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July 1, 2005 - Womens corner
Where Women Have Been - and Where We're GoingPat Lawlis
Senior women's softball began in 1989 when several women's teams got together at a tournament in Michigan. It was a modest beginning for what has blossomed into a great gathering of women athletes.
For the first tournament, teams were looking to meet the requirement of most senior games – that all players be 50 or over. However, there weren't enough women involved in this first endeavor to make that practical. So a special rule was developed to allow up to 5 players on a team to be between 45 and 49. This special rule allowed the ball to start rolling for senior softball for women, but it also created an interesting legacy.
As time went on, more and more women became involved in senior softball, and more and more teams were formed. Pretty soon age groups were necessary. Not only was there a 50(45)+ age group, but a 55+ age group got started, and then a 60+. By this time there were also several senior softball organizations.
Instead of getting rid of the special rule that was developed just to get the game started, different organizations decided to add other special rules. One organization allowed up to 2 players who were two years younger than an age group to participate. Another organization allowed up to 5 players who were two years younger. And so on.
In 2003, the Senior Softball Women's Advisory Council (SSWAC) was formed to develop a network to keep women informed and to address issues of importance for senior women's softball. The first major issue addressed by the SSWAC was the various special age rules.
This started the move to make the rules uniform across all age groups. The desired end result is a set of senior age groups at each 5 year increment, where only players as old as the age group could participate. So, for example, a 60 year old would be eligible for the 50+, 55+, and 60+ age groups, but a 54 year old would only be eligible for the 50+ age group. But how to get there?
Not only were senior women younger than their age groups on the rosters for many teams, but there were also many 40-something players who weren't even considered seniors yet. It would not be fair to just change all the rules at once and require many players to be dropped from existing teams because they were too young. Rather, it was decided to transition the age rules one year at a time. This way no players would be forced to leave their existing teams. They could just 'grow intoî the age group in which they are playing as the age rules changed with them.
Also, the SSWAC looked at the masters level players in their 40s who are not yet eligible to play on senior teams. Most of these players are no longer interested in playing with 'youngsters,î so they may quit playing ball before they ever become eligible to play as seniors. That is, unless we can provide a way to transition them into senior ball. So the SSWAC has encouraged senior softball organizations to provide masters level age groups (40+ and 45+) at senior tournaments.
We are currently in the middle of these transitions, and that is why the rules are so confusing right now. Each organization had some different age rules to begin with, and each started transitioning at a different time, so not even the transition rules are the same. This is why, for example, in 2005 in the 50+ age group, the SSWC allows up to 5 players who are 48-49, while the SSWS allows up to 5 players who are 46-49 and the USSSA allows up to 2 players who are 48-49. Within the next 4 years, all the transitioning should be finished and all the organizations will use the same age rules. However, until that time, the confusion continues.
The SSWAC has a web site (www.softballrating.com/women.php) that provides information to let everyone keep up with what is going on. This web site provides a set of suggested rules for all of senior women's softball. Most of these rules are used by all organizations, with only minor exceptions. And the age rules define exactly where we stand with each of the senior softball organizations.
The SSWAC has also started to address other issues of interest to senior women's softball, and these are kept up-to-date on the web site. But there is no issue of such basic importance as the age rules.