Men's fastpitch softball is alive and well in the Upper Perkiomen Valley.
According to Dale Johnson, umpire and former player, the popularity of the sport in the area peaked during his tenure as manager of the Eagle A.A. team. He said for nine years, the team Johnson first became a part of in 1956, hosted a double elimination tournament after the regular season.
Johnson said the tournament, a fundraiser which started Labor Day weekend and ran through the first week of October, attracted teams from as far away as Lancaster and Berks counties.
He said that at its peak, the tournament, which featured two games a night and attracted large crowds, included 34 teams.
"The regular season was over," Johnson said. "And everyone wanted to keep playing ball. We attracted some of the best players in southeastern Pennsylvania."
Johnson doesn't remember when the tournament occurred. Jeff Sell, current president of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the ASA and former Eagle AA player, thinks it went on during the 1960s.
Interest in fast-pitch softball has waned over the last five or six years while popularity in the slow-pitch version of the game has increased, according to Johnson. However, the Pennsburg UCC Eagle AA softball team continues to excel.
Last year the team, which competes in the 16-team Bux-Mont Church League, won the Pennsylvania Amateur Softball Association Fastpitch title and then played the title game of the 2013 Amateur Softball Association Men's Class "C" East Fastpitch National Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
Made up of mostly former baseball players at Upper Perkiomen Senior High, the softball players take the game seriously, according to Jay Rodenberger, this season's manager.
The roster, with an average age of 32, includes a bunch of college-aged players, according to Matt Ankele, a 20-year veteran with the team. "Finding time to play is not a problem," said Ankele, who pitches and plays first base. "It's fun. I like the guys and I like the game."
Kyle Smith, a catcher and third baseman, told himself he would quit playing when he turned 40. Six years later, the Pennsburg resident is still competing. "I can't stop," said Smith, who has played softball for 22 years. "It's something I really enjoy. And we are all good friends."
Prior to last week's home game at Pennsburg Community Park against St. Agnes from Sellersville, Ankele explained that the team raised approximately $400 last summer by holding a golf tournament and selling lottery tickets to cover their travel expenses to the national tournament.
Since the 1990s, Eagle AA has competed in 10 national championship tournaments in Prescott, Ariz.; College Station, Texas; Stockton, Cal.; Hastings, Nebraska; Canton, Ohio and Atlanta, Georgia.
Ankele said he's been playing softball since he was 16 years old, when he made a local traveling team. Rodenberger, who started in softball because of his father at the age of 16, relished the opportunity to play with his dad and brother on other teams.
According to Johnson, most of Eagle AA's players' fathers played for him. He said the fastpitch game attract players who are competitive and respectful.
"In this game you had to be a player to compete," said Johnson, 75, an active umpire since 1960. "I didn't meet too many fast pitch players who thought they were better than everybody else."