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Team Spirit shines on the diamond

By JON WILSON
Published April 11, 2007


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The gray clouds milling overhead Tuesday morning didn't discourage the Freedom Spirit over-65 women's softball team.

"We are waterproof," cracked Elaine Fisler, one of about a dozen women gathered for regular practice at the Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex.

Coach Jan Ellis ran the team through a "soft-toss" batting practice, in which a player a few feet to the side of a batter lofts a softball. It's a hand-eye drill; the batter tries to whack the ball into a rubber mat suspended from a fence five yards away.

Bats struck. Balls hit the mat. The rhythm rolled across the practice grounds. Crack-thump! Crack-thump!

A strolling groundskeeper raised his eyebrows. "Whoa. They hit that pretty hard," he said.

Other women's age-group teams have learned that truth first-hand.

Freedom Spirit draws players from around Pinellas County - St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Seminole, Largo - and beyond.

It is probably the best over-65 women's team in the nation.

The qualifier is necessary only because it is difficult to know whether a new team of aces is building somewhere.

But until it does, Freedom Spirit has plenty of credentials to suggest it belongs on top.

It has won three consecutive national championships in the National Senior Games, which are held every other year.

The team is on its way again, qualifying when it won the state games in December. The nationals are in Louisville, Ky., in late June-early July. About 20 women will make the trip.

They would love to have sponsors.

"It's expensive," said Marilyn Heitman, a downtown St. Petersburg resident who plays third base.

Freedom Spirit won a late March tournament in Clearwater and in February captured the Pelican Classic in St. Petersburg, taking two out of three games from the Virginia Golden Girls en route to the tournament title.

The team practices regularly, and Ellis and Del Bowyer attended a Tampa Bay Devil Rays skills clinic in January. They keep statistics on opposing players and learn their batting habits.

The team has been around since the early 1990s. Despite its success and serious intent, it is as much a social activity as it is athletic, players say.

Monday night, for example, players attended the Senior Idol program at Ruth Eckerd Hall, meeting at a nearby Village Inn for dinner.

"We are more than a ball team, we're family," said Bowyer, who has been with the team since it began.

This will be the last year the current over-65 team is together. An over-70 team will be organized; so will a new over-65 group.

The team always looks for new players, Ellis said, adding that prospects don't have to be stars.

"This is out here for women who are willing to try," Ellis said.

Fast Facts:

Freedom Spirit roster

Helen Bell, Del Bowyer, Helen Boyd, Jeannette Brown, Karen Campbell, Crysta Davidson, Beverly Eggert, Ruth Fellmeth, Elaine Fisler, Kathy Forsyth, Maureen Gallina, Shannon Goodrich, Ruth Heite, Marilyn Heitman, Esther Kelly, Carolyn Johnson, Ethel Lehmann, Beverly Leslie, Harriett Mair, Joann Mann, Irma Mason, Betty Narucki, MaryAnn Scrugs, Shirley Smith, Doris Taylor, Jean Toberman, Carol Walther.

[Last modified April 10, 2007, 20:38:59]


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