Senior Softball-USA (SS-USA) is dedicated to informing and uniting the senior softball players of America and the world. The organization sanctions tournaments and championships, registers players, writes the rulebook, publishes a regular newsletter, hosts international softball tours and promotes the sport throughout the world. Fun fact: More than 1.5 million men and women over 40 play senior softball in the United States today.
Sports Destination Management: Senior Softball-USA is quite an ambitious organization. How old is it?
Terry Hennessy: We’ve been around since 1988. We’ve been the largest senior softball organization in the country for more than 20 years now.
SDM: What is your season?
Hennessy: Our first tournaments start in January and our last end in mid-November. We also have a convention in December, although we’re mostly a tournament association.
SDM: How are tournaments structured?
Hennessy: We offer 89 to 90 competitive tournaments and then about 20 or so recreational tournaments. Our two major events are the World Championships, which this year will be held in Las Vegas from September 15 to October 2, and the Tournament of Champions, which will be held in Polk County, Florida from February 1 to February 5, 2023. The World Championships have about 650 teams and the Tournament of Champions is smaller; it’s invitation-only and it’s more prestigious. About 250 teams come to that one.
Some of our events are qualifiers for the Tournament of Champions. The recreational tournaments are just that – recreational. You do not qualify for anything by playing in them, although they are sanctioned by our organization. People generally play in them because they love the sport and want to get a few swings in.
SDM: How big are the other tournaments? Any idea on the economic impact of those?
Hennessy: The number of teams really depends on the event and the location. If you put all our national qualifiers together – that is 90 to 100 events – I’d say it would be a total of $180 million.
SDM: A 650-team tournament is a significant event. What do you look for in a city to host something that size?
Hennessy: We try to stay at the same locations – we believe in long term relationships. If we see that something works, we keep it going. One thing, though, is the fact that the major tournaments really need sponsorships, and they need cities that will partner with them.
SDM: Any other factors?
Hennessy: Geography and timing. We continually on the outlook for cities that might be a good fit for us, depending on when the tournament is and how many teams we are expecting. If you look at our schedule, you’ll see we have something going just about every couple of weeks. In terms of where more players and teams are located, I’d say the South and Southwest are the hotbeds, so a lot of our events are held there.
SDM: If someone wants to host an event, how should they get in touch with you?
Hennessy: They can send us an email staying where they are, telling us what kind of facilities they have, and letting us know they are interested in hosting.
SDM: Is Las Vegas a new destination for you?
Hennessy: No – we’ve been there about a dozen years now. What we found in the early days, when we were rotating the World Championships around, was that the weather could be tricky in some places like the Midwest, and we wouldn’t get as many teams.
SDM: When you have teams competing, are they broken out by age or skill level?
Hennessy: Both: We have tournaments that host teams in five-year age groups as well as in skill levels.
SDM: Is it predominantly male?
Hennessy: It is; I would say it’s 85 to 90 percent male. However, I can tell you that the fastest-growing groups are men and women ages 40-45.
SDM: Do you think that’s because people played in their high school or college teams and miss it?
Hennessy: Yes. Something interesting is that one of our teams is made up of 90-year-olds.
SDM: You mentioned you have international play.
Hennessy: We’ve done friendship tournaments in different countries; we have had one in Canada, we have one coming up this month in Prague, and next March, we’ll have one in New Zealand.
SDM: 2020 must have been hard on your organization.
Hennessy: It was challenging. Our goal was not to fold but it was still tough on everyone. We managed to put on 20 tournaments. It was a lot less than we usually do but at least we were able to hold some events. We wanted to get back to playing so we were asking all the officials, “Tell us what you want us to do, and we’ll do it.” We took a lot of precautions. As a result, we had only 40 cases of COVID. A lot of organizations used what we did as a basis for getting their own sports back up and running.
SDM: That is impressive. When you travel to put on a tournament in another city, do you use volunteers to help manage the event or direct spectators?
Hennessy: Not really. We bring in our own directors and we hire umpires, so we don’t really need volunteers. Plus, the tournaments we’re putting on are not as much of a spectator sport as they are a participation sport. Each player might bring one extra person; this is not a tournament where the whole family attends. This organization is all about having a fun time. It’s good for us to be able to offer something that gives people an opportunity for socializing they might be missing, and the chance to stay healthy and active and happy. That’s really the glue that holds it all together: the socialization and the camaraderie.