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For the first time in the 21-year history of the Payson ASA Labor Day Classic Slow Pitch Softball Tournament, a seniors' division will be included in the holiday diamond festivities.

Tournament Director Teddy Pettet opted to add a 55-years-plus division after he was approached by local players who assured him there would be plenty of interest.

"I was told we could get 10 or 11 (senior) teams," he said.

One of the reasons the seniors could be interested in playing locally is that the Fountain Hills Parks and Recreation Department, along with the local department, is currently sponsoring a senior league that plays its games at Rumsey Park.

"The tournament will probably get some teams out of that league," Pettet said.

The Labor Day Classic, which was founded by Pettet's father Ted Pettet, has long been the most popular tournament in Payson.

Class C and D, coed and women teams from around the state flock to Payson for one last softball fling before the summer season wraps up. Many of the teams are Valley squads filled with players eager to escape the searing desert heat.

About 16 years ago, Pettet took over the Classic's tournament from his father. Since then, he has added some new wrinkles including a equalizer system on home runs.

In past years, some teams loaded up on power hitters who could easily swat the ball beyond the Rumsey Park fences.

"We'd have some teams with 15 home runs and others with none," Pettet said.

Now, an equalizer scoring system insures that a team can have no more than two home runs more that its opponent.

A running count of round trippers is kept and if a team hits a third home run more that its foe, it is counted as an out. That system, Pettet said, has resulted in a much more competitive tournament.

Another problem that in the early years Ted Pettet didn't have to face is the use of state-of-the-art titanium bats that can add 30 to 40 feet to a player's hitting capabilities.

At the 2002 edition of the Classic, titanium bats will not be allowed.

Due to the possibility of injuries, steel cleats have also been banned.

The format

Pettet's plan for the upcoming tournament includes hosting both men's and women's tournaments Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 at Rumsey Park.

Sept. 1 and 2, also at Rumsey Park, the coed and seniors tournaments will be held.

For the entry fee of $185, each team is guaranteed at least three games. Pettet has put a limit of 20 teams in each of the four divisions.

The men's format would include playing a pre-tournament in which the results would be used to seed the teams into C and D divisions for the final day of competition.

If enough coed teams register, Pettet plans on hosting upper and lower divisions in that tournament.

At the conclusion of play, individual and team prizes will be awarded to the first- through fourth-place teams.

Registration forms for the tournament are available at the parks and recreation offices at Green Valley Park. The entry deadline is 5 p.m., Aug. 28.

Call Pettet at 474-5242, ext. 260 for more information.

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