Local senior citizens have no plans to stop playing

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 29, 2007

Instead of steroids, there’s Geritol. Instead of hip-hop or rap music on the car stereo, it’s Frank Sinatra or the Beatles. Instead of doubleheaders, it’s one good game and then a nap.

But when they cross the white lines to play, there’s nothing different about the way they play except for their age.

Brothers Herman and Ray Zornes and friend Dave Swartzwelder might be senior citizens, but they are young at heart when it comes to playing the game of softball.

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All three are members of the Southern Ohio Tri-State Sports Baseball/Softball Hall of Fame, and all three are still active players. And not only do the play the game, they play it well.

“Herman nags me until I play,” said Ray Zornes with a chuckle. “As long as I can still move around, I’ll play. I still love to be around the game.”

Herman Zornes, 74, was inducted into the local Hall of Fame in 2005.

Ray Zornes, 69, was a 2002 inductee and Swartzwelder, 68, joined the group in 2004.

Swartzwelder says the game keeps them young.

“I just love to play. We’re still playing. You can’t shut it down or you’re done,” said Swartzwelder.

Herman Zornes is the most active of the three. He splits time between Ironton and Florida. Between the two leagues and various tournaments, he plays 140 games a year after playing 160 games a year until recently.

As the pitcher for his 65-and-older league, Zornes has racked up a 110-10 record in seven seasons. Even though he’s the oldest player on his team, Zornes has twice been voted the league’s Most Valuable Player.

And don’t think the numbers are good for older players. Consider the fences are 300-feet and one of the players in the senior citizen league is considered the fastest outfielder in the country.

He also happens to be 71-years old.

“I’ve been fortunate. Health-wise I’m in good shape,” said Herman Zornes.

All three men played in the Ironton Recreation Department summer adult league at Dow Chemical. Herman Zornes was picked to play in the league’s all-star game.

“I started playing after high school and quit when I was 44, then started to play again when I was 61 when I moved to Florida. I heard they had good softball there,” said Herman Zornes.

While the Zornes brothers have managed to avoid any major health problems, Swartzwelder has had a series of setbacks.

Still, they’re no match for his determination to play.

“I have diabetes, I had two (heart) stents put in, and I’ve had a catherization, but I’m still playing,” Swartzwelder said.

“WhenI had my stents, I asked the doctor when I could start walking and he said, ‘tomorrow.’ And I did. I asked the doctor when I could start playing again and he said, ‘two weeks.’ Two weeks later I was playing.”

Despite the hundreds of games they’ve played and the awards they’ve won, Swartzwelder said they still have the desire to play.

“We didn’t like to lose back then and I don’t like to lose now. We took it hard,” said Swartzwelder.

Ray Zornes said he was reluctant to play in the men’s league at Dow, but not because of his age.

“I try to get to the games. We play 18 games and we play different people. I don’t like to commit to playing and then not be able to show up,” said Ray Zornes.

All three men played with Art’s Superette, Malone’s Mobile Homes, and Bob Linn Sporting Goods softball teams. Those teams — especially Art’s — dominated the Tri-State and reached the state tournament on several occasions.

“We went to the state four or five times. It gets tougher when you get there,” said Swartzwelder.

The group did have some success at the state level when they won the old timer’s state tournament, a 35-and-older division.

“We thought it was old-timers then, but now were playing at 65 and over and it doesn’t seem like we were so old back then,” said Swartzwelder.

The trio were part of a team that won the ISSA world championship four years ago in Manassa, Va. Ray Zornes was named to the All-World team for his performance and Swartzwelder was selected the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Herman Zornes has been on three national championship team including a world tournament championship three years ago. He plays in the 70-and-over World Series next month in Minneapolis.

“I guess we’ll keep playing until our bodies won’t let us,” said Ray Zornes.