Chapter 7 - Veterans Softball

Chapter 7


Until the 1990s, softball like most sports focused on young people although many clubs were able to boast that they had exceptional members who had played for three and four decades. A change of thinking occurred in 1985 after Australia sent a team to the First World Masters Games in Toronto, Canada. The Northern Territory (Honda Masters Games) and then Tasmania in conjunction with the Confederation of Australian Sport (CAS) staged games for mature athletes. Beginning with Tasmania in 1987, the Australian Masters Games were staged every two years with the ASC becoming a major sponsor.[i] Organisation of each sport fell to the local State Sporting Organisation and in turn to the army of volunteers who saw a wonderful opportunity to showcase their sport to former participants and to entice older people to play. The ASF acknowledged the growth of Masters competitions in its 1992-93 Year Book noting that several local associations were tapping into this new market. When Brisbane won the right to host the Fourth World Masters Games in 1994, the ASF was gratified to see predictions that softball would attract 1,000 plus players. Following the success of this event the Softball Australia planned its own Masters Fastpitch Championship. During 1994-95 a Sub-Committee was formed with a representative from each State/ Territory plus Neil Dalrymple, the National Development Officer (NDO). Its brief was to promote and develop all aspects of Masters Softball with an emphasis on the inaugural Championship. Once the groundwork had been completed, the task of conducting each championship was handed to the host State/Territory associations. At the Fifth Australian Masters Games in Melbourne in 1995 softball had the second highest number of participants. The inaugural Masters Fastpitch Championship in Canberra at Easter 1996 attracted 29 teams. The following Easter in Adelaide 34 teams competed with four grades for women and two grades for men. By the time of the third championship in Sydney in 1998 it clearly had strong support from the eastern mainland States and the ACT and continued to grow. By 2002-03 Masters softball was no longer a novelty and the results of the fastpitch championship were presented along with results of all national championships in the ASF Yearbook.



An offshoot of Masters softball was Never Too Late Softball which was a combined initiative of the ASC, Softball Australia and the Department of Veteran Affairs. A modified version of the game provided veterans with a chance to play sport plus plenty of social interaction. The program included an introduction to the basic skills plus input from guest speakers on umpiring, coaching, scoring and administration. Mature softball players had a range of opportunities from State-based competitions to the Masters Fastpitch and the multi-sport Australian and World Masters Games. However, while Softball Australia’s dedicated Masters Fastpitch Championship has its supporters, many mature-aged players prefer the multi-sport Australian Masters Games which generate a very exciting atmosphere as thousands of people converge on one city.


The Fourth Australian Masters Games were held in Perth in April 1993 under the auspices of the WA Sports Federation. The WASA organized the softball section and Val Prunster chaired the WASA organizing committee formed a year earlier. The WASA conducted tournaments for women and men in two age divisions: 35 to 44 years and 45 years and over. Matches were played at both Yokine Reserve and Mirrabooka. Participants paid a $50 membership fee to the Masters Association and the WASA added $10 to cover its costs. In addition, insurance had to be taken out to cover the players. After an initial quote of $1,500 it was decided that the WASA would cover its members and interstate and overseas teams should do likewise. People who were not members were asked to pay $9 for insurance and were made honorary members. With guidance from the Masters Association, the WASA sent invitations to all Australian and numerous Asian associations. By July 1992 Prunster was able to report to the Board meeting that nominations had been received from Singapore, South Africa and Queensland. As with all tournaments conducted by the WASA, the organization fell to volunteers with the usual people taking on extra tasks. Albert Dumaresq attended to the recruitment of the umpires. Lorraine Malcolm was the Registrar. Connie Montgomery managed the canteen while Bob McKibbin wore two hats as a groundsman and barman at Mirrabooka.


