THEEE Buckeye Classic 2011 SPA (Senior Players Associaition) Qualifier might easily be deemed, “THEE Biggest Littlest Senior Softball Qualifier Tournament east of Nevada and north of Florida”. Tucked away in the middle of the country away from the high senior softball populations areas of California, Florida and Arizona the Ohio Summit County tournament continues to grow reaching 80 teams this year .
While most non-national senior softball tournaments usually draw in the 30-team area, the resaon for the high turnout at THEE Buckeye is apparently due to two unique factors. The tournament only invites AA and AAA teams and the playing format is a two-day six game round robin against six different opponents.
“When we (Red Bole and Ho Hoffman) took over the tournament three years ago we decided to make it only for AA and AAA teams and also go to a round-robin format which guarantees six games,” Hoffman said. “The big things most seniors want at a tournament are more games and against different teams.”
Hoffman and Bole, both travel team veterans, were tired of traveling 400 miles to a tournament only to play their first game against a team 10 miles from their home and the second against a team they saw at every tournament.
“We joked about renting a bus and just have the three of us travel together to tournaments since a lot of times we were the only teams in our age bracket,” Hoffman said. ‘Our other complaint was playing Major teams from an older age group and majors in our own age group.”
Because of those issues the pair not only came up with the different format but really went out and promoted their tournament. Two newsletters a month, Christmas cards, personal phone calls and using the free white pages to find a team manager’s phone number are some of the tactics they use to help bring teams into the tournament.
“Gordie Howe once told me in an interview I did with him that National Hockey League owners have the philosophy. ‘Just open the door and they will come,” Hoffman, a Medina County Gazette sports writer said, “In a way that is similar to most senior softball tournament director’s thoughts, ‘hold a tournament and they will come, you don’t need to promote it.”
The promotion seems to be paying off when after a turnout of 24 teams (AA/AAA 60,65,70’s) two years ago and 52 teams (AA/AAA 50,65,70 and 75’s) last year, this year's attendance aided by adding 50 and 55 AA/AAA divisions, has grown to over 80 teams.
“If we were not limited by our playing field availability, I expect we could probably hit 100 teams,” Red Bole said. “It is only April and the tournament isn’t until mid-June and we are having to turn teams away in the 75’s, 70’s, 65’s and 60’s because we just do not have quality fields to accommodate them. Oh, we could get fields to use but the key word is quality fields and we will not skimp in that area.”
The teams coming to the tournament are from 15 states and Ontario province. Ohio has the most teams (20) with Ontario at 13 and Michigan with 12 next in line. North Carolina’s Burlington Classics 70’s, Wells Fargo Advisors 70’s squad from Illinois, 15 miles from the Missouri state line and Pat's Sports, Royal Palm Beach, Florida , are the long distance winners.
Age wise the 75’s are bringing 10 teams; the 70’s have 20 combatants; 14 teams make up the 65’s with 18 60’s teams. The 55’s and 50’s round out the field with ten teams each. Except for two 75’s majors, everyone else is an AA and/or AAA team.
“We let two majors into the 75’s because it is hard enough for 75’s to find teams to play and being a major just reduces their options,” Bole said. “The other 75’s teams are aware of them being there and realize the games they play (only one game max per team) against the majors doesn’t count on their record. The majors will end up playing each other twice for their own title.”
The SPA tournament is being held June 11 and 12 (50’s/55’s) with the others playing June 14-18. The games are played at the four-field Barberton Community Center complex with the Rittman's and Akron's Cascade Park and Wadsworth's Memorial Park picking up the over flow.
THEE Buckeye Classic is one of fifty senior tournaments being conducted nationally by the parent organization, Senior Players Association in Mustang, Oklahome. Information on SPA can be obtained by visiting its web page or contacting SPA president Ridge Hooks, (405) 376-7034.