Nine of the most outstanding senior softball teams from around Arizona will flock to Payson this weekend to participate in the inaugural Rim Country Invitational Champions Tournament.
According to tournament director Dave Crowell -- a longtime proponent of senior softball in Payson -- the upcoming tournament is the first of three rounds to be held in Payson. The second fray is set for May 2 and 3, the other June 12 and 13. From the three tournaments, a grand champion will be crowned based on overall finishes.
The tournaments will be contested in two divisions. The A division will be made up of senior teams with players 50 years of age and older. Teams with players 60-plus years will compete in the B division.
Four of the five teams entered in the A division have qualified for berths in the Senior Softball World Championship in October. To qualify, teams must have finished in the top three of a regional qualifying championship sanctioned by the Senior Softball Summit.
"No longer can (a team) show up a regional qualifier, play, go home and then to the world championships -- you have to earn your berths," Crowell said.
The national qualifiers include the Fountain Hill Falcons, Apollo One, Prescott Miners and the Arizona Blasters.
The Payson Grays, who have not yet qualified for the World Championships, will round out the A division.
In addition to the players on the Grays, several other local players will compete. Billy Joe Winchester, Tom Neblett and Crowell are on the Fountain Hills team roster. Dick Erickson and Danny Martinez will play for Apollo One. Former Payson resident Dwayne Morder will compete for the Fountain Hills Cougars in the B division.
Round-robin tournament play for both divisions tips off at 8 a.m. Saturday.
Division A will play its games at Rumsey 2 and the B division at Rumsey 1.
At the completion of the round-robins, the teams will be seeded into a double-elimination tournament that will begin at 8 a.m. Sunday also on Rumsey 1 and 2.
"The public is cordially invited to watch some top-caliber senior softball -- bring the whole family," Crowell said. There is no admission charge and concession stands will be open at both fields.