Laurie Prior was allocated the task of organizing WA teams. Quite a few of the players were playing in the Summer and Winter competitions and it was deemed unnecessary for them to apply for clearances. Shirley Roberts could not resist the opportunity to stand in the coach’s box once more. She took the initiative and contacted former State players. Sufficient women responded for WA to be represented by two teams in the 45 and Over Division: Legends and Tip Top. Among the Legends were Ruth Garcia (nee Kern), Norma Frost (nee Stone), Regina Hunt, Glenys Watters, Lorraine Page, Nina Menner, Peggy Beckett and Shirley Schneider. Among the luminaries for Tip Top were Greta Craig, Beverley Elms, Lynley  Wilkerson and Dot Kelly (nee Garie). Morley Magic represented WA men. Its players were also well known personalities in WA softball including WASA President Reg Page. From the outset the women’s teams knew that they would win a medal because there was only one other team in the Division, Bett’s Vets from Queensland. The latter had played at every Australian Masters Games since their inception in 1989 and were the defending champions. As Lorraine Page recalled:

we thought, oh well, at least we are going to win Bronze,” so we just kept playing day after day and all of a sudden we were second and thought, “Oh well, we can aim for Silver now, we’ve gone past Bronze,” then came the Grand Final and we thought, “Well, at least we are going to get one medal and even if it’s Silver, it will be good.” So we played the Grand Final and won and that was the first time we had beaten Tip Top, our other team, during the competition and we beat them in the Grand Final so we finished up with Gold which we were all surprised with.

For Norma Stone, the captain of the victorious WA teams in the 1950s it was a special moment: ‘At 60 years of age I won my first gold medal in softball’. Shirley Schneider’s foray into Veterans Softball finished during the first game when she pulled a hamstring muscle. WA teams won three medals. Legends won gold and Tip Top won silver in the Women’s 45+ division. Tom’s Cats won the 35-44 division with Rookies Revival third. WA teams dominated the men’s results. Dale Demons were second and Morley Eagles third in the 45+ division. In the 35-44 division all three medals went to WA teams: gold went to Perth, silver to Rebels and bronze to Corrigin. The men’s team won a bronze medal. Family and friends of the players made up most of the spectators. For the children it was somewhat of an eye-opener to see their grandparents in action. As one fly ball soared to the outfield one very small voice brought laughter to the crowd when he said, “Did you see what Grandma did then?”[ii] While the WASA only made a profit of $6:50, the success of the tournament lay in the enthusiasm of the participants. They wanted more similar competitions at home in WA and through participation in Masters Games around Australia and overseas.


Vets at Mirrabooka

In November 1993, the WASA announced that a Veterans competition would be held on Tuesday evenings at Mirrabooka commencing in late January 1994 and running for 10 weeks. The WA players opted to call their competition Veterans (commonly referred to as the Vets). The only difference from Masters is that WA Vets must be 40 years of age. Proof of age is determined by traditional documents such as a driver’s licence, passport or birth certificate. WA Vets is not linked to retired defence personnel.

Reg Page was emphatic that Vets play fastpitch:

It mightn’t be as fast as fast but it is fast. It is not slowpitch at all, it is fastpitch. No rule changes. Everything happens correctly but it happens in slow motion. … in Veterans you can see the ball going to a position, you can see the person moving into the position, you can see the person going round to backup and you can see the person who’s being thrown to because it’s happening slower … You could use it for training for kids.[iii]

Lorraine Page’s perspective was similar:

It’s all fun. You do have your serious side because everybody’s out there to win but you try. Your skills are there and your mind is there but your body is still coming … you know what you want to do but those legs are just a bit slow at getting there now.[iv]


Competition began with the men’s teams playing at 6.30pm followed by women’s teams at 8pm. Initially there were three teams for each gender but new fixtures were required when Morley men and Legends women were each able to form an extra team. The men played on Diamond 2 and the women on Diamond 1. Two rounds were played with Morley Black winning the men’s and Legends Red the women’s. The Best and Fairest players were Peter Beresford and Jeannie Antunovich. Reg Page donated the medallions. To encourage maximum support costs were kept to a minimum: $50 for team registration plus $12.50 for insurance. As well, there was a ground entry fee of $2 per person. Again, it was the volunteers who made it all happen: Val Prunster as Convenor, Albert Dumaresq as Umpire coordinator, Don Brooks on the gate, Connie Montgomery in the canteen and Debbie Stevenson in the bar. The success of the season was summed up by Prunster in the Annual Report: ‘The enjoyment and friendliness gained by not only players but by umpires, workers and supporters gave us a view of what next season could bring’. Vets softball became a regular part of WA softball and in April 1994 it was anticipated that the next season would be longer running from November to April with time out for Christmas and national championships.

