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Hitting It Out Of The Park — Senior Softball Ladies Keep On Playing And Winning



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Sixty and slugging — Ranging in age from 62 to almost 69, a group of four Newtown softball enthusiasts proves that 60-something is the new 20-something when it comes to softball success.

Jeanne Carney, 62, Diane Lawrence and Lauren Oliaro, both 64, and Kathy Blewett, just before her 69th birthday this month, recently competed at National Senior Games in Fort Lauderdale Fla. Their softball team, Connecticut Thunder, is not your average group of Silver Sluggers or Golden Year Glovers as the Thunder took home the bronze. To play at National Senior Games, athletes must be on a team that comes in first, second, or third in a State Senior Games qualifier. Softball continues throughout the summer and fall for these softball ladies with more tournaments and league play. This year, working toward qualification for the next Senior Games, the softball players are sending a team to the New Jersey Games on September 10, and are striving to send two teams to the Connecticut Games on September 24.

Each of these players has taken a unique journey to softball stardom, and here is a sampling of what has transpired for these women in their paths leading to the bronze, along with details on 72-year-old softball ambassador Jan Brown, who inspired some of these softball players to get out on the field; Brown also took home some hardware with her 70-plus softball and basketball teams during the National Senior Games.

Jeanne Carney And Jan Brown

My Dad, a semi-pro athlete — football & baseball — taught me at a very young age many things including how to run, swim, play basketball, and baseball. My Dad would pitch to me in the backyard where I grew up. I was one of seven children and he pitched to all of us. We were all right handed but my dad would only pitch to us if we batted lefty. He would say, ‘You are one step closer to first base.’

So my whole life I have thrown righty and batted lefty. Growing up in New York, I played baseball and stickball with the boys until about age 10. Then the boys got to play organized baseball on a team and girls were not allowed. So a few years later softball was available for girls so joined. I missed fast pitch, sliding and stealing bases, but I was happy to be playing something similar to baseball. I have played softball ever since — and every position. I played all through grammar school, high school, and college.

I moved to Newtown 25 years ago and that spring there was an article in The Newtown Bee looking for women interested in playing softball in a newly-formed league that would begin that summer. It was 1997. So I went to Town Hall and signed up thinking this would be a great way to meet new people. And I did! I have played the past 25 years in Newtown except during the pandemic. Besides Newtown, I play in Bethel, some co-ed in Danbury, and I recently joined the Monroe/Shelton women’s league to sub when needed.

My dad died in 2012 of Alzheimer’s. A few weeks later my very good friend and softball buddy from Newtown, Karen Katrinak, introduced me to Jan Brown (The Bee’s Sportsman of the Year for 2021, who played for a 70-plus softball team that won silver and a 70-plus basketball team that won bronze at the Senior Games). Brown’s softball team, the Wannabees, is based out of North Carolina, and her basketball team, the Sisters, is a Connecticut-based squad.

Brown said 70s can still hit, field, run and score on the court. Brown has played in seven National Senior Games — Kentucky, California, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, New Mexico, and Florida.

I told Jan that I wanted to do something my dad didn’t get to do and something that would make him very proud. Jan told me about the National Senior Games. For the past [decade], thanks to Jan Brown, I have qualified to play in the National Senior Games six times. The games are held every two years. The past five National Senior Games were held in Cleveland, Minnesota, Alabama, Albuquerque, and Fort Lauderdale. I am looking forward to Pittsburg in 2023.

Throughout my life I have been so fortunate to have perfect health. At 62, I am truly blessed to be able to continue to play the game I love. I have met so many wonderful people along the way. The National Senior Games has changed my life. It has provided me with a wonderful opportunity to compete against other athletes my age. It is an opportunity where everyone comes home a winner.

About the National Senior Games: The games are two weeks long and bring over 10,000 athletes from all 50 states and the Caribbean together competing in 20 sports. It begins with a opening torch-lighting ceremony. The oldest athlete competing is usually selected to carry the torch. This year it was 103-year-old golfer Lindsay Tise from North Carolina. Midway through there is a parade of athletes. Each state selects one or two athletes to carry their state flag and all the other athletes from that state march behind it. The National Senior Games has a closing ceremony. The athletes I have met have changed my life. Each has a different story that is inspirational.

Diane Lawrence

It is exhilarating to play in the National Senior Games, which includes numerous sports. The athletes have a lifelong dedication to their sport(s) and given the opportunity to compete at this age and level is something many of us never thought we would be doing. In order to participate, an athlete has to be at least 50 years old and the team (or individual) has to qualify in the NSGA sanctioned games.

In the women’s softball 60-plus division, Connecticut Thunder played eight game in three days, one nail-biter going into extra innings. The teams in our division were from Arizona, Florida, Missouri, and Ohio. After placing fourth in New Mexico in 2019, we had medal contention on our minds heading to Florida this year.

