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Softball Players Association, SPA News, 8-18-2014

Sylvania Ohio Senior Softball Sizzles

Jerry Keefe's Marketing Skills Pays Dividends

by Harold Hoffman

SYLVANIA, OHIO – Sylvania, Ohio has become one of the fastest growing success stories in not only SPA but in all of senior softball.

In eight years the SYLVANIA SENIOR SOFTBALL LEAGUE has grown from one ten team league to two leagues with twenty teams and nearly 300 participants from age 50 up.

In addition, the four-year old SPA SYLVANIA GREAT LAKES NIT CLASSIC, spearheaded by members from the SYLVANIA organization, is now in the top sixteen attended senior softball tournaments among all SPA, SSUSA and ISSA senior tournaments east of Las Vegas.

Although he won't take all the credit he deserves, JERRY KEEFE has been the major moving factor in both.

"It took a lot of people not just one to get the ball moving to form the League and the tournament," KEEFE said, " GORDON HIRSCH, BRUCE ANDERSON, GARY MEYER and myself got the idea to start a senior league back in 2008 and that is how it started."

Most of the original members of the League came from the East Toledo organization and really weren't happy with the ETO.

Borrowing on his marketing skills as MARKETING DIRECTOR for TOLEDO JEWELERS, KEEFE organized a marketing plan that would make any organization proud.

Using a newspaper blitz in all papers within a FIFTY-MILES radius, he promoted and advertised for senior softball players. He then devised a mailing list using names of former players from rec leagues the quartet knew and topped it off with a phone blitz.

"Reaching potential customers, advertising the product and then selling it is the secret to any marketing plan and it really worked well for us," KEEFE said.

Another major factor in getting the league going and keeping it growing in popularity since 2008 has been sponsors.

"We couldn't keep our price per player down without sponsors," KEEFE stated,"Without them it would cost players over $100 to sign-up in the League as opposed to the $70 we now receive".

"The sponsors take care of the team shirts and hats and the league's biggest expense then are the field rentals and year-end awards. Members of all the league championship teams receive jackets and we also have additional individual awards at the Leagues Awards and Recognition Banquets," he explained.

Foremost among the sponsors is FRICKERS SPORTS BAR in SYLVANIA. Owner RAY FRICK sponsors six teams in the twenty-team league. He also backs the 70'S FRICKERS SPORTS BAR travel team and is constantly contributing additional money to the organizations operation.

Speaking of tournament teams, there are travel teams in the 50, 55, 60, 65 and 70 teams from the SYLVANIA league.

"Having travel teams has also helped increase our membership as members look forward to playing in different locations like Columbus, Barberton, Dayton and Shelbyville, " KEEFE explained. "Maybe in a few years we can go to DALTON and other SPA tournaments."

Attending SPA tournaments in BARBERTON and COLUMBUS also gave KEEFE the idea to have a senior tournament in SYLVANIA.

"I contacted SSUSA and SPA but nobody was interested in us," KEEFE explained, "But that changed when SPA EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR RIDGE HOOKS met with me at THEE BUCKEYE CLASSIC TOURNAMENT in JUNE, 2011 and talked with me about the possibility."

"I was thinking, yeah right, you will probably forget about me and SYLVANIA as soon as you get back to OKLAHOMA. BOY WAS I WRONG!!"

HOOKS flew to SYLVANIA in JULY to meet with KEEFE and PACESETTERS ROB CONOVER about SYLVANIA hosting a tournament.

He followed that up with another meeting in DECEMBER and shortly thereafter the SYLVANIA GREAT LAKES NIT was born.

"Just like the creation of the SYLVANIA SOFTBALL LEAGUE, getting the tournament started also was not a one-man operation," KEEFE said, "In addition to ROB CONOVER and PACESETTER PARK, we received a lot of help from SPA's LARRY MILLIRON and HO HOFFMAN, especially through promoting our tournament at THEE BUCKEYE CLASSIC and on their web site. HO and RED BOLE also furnished us with their data base of over 200 teams with names, e-mails and phone numbers we could contact about our tournament."

KEEFE and the SYLVANIA tournament might have needed help at the start but now they are not only running on their own, but also helping other SPA tournaments directors.

In his marketing mailer about the SYLVANIA tournament, KEEFE also promotes THEE BUCKEYE CLASSIC, COLUMBUS and other area SPA tournaments.

"Those tournaments are always promoting our tournament on newsletters, web sites and handouts at their tournament, so we do the same for them," KEEFE explained, 'I have found if SPA area tournaments work together to promote each other, we all benefit."

The SYLVANIA League also has one of the best marketing tools in senior softball with their own web page at sylvaniaseniorsoftball.com. Lots of interesting articles, player profiles, current news and archives.

However, it also has one of the best photo shoots in any senior web site. JOEL HANSON does a fantastic job with his pics on teams, individuals, sponsors, awards and such.

Surprisingly, the one thing KEEFE is most proud of is not the tournament or the league but rather a special event put on by SYLVANIA LEAGUE COMMISIONER JAY SCHRAMM and members of the SYLVANIA SENIOR SOFTBALL LEAGUE.

In MAY, SCHRAMM along with the league organization raised over $30,000 for the WOUNDED WARRIORS PROJECTS. It was done mainly through a triple header softball event featuring WOUNDED WARRIORS, SYLVANIA POLICE. SYLVANIA FIREMEN and SYLVANIA LEAGUE players among others.