After the 1995-96 season Prunster reported that three time slots – 6:30pm, 8:00pm and 9:30pm – had been required to accommodate 14 teams (8 men’s and 6 women’s). Interestingly one of the teams was from the WA Softball Umpires Association (WASUA). Rivalry was increasing and Prunster noted:

Sadly, this season after a complaint by other teams on a player’s age, I had to ask for proof of such. When this could not be done I had no other course than to make the games the player had taken part in a 7-0 forfeit. This was an unpleasant note to the season and the ages of the players must be adhered to in future competition.


Prunster also included a summary of the finances. Income of $32.60 was raised from a raffle which she organized and sold most of the tickets. The money was spent on the grand final wind-up.

Val, with husband Des as Record Keeper/Registrar, ran the Vets for the first three seasons. Derek Atkinson took on the job of Convenor for the next three seasons. At the end of the 1996-97 season he noted in the Annual Report:

This season the Vets became an official section within the WASA with their own Convenor, Secretary and Record Keeper. I believe it is fair to say that each of us who filled those positions did not realize just what Val and her husband did for the Vets Comp in the formative years. On behalf of the Vets I thank them for their efforts

which laid a solid foundation for us to build on.


The organization of the Vets competition, however, remained low key. As required by the WASA an AGM was held for the appointment of officers but most other decisions were made during informal meetings on game nights. As Reg Page often remarked, the Vets were the most successful WASA competition and caused the least concern. This is probably due to the fact that many of the participants had long personal track records as administrators in softball and knew the requirements to run a successful competition. As well, Vets is very social and the emphasis is on enjoyment so problems – if and when they arise – are sorted out very quickly. In the 1997-98 season there were some minor changes to rules. The main one was to allow teams to pick-up players on nights they were short so games could be played without penalty.

When the WASA undertook its Operational Review in 2000, Recommendation 13 stated ‘that an Investigation be undertaken into the benefits or otherwise of the Summer, Winter and Veterans competitions becoming self-sufficient’. Because Vets was self-administered and covering costs there was no need for major changes.


Vets softball defied the trend in Summer and Winter softball by steadily increasing in numbers. From just three teams each for men and women in the first season by the late 1990s the competition attracted between 18 and 26 teams per season. Fixturing was made both easier and harder in 1997 when the two “back” diamonds at Mirrabooka had lighting installed. Four diamonds were available and the teams wanted to experience playing on all of them. But with twice as many men as women playing some creative fixturing was required. For example, in the 2004-05 season the 12 men’s teams played together in the qualifying round and then formed two divisions for the finals. Again, rivalry was intense and Page expressed his disappointment that:

a team threw games on purpose to ensure a top position in the bottom six. This really negated the spirit of the Veterans competition, which was disappointing and something the committee should look at for the coming season, as this did cause quite a lot of dissention amongst some of the men’s sides. However, I think this system will work if policed properly.


To combat this in the following season the 12 men’s teams again played the qualifying round together and then contested the finals in three divisions so every team played in the finals. The Convenor, Aldo Carlucci, considered that it had worked well. The challenge for Carlucci and his committee had been to ‘try and get 19 teams to slot into 2 time zones over four diamonds. It makes it even harder to try and give each team a fair distribution on all the diamonds’. With only 10 men’s teams for the 2006-07 team, the committee opted for the men to have two divisions of five teams each. Each division played a double round robin and then a round against each other. In the 2003-04 season Convenor Reg Page reported that there had been a reduction in number of teams due to other areas such as SEMSA starting veterans competitions. This however helped to streamline competition at Mirrabooka with two time slots and four diamonds. Growth of veterans’ competition in the affiliate associations was a positive trend for softball. Explanations for the success of Vets softball are many and varied. First and foremost Vets provides an opportunity for people to play softball for as long as they wish and with like-minded people. Of the original Legends players three –Lorraine Page, Peggy Beckett and Prue Robertson – were still playing in 2010. Some players are so dedicated that Vets is another chance to play in addition to Summer, Winter or affiliate competitions. For a small number, Vets is their first experience as a player. Reg Page noted that amongst the Morley Magic team:

