GENEVA — The body certainly changes over the years, but not necessarily the competitive spirit.
That’s the takeaway after spending an evening with a group of (ahem) mature women who play kickball every Wednesday.
Their cutthroat approach was not apparent at the get-go when the 20-plus women gathered recently at 5:30 p.m. on a field near the marina at Seneca Lake State Park.
There was chattering and visiting and hugs until a two-finger whistle stopped the socializing and two teams were randomly formed as the women either picked a 1 or 2 out of a hat.
“You don’t really think about who’s really good,” Anne Bergstrom said about their system, which guarantees different teams each week.
This is the second year these women — many of whom are 60 or older — have given new life to the old schoolyard game. Many attended school together or taught with one another in Geneva. And they have always been active, playing in adult softball and volleyball leagues.
“We were playing volleyball [in the city Rec League] but everybody was getting killed,” said Debbie Benedict of Waterloo.
Val Venuti of Waterloo missed the camaraderie with her sports-playing friends and last year she and her sister, Eileen, tried to think of a way “to get the whole gang back together.”
“Everybody was on board with volleyball,” Eileen Venuti said, noting last year they had difficulty attracting players but this year the numbers are way up.
The group meets at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesdays at Seneca Lake State Park, last year playing until the snow flied. They have moved around in search of a field that is even and without injury-causing obstacles. Those who can’t play — for whatever reason or ailment — still often stop by to watch or keep score.
And that’s a job.
Whether it’s a little forgetfulness or a little suspicion of the scorekeeper, there were several instances when the score or number of outs was questioned by both teams.
On this evening, Kathy Fuchs of Romulus and Eileen Venuti of Lyons served as pitchers for the two teams. Because someone had parked a boat in their usual playing space, the women had to adjust the location of their field. The placing of bases elicited some friendly quibbling and readjusting.
“This happens every game,” laughed once player who hung back in the outfield. “It takes about 25 minutes to get things ready. It’s quiet back here. Let them fight it out!”
The women know their physical limitations, but don’t let them stand in the way.
One woman wore an ankle brace, a few asked their healthier teammates to run the bases for them so they could still kick. Recent surgery stories were swapped; several of the players have been in treatment for cancer or are in remission.
When asked how long the six-inning games generally last, one woman answered, “Nobody lasts until 7 p.m.”
Still, you’d never know it by the intensity level.
Yells of “Go, go, go,” and “Play is at second” permeated the hot, humid air.
“She’s going to be kicking over there you guys,” pitcher Eileen Venuti yelled as she pointed to beyond third base. “We gotta be ready.”
During one discussion of whether there were two outs or three, Bergstrom noted this group of players is not shy and retiring — though they may appear so in other venues.
“Oh heck, are you kidding me,?” she said. “We are over 60. Watch out.”
One kicker at bat bemoaned the trajectory in her kick.
“It’s like golf,” she said. “It doesn’t go where I plan to hit it.”
In the field, the ball was like a hot potato … often dropping through outstretched arms. But some of the women were not afraid to fall to the ground and sacrifice their bodies for an out.
“I think we all have got a little competitiveness in us,” Eileen Venuti said.
Having a good time on and off the field is the name of this game.
That evening, Donna Stivers offered a boat tour afterwards — an invitation many of the players accepted. Most evenings, however, the group heads to Torrey Park Grill in Geneva for a drink or two.
But because they are sweaty and still in sports attire, “we don’t dare sit inside,” Val Venuti said.
That evening, the score went back and forth and the game ended in a 9-9 tie. The women decided against extra innings — perhaps because of the heat or the beckoning post-game boat ride.
“This is the best game we’ve ever played and we’ve never had so many players,” Joanne McCheyne of Geneva commented.
As the women gathered for a group photo, Benedict grabbed some “Kickball” team stickers she had made and the women placed them on their sweaty shirts and smiled for the camera.
Just another night of kickball, but this one documented and celebrated for all to know about.