ST. GEORGE – The Huntsman World Senior Games continues to thrive in southern Utah, with nearly 11,000 athletes flocking to Dixie to compete in sports like basketball, pickle ball, lawn bowling, lane bowling, horseshoes and the like. But one sport rises above them all in popularity, and doesn’t show any signs of diminishing.
This year 353 teams, made up of nearly 5,000 players, are suiting up at local fields to play softball. The Canyons Complex off Snow Canyon Parkway is the central hive for the popular sport, but players also take to the diamonds at Little Valley, Bloomington and Santa Clara in 13 different age and gender classifications and several different skill levels.
The draw of softball is undeniable, a non-aerobic sport that is skill-based and relatively easy to get proficient at. But it’s the venue that brings folks to the St. George area.
“This is a great tournament,” said Debbie Kendrick of Mulvayne, Kan. “The scenery is absolutely beautiful and the weather is usually absolutely gorgeous. It’s just a great place to play softball under these red cliffs and mountains.”
Carol Pierce of Tuscaloosa, Ala., a teammate of Kendrick’s, said she tries to participate in all that the Senior Games has to offer.
“I love coming to St. George,” said Pierce, who also won medals in basketball team and skills competitions. “I participate in other sports, too. I might try track next year. This is just a great athletic event. I love to come and compete.”
Kendrick said she even tries to schedule life events around the Huntsman World Senior Games.
“I’ve come here nine years in a row and will keep coming back,” she said. “I have a daughter that’s about to have a baby and they wanted her to schedule her baby to come Friday, but that means I would have missed this week and next week. So she scheduled her baby for Monday so her mama could come and play softball and be in the Senior Games cause she knows it’s pretty important for me to come here.”
That’s music to the ears of Senior Games sports director John “Rosey” Rosander, who spends a lot of time making sure the senior athletes have a good experience at the Huntsman World Senior Games.
“We have about an 80 percent return rate,” he said. “We have six people that work full time year round in recruiting athletes to come and then making sure they want to come back. We have a lot to offer, including pristine fields, well run tournaments and scenery that is unmatched. Some of these athletes that come here have never seen beautiful scenery like we have in their whole lives.
“Of course, if it was just the scenery, they might come just once. But we work very hard in making their playing experience a good one in every sport, not just softball. And our group of approximately 3,000 volunteers is absolutely amazing.”
So much so that one of the gold medal teams opted to honor the Huntsman World Senior Games volunteers.
“I was handing out medals to a team from Canada, the Bandits, and once we were done handing out the medals and taking pictures, they wanted me to stay for a little presentation,” said Riitta Nugent, a Senior Games volunteer from Hurricane. “I thought they were going to do something with the team or whatever.”
Instead, the Bandits captain turned to Nugent and said the best team at the Senior Games every year – one that never gets a medal – was the team of volunteers from the local communities that help put the Senior Games on. The man then handed his gold medal to Nugent.
“He put his gold medal around my neck and I said, ‘You’re going to make me cry,'” Nugent said. “He was so complimentary of all the volunteers and the community and said he knew that these games couldn’t take place without the volunteers.
“I thanked him, of course, and told him that this is a great time, in our world that’s so crazy, that we can build bridges like this and foster relationships and friendships. But you know, that’s why we volunteer, because of people like them.”
The army of volunteers includes Ron Garrett, the director of the ultra-popular softball events.
“The way softball is set up across the United States, the older people get, the more they get to play with people their own or similar abilities and ages,” Garrett said. “They go from 50-55 age group to 55-60 on up. They can be set up with people their own age and their own competition level and they love it that way.”
Softball is the biggest event in the Senior Games, with competition going for men and women the full two weeks of the games.
The Huntsman World Senior Games continues through this Saturday (Oct. 21) and features 30 different athletic events. Some of the major sports being competed in this week include softball, men’s and women’s volleyball (at local schools), horseshoes (at Snow Park), bowling (at Sunset West and Dixie Bowl), and track and field (at Dixie High).
For more information on events, locations and times, go to the Hunstman World Senior Games’ website.
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