We’ve got a couple of chaps in our team at 41 and 42 years of age [who] have gone through life watching their kids play softball and suddenly with the advent of Veterans have popped up and started playing themselves. It’s the same in the women’s sides. They’ve got one or two people there who have not played before that have come into the game and are learning the game at 45 years of age which is great … everybody’s good enough whether you miss a ball, hit a ball, long as you are out on the ground, that’s the main thing.


The social aspect of Vets is a critical element of its success. As Reg Page recalled ‘wall-to-wall oldies at night together having fun after games … talking, having a few drinks and a bit of supper and that sort of thing’. Another key ingredient was the playing of men’s and women’s matches on the same night. Again Reg Page understood the importance of this:

As [WASA] President, we didn’t want a night for men and a night for women. We wanted to combine it and that’s one of the beauties of softball is that it is a family sport. We have husbands playing in the men’s and wives playing in the women’s teams on the same night so they are still together. They play in different teams but the are still together on the night.


While the Vets were intent on having fun they were also very serious in their play and required firm umpiring. Albert Dumaresq co-opted umpires for the first couple of seasons but in 1996-97 Derek Atkinson reported that Vets had not received any direct assistance from WASUA. Fortunately, Shane and Jamie Whelan and Doug Paul provided ongoing support throughout the season. Again, the Vets’ experience meant that they were happy to do much of the umpiring themselves and call on the experts for the finals. The names of the teams provide interesting insights, too. Some are original like Legends which as no association with any other club. Legends was a tongue-in-cheek choice for a team composed almost entirely of former State players. Tip Top was named after a prominent local bakery. Some teams are related to Summer, Winter or affiliate competitions such as Bedford Express, Jaguars, Morley Eagles and Wanneroo. However, a few of the “younger” Vets play with one team in Summer or Winter competitions and with a different team in Vets. Opponents on Saturday can be teammates on Tuesday evenings. There does appear to be a difference between men and women with more men likely to play Winter and Vets than women playing Summer and Vets.


In 2008 Lorraine Page noted that 10 of the 16 Legends players only played Vets while Reg Page stated that only himself and one other Morley Magic players did not play Winter. Blue Jays is a revival of the team that was dominant in women’s softball from to 1970. Others were original and in the case of Cats’ Masters confusing. Originally Cats were Tom’s Cats after the coach Tommy Maher. Most of the players were former Bedford District Youth Club players and also State players. When Maher stopped his involvement the team became Perth Cats and then Cats Masters.[v] Cats Men is actually from Carine Cats. When Reg Page was asked why his team was called Morley Magic he explained, ‘Well, I think it is magical that we are playing … We’re part of Morley Eagles and Morley Magic was their State League team and from that came Magic and that was it’. A feature of Veterans softball has been the longevity of the teams and players. The original women’s teams were Legends (2 teams) and Tip Top. Legends have played every season and Lorraine Page has continued to play both Veterans and Summer Competition to the present. Vets softball has also been beneficial to the WASA. As Reg Page outlined:

I think one of the best things about Veterans is that it is bringing back people who have been in softball for many years and perhaps have kind of drifted away. It’s rekindled their interest in the sport … it brought back the volunters which was great. The person who has retired or has not got as many commitments as normal is able to come back and say, “Look, if you need help with a tournament or if you need help with this, I am available.” [At] a couple of national tournaments we had quite few Veterans looking after the grounds, looking after different things and that’s the biggest plus is that not only are they involved in the playing side but they are back as part of the Association.[vi]