We Newtown gals play on Caraluzzi’s, a team in the Bethel league as well as a co-ed team in Danbury. Some on the team have participated in National Games over the years, and in many other tournaments playing on teams from other states that needed players in order to compete. The Connecticut Thunder has players from Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, and New York. I have played in two of the National Games, which are held every two years on the odd year (2021 postponed due to COVID).

Growing up in Brookfield, I began playing at a very young age, one of my first teams being the Buttercups. I continued to play through high school and college (intramurals). After college, I played in the Danbury Women’s Softball League for many years. When my Danbury fast pitch team folded, I began playing slow pitch in Newtown where I met Jeanne Carney. I am eternally grateful to Jeanne who insisted that I meet Jan Brown and play for Connecticut Thunder.

Participating in the Senior National Games is not only fun but also a life-changing experience. I am in awe of the camaraderie and talent of the athletes not only on the softball field but in the many sporting events. All the athletes support and respect each other. This year, at the parade of athletes, I met an 84-year-old swimmer — adorned with her medals — who proudly told me about her events. I also met an 80-year-old couple who were competing in archery. I would love to meet Julia “Hurricane” Hawkins, the 103-year-old, track gold medalist. Perhaps that will happen in Pittsburgh in 2023.

We are athletes who continue to do what we love as long as we are able. So whether you played a sport years ago or have recently found one that you love, I recommend getting out there and keep playing. You never know where it may take you! “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” — Irish Playwright George Bernard Shaw

Lauren Oliaro

I started playing softball at the age of 50. I had just met my current boyfriend; we were both widowed at the same time, and he invited me to play co-ed softball on his family’s team in Danbury. Although I was not a strong player, I knew I had potential and I enjoyed the game very much and I wanted to be better. Jan Brown introduced me to the senior women’s games. She is such a dedicated supporter of women in all sports, and I appreciate all that she does for us.

The first National Senior Games I participated in was in Albuquerque, N.M. We played at a beautiful facility with impressive fields. I met many women from all over the country who share the same passion for softball. Some have been playing since they were young girls, and some started later in life like myself. It is amazing how this yellow ball can bring so many people together. Our Connecticut team came in fourth place in Albuquerque.

I started to take hitting instruction in my quest to improve my softball skills. I went to the batting cages and softball fields to improve my form and become a better hitter. The second National Senior Games I participated in was [the most recent games] in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. My hitting improved tremendously, and it was a great feeling to contribute to the team. We did receive a bronze medal and I am thrilled with our efforts as a team. I absolutely love the camaraderie of this sport — it is nice to belong to something.

The National Senior Games have shown me that age is truly a number, and you can do anything you set your mind to. Softball helps me maintain a strong level of physical fitness and mental toughness. It is an opportunity to develop strong relationships with your teammates and to meet new people from all over the country who can inspire and uplift you. I am 64 years old now, and I am so excited for the next games in Pittsburgh.

Kathy Blewett

We played eight games in three days. All teams play three “pool play” games with the four or five other teams in their group; then teams are put into bracket play based on how they performed in pool play. In pool play we played Skor Mor from Arizona and Cappers from Florida (both losses), and Nathan’s Crafty Veterans from Ohio (won 16-15). Next day for bracket play we played Dakota Gals from South Dakota (won 6-1); CLE 60s from Ohio (lost 6-5), Cappers (won 12-11 in extra innings). Next day we played Dakota Gals (won 8-7), then CLE 60s (lost 9-2). Since we lost two in bracket play, we were done (double elimination) — but we won bronze.

Our average age was 64-65, with the oldest being 71. We had to play 60-plus because the youngest players that we could get to play were just 60.

We were very excited to do so well, because we never actually all played together as a team, and we had only had three practices because the weather was so iffy this spring. Many of the other teams play together all year round. Many of us have played in Senior Games before — most of the teams played in Senior Nationals in Albuquerque in 2019. Some had never played in senior tournaments before. I played first in San Jose in 2009. This was my fourth National Senior Games tourney.

I only started playing softball when I was 40. I had been coaching my daughters and decided that it was my turn to play. I play second base, first base, and outfield. Since I was also managing the team, I did not play the first game, and I filled in for a few innings at those positions, until we got to bracket play where I played three games as catcher, because our usual catcher had injured her arm.

It is great fun to play in the Senior Games. At this point, I have played in many different tournaments, as well as Senior Games, and I know so many of the women from across the country who play senior women’s softball. I have made friends from California, Kansas, North Carolina, Canada, Arizona, New Mexico, etcetera. I always look forward to seeing the gals, especially at National Senior Games. We hope to send a Connecticut team to the next one — we can drive to Pittsburgh, so cheaper than flying. By the way, it is truly National Senior Games — there are many other sports, not just softball: track and field, volleyball, basketball, bicycling, etcetera.

The countdown has already begun for the 2023 National Senior Games; for information, visit nsga.com.

Sports Editor Andy Hutchison can be reached at andyh@thebee.com.

The Connecticut Thunder softball team earned bronze at the National Senior Games this year.
Newtown players who competed in the Senior National Games are, from left: Kathy Blewett, Jeanne Carney, Diane Lawrence, and Lauren Oliaro.
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