There was also a number of other fund raisers and activities.

KEEFE and SCHRAMM both agree there should be more to senior softball then just wins and losses.

"With the creation of the SYLVANIA SENIOR SOFTBALL LEAGUE and the tournament, seniors have found an outlet to participate in an activity that they had previously given up on," KEEFE summarized, ""At SYLVANIA PACESETTER PARK, senior players have found their own "Field of Dreams"

And you really couldn't ask for more.

Toledo Blade, COMMENTARY, 5-19-2014

Wounded Warriors go to bat

Young amputees to benefit from May 31 fund-raiser

America's best and bravest are coming to town to play a little ball at Ned Skeldon Stadium. They’re really good. They play hard, the same way they fought for their country.

Oh, there’s that little problem with the amputations — an arm here, a leg there. But don’t tell these guys they’re disabled.

They’re the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. On May 31, they’ll play a triple-header at the old Mud Hens ball park in Maumee. They’ll square off against a team of local police officers and firefighters in the first game, take on an “all-star” team of local celebrities in the second game, and then, in the featured game of the day, battle a team of Detroit Tigers alumni.

Denny McLain, Mickey Stanley, Tom Matchick, Tom Timmerman, and “class clown” Jon Warden are among the former Tigers who’ve said they’ll play, along with another former pro, Stan Clarke. Organizers expect to hear from others. University of Toledo football legend Chuck Ealey has been invited to participate.

The former pros and the locals had better be ready. Their opponents certainly will be. They are used to winning. Two of them are still active-duty military. The rest are veterans.

All of them share a passion for getting on with their lives despite losing a limb on the battlefield. “Life without a limb,” their motto says, “is limitless.”

Their coach, David Van Sleet, is not an amputee, but an Army veteran who spent more than 30 years with the Department of Veterans Affairs, working in the development of prosthetic devices.

“I’d see these fellows come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and I could tell they were athletes,” he said. “But they were sure they would never play sports again.”

So he founded the amputee softball team. “These are guys who could have gone the other way,” he said. “But softball gave them a second chance. Wait until you see them now. The camaraderie on this team is amazing.”

Leonard Anderson lost his left arm below the elbow and part of his right hand. He trains police K-9 dogs. Zach “Beef” Briseno lost both legs below the knee during Operation Iraqi Freedom. When he’s not traveling with the Warriors, he’s coaching his son’s baseball team.

Matias Ferreira runs on curved carbon-fiber blades like those worn by former Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius. Oh, and Mr. Ferreira, a Marine, is into skydiving and snowboarding. No limits. No boundaries.

SSS EXHIBIT! A team of Sylvania Senior Softball players braved the snow and cold, frigid weather to set-up a promotional display at the UT vs. BG game on Feb 5. The exhibit was held in the West corridor of Savage Hall. Jim Schneider, left, Neal Klopping, Guy Stager and Jerry Keefe greeted guests. Jim was instrumental in setting up the event with UT officials.

Saul Bosquez is from Adrian. He lost part of his left leg to a roadside bomb in Baghdad in 2007. He had played baseball all his life and was excited when tryouts for the Wounded Warriors were announced three years ago. He made the team.

“Everyone sees the physical part of what we do, but for me the mental part is just as important,” he said. Knowing he was not alone, he explained, was great therapy.

The Wounded Warriors travel the country, playing teams of able-bodied athletes to raise awareness that evolving prosthetic technology means amputees can still lead normal, productive lives. What these players do on a ball field will amaze you.

They hope to get their message across to kids who’ve lost a limb. Often they’ll recruit a local youngster who’s an amputee to serve as bat boy or bat girl.

They play roughly 100 games a year. So far, they’ve visited 75 cities in 28 states. This will be their first Toledo stop. The team has 25 players, although not all of them can make every engagement.

The team operates a kids’ camp for youngsters between the ages of 8 and 12 who are missing a limb. Team members serve as coaches and mentors at the camp. The inaugural event was held last year in Orlando. This year’s camp will be in Louisville June 9-13.

A parade featuring the players will begin at 10 a.m. May 31 at Maumee High School and travel to Skeldon Stadium. The first game will start at 12:30 p.m., the second at 3:30, and the tussle with the Tigers at 7:30.

Admission to all the games technically is free, although donations will be sought. You’ll get a really warm feeling that you helped send an amputee child to camp.

Fifth Third Bank branches are accepting donations also. The Sylvania Senior Softball Association is serving as the official host, and the Mud Hens plan to promote the event on their scoreboard at Fifth Third Field.

Jim Henderson, of suburban Oregon, a Vietnam veteran and one of the local organizers, explains why he got involved: “The point is to convince kids who face these problems that they can live life to the fullest.”

Of course they can. The Wounded Warriors certainly do.

Thomas Walton is the retired editor and vice president of The Blade. His column appears every other Monday. His commentary, “Life As We Know It,” airs each Monday at 5:44 p.m. on WGTE-FM 91.

Contact him at: twalton@theblade.com

photo/Joel Hansen

SSS FOUNDING FATHERS! Jerry Keefe, left, Bruce Anderson and Gary Meyer were honored at the April 3 Organizational Meeting for their founding and guiding spirit in establishing the Sylvania Senior Softball League in 2008. The league started with 10 teams and has grown to 20, with over 245 members. The Masters League plays on Tuesdays and the Legends' League on Thursdays at Pacesetter Park