Through the 1990s and early 2000s when the WASA hosted any level national championship there were a core group of Vets, Life and supporters of Shirley Schneider who would be “on duty” at Mirrabooka: Greta Craig in charge of the merchandise, Don Brooks on the gate, Val Prunster attending to the catering and selling tickets for the Final Night Dinner, and Lorraine Malcolm overseeing the statistics. The medals for the Best and Fairest players recognise outstanding WA softballers: Lorraine Page for the Women’s division, Geoff Bennett for Division 1 Men’s and Val Johnson for Division 2 men’s. Bennett was a player with Magic who was struck down with cancer. The medals are donated to the Vets competition by Trophy Specialists under an arrangement negotiated by Reg Page. Costs for Vets are kept to a minimum with individual fees rising to just $21 for the 2006-07 season and team fees set at $330. Players who participate in other WASA competitions only pay a registration fee to the competition they nominate as their main one.


During the 1993 tournament, Queensland Softball Association promoted the World Masters World Games scheduled for Brisbane in October 1994. WA teams responded to the promotion and at least one WA team has participated in every Masters carnival since 1993. Unlike other championships where teams are chosen to represent the State, veterans’ teams play under their own names. They must have approval from the WASA but they are not WASA teams. Players cover their own costs for all Masters competitions. Some fund raising is undertaken but each venture would cost an individual in the vicinity of $1,000 for airfare and accommodation. Masters softball has two divisions: 35 to 44 years of age and 45 and over. However, a highly skilled player 45 or over can play in the younger division but younger players cannot play in the older division. With large numbers of entries there are usually sub-divisions in each age bracket. Tournaments are conducted as round robins with the exact format being determined by the hosts. In 2009 in Sydney, divisions were only invoked for the finals.

Carnivals are held every two years. Legends have ‘won a gold medal every two years and one silver since ’93 … that’s eight, seven gold and one silver’. The men have not been as successful with ‘two gold and one bronze’.[vii] The first excursion was to Brisbane and the second to Melbourne. In the latter one Reg Page coached Legends as a promise to Shirley Roberts who was terminally ill and unable to travel. Shirley and Reg had known each other since their schooldays. Legends won gold and Tip Top won bronze in the Ladies 45+ division.


Despite having to travel to the eastern States most WA teams have enjoyed success. In Melbourne in 1995 Tip Top finally broke through for gold with Legends finishing fifth in the Women’s 45+ division. In the Men’s 45+ division Magic Men managed a fourth placing. In both the men’s and women’s 35+ divisions Western Masters and Perth Cats both won silver medals.In 2001 in Newcastle (NSW) three women’s WA teams won gold medals Southern Masters (Women 35+F), Pilbara (Women 35+ B) and Southern Masters (Women 45+) with Legends taking silver (Women 45+) and Perth Cats bronze (Women 35+). Dale Men won silver  (Men 45+).In Canberra in 2005 a special division of Over 55s was created to recognise all the players of this vintage. They played round robin matches in the 45 and Over division and with finals held for both age divisions. The Pages each added another gold medal to their tally. As the competition has grown the number of divisions has increased so there are multiple competitive grades in each division plus a recreational division where fun is a high priority. Legends and Magic now prefer this level. Flexibility is the key with the number of divisions and grades dependent upon the number of entries. If need be, divisions are combined for the qualifying round robin then returned to their original category for finals thus increasing the number of matches and medalists. The men’s competition has become increasingly intense with teams (not from WA) known to fly in pitchers and catchers from Canada and New Zealand just for the Masters. Vets is an asset for WA softball and has enabled players to participate for as long as they wish. Since the competition began in the early 1990s with predominantly players from the 1950s and 1960s, there has been a steady addition of former State team members who represented WA in the1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Thus among the ranks of the Vets are many familiar names such as Sheryl Fricker (nee Malcolm), Gail Clarke, Tony Bull, Bill Downing and Neal Delpero.

[i] For a more detailed explanation of the origin of the Australian Masters Games see The Oxford Companion to Australian Sport.

[ii] The author was present and noted this comment.

[iii] Reg Page

[iv] Lorraine Page, Interview, 21 February 1998.

[v] Lorraine Malcolm, Interview, May 2008.

[vi] Reg Page, Interview, 11 June 1998.

[vii] Lorraine and Reg Page, Interview, November 2008.