Me.
Teammates remember Corrigan as being equally devoted to her family. Married for more than 40 years, she introduced her daughter to softball and helped propel her towards a career playing in college. She had recently welcomed her first grandchild and was enjoying every minute of the experience. She was a sharp businesswoman who kept her team in line.
“Jean probably knew the game better than anybody,” short center Kathy Lord said.
The impact Corrigan left on both her team and her sport was unmistakable when Sho-Me arrived at the Games. Nearly every team in their age division had a kind word to offer; they received a sympathy card with dozens of signatures from friends and competitors alike. And though they mourned, the members of Sho-Me were determined to play better than ever to honor her.
They took the silver, their best finish in many tournaments.
“We’re proud of our play and what we accomplished,” substitute Jill Smith said. “We did it for her.”
Both teams have returned home, but their show of determination and triumph through tragedy will remain in the memory of St. George softball fans long after the Games come to a close.
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