Age is just a number for members of Williamsburg Senior Softball League

Staff writer

When Ric Zakour’s feet hit first base, he forgets he’s in his 60s and retired; the 12-year-old boy in his head takes over.

He knows physical limitations determined by his age don’t matter on the field. You just need to have a passion for the game.

Zakour, along with 34 other men who share a love for softball, play twice a week with the Williamsburg Senior Softball League’s inaugural season.

They lost a member of their softball family May 18 with the passing of Debbie Robie, who was the league’s only woman player.

Zakour, who acts as the league’s secretary, first played on a senior team in Northern Virginia.

“We wanted to have something similar here because the only thing we could do was play ball with everybody, and some of us aren’t quite ready for that or past that age,” he said. “The biggest thing we got to worry about is we’re all getting older.

“I put it this way: Sometimes when you’re running the bases, the 12-year-old boy in your head takes over and that 12-year-old boy doesn’t realize you have a 65-year-old body.”

Jim Ratkus and John Antretter, the league’s commissioner and deputy commissioner, first met in Wilmington, N.C., in a senior softball league.

Antretter moved to Williamsburg in 2017 and Ratkus, who originally went to the College of William and Mary and whose wife grew up in Williamsburg, moved back in 2018.

“My financial guy said your wife married you for better or for worse, not for lunch. So I had to find something to do. I played for three years there. One of my teammates moved up here in 2017, and when we moved here at the end of 2018, he said, ‘You know, we need to get something going here’,” Ratkus recalled. “We got together with two guys that live in Ford’s Colony, Wayne Glass and Ric Zakour. Six of us became the original board of directors and carried this thing through.”

They played their first game April 16 and will end the season in mid-June. Their fall season will start up in September.

Williamsburg Senior Softball League is the only league for older players between Richmond and Norfolk.

It creates a space for older people to play with others of their same age and physical ability, although all backgrounds, levels of skill and experience are welcome, Ratkus said. It also offers the opportunity to meet peers and stay healthy.

The board came up with a set of rules that emphasize safety and camaraderie, and Ben Di Vito, the board’s web developer, created a site with information on the league’s goals and how to join.

“We’re another venue for exercise. There’s fellowship. They go out to lunch afterward,” Ratkus said. “It’s like playing golf and going to the clubhouse afterward or going bowling and having a drink afterward — it’s the same kind of thing. You just get out in the sun and run around some.”

Right now the league consists of three teams: red, silver and blue. Most players are in their 60s, but the league has players who are almost 80. Mike Allen, a local retiree, is the red team’s manager.

“I also play in a rec league at night. You just want to play all the softball you can, you know. I saw it in the paper and like I said, there’s a lot of us. (Mathew) Jenkins is a retired police officer, we play in the same team at night. We try to get as much ball as we can and we’re the oldest guys in the team,” Allen said.

The league operates as a nonprofit organization in partnership with the Williamsburg Parks and Recreation, which gave the league a discount on its field in Kiwanis Park. The Optimal Service Group and Jamestown Professional Park sponsor the league, and it also has received donations from Pickleburg, the local pickleball association.

The board has long-term goals to form two or three divisions, each with four to six teams, which would enable them to match players with similar age, skill and physical condition in each division.

For the first fall season, members say they have hopes for 56 members and four teams. There are a lot of retirees here, Ratkus said, and once the community finds out WSSL is a viable organization, he thinks there will be more interest.

Now halfway through the first season, the teams have a few players out with injuries. Ratkus said it’s just the reality of not playing for a long time. And everyone keeps high spirits.

“We have so many injuries right now,” Ratkus said. “But they’re all out here. They’re picking up a bat and wanting to play and that’s the whole idea.”

Want to know more?

For a $75 fee all men and women 55 and older can join the Williamsburg Senior Softball League. For the league’s schedule, rules and information on how to join, visit wsslva.org.

Martin can be reached at (757)-243-3685, by email at sararose.martin@vagazette.com or on Twitter at @SaraRoseMartin.

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