Two dozen softball teams from across the Big Island will gather at Old Kona Airport Park on Wednesday and Thursday to battle it out to see which team is the best in each of four divisions.
But this is no heartless, winner-take-all competition. While there will be plenty of pride on the line in the 40th Hawaii County Softball Tournament, the Kupuna league players know that winning isn’t everything. Maybe it’s the wisdom that comes with the age required to play in the league.
All players must be at least 55 years old. Each team is limited to one male younger than 60 while females can be 55 or older.
“It gets our seniors out and about,” said Randell Kokubun, a program director II for the Hawaii County, which organizes the tournament. “It’s popular because they’re able to play ball at their age. They’re able to still compete, which is what they want. It’s also about the socializing with other teams. They go east and west and are able to play against teams on opposite side of the island.”
Bill Graham, a 72-year-old outfielder for Kohala, has been in the league for nearly a decade. He sees a number of benefits, both physical and emotional, to playing in the league.
“I like getting out and doing the physical exercise of playing softball and playing with new friends, old friends,” he said. “After our games, we have meals. The home team hosts a meal for everybody.”
The Kupuna Softball League features 25 teams and plays about three dozen regular-season games. Team records are used to determine which of the four divisions teams play in during the tournament. The top six teams are in Division I, the next six in Division II and so on, although one team chose not to participate in this week’s event because a number of players could not play in the tournament. Each division will continue playing until all but one team has two losses, with that team being crowned division champion.
Despite the competitive nature of the tournament, all teams will be eligible to participate in the state tournament on Maui.
“There are some different levels of play,” Graham said. “Some teams are mostly quality players and some have few, as far as softball skills. But that doesn’t affect the camaraderie. That’s good.”
Kona Gold was the top team during the regular season, posting a 34-0 record. The Honomu Rockets were second with a 31-5 mark.
No matter the record, Graham, who runs the league website, said most players return year after year.
“Not many people that do it say, ‘That was fun, but I’m not going to do it next year,’ ” he said. “People stick around because it’s a good thing. I know a lot of people my age have physical problems but play hard and recuperate on Sundays. There are some 55- and 60-year-olds that are quite athletic and, physically, very capable.”