Park District Softball

Park District Softball

5 min read

Providing options to support a lifetime love of the game

By Gerry Healey, Brock Atwell, and Sue Omanson

Given the right parameters, softball is a team sport that can be played and enjoyed for a lifetime. Located in the Chicago area, the Naperville Park District has found that offering adults ages 19 to 90+ the opportunity to play the sport they love on a schedule that works for them is a winning combination.

Credit: Carol Matthews and Tony Inzerillo

The district’s adult softball program that began in the 1970s includes the following leagues:

  • Men’s 12-inch softball
  • Corporate Men’s 12-inch
  • Men’s 16-inch
  • Co-Recreational 14-inch
  • Men’s Masters (ages 40+)
  • Co-Recreational Senior (ages 50+).

Levels of competition range from casual to recreational to competitive.

How The Leagues Began

Prior to 1975, only “Chicago style” 16-inch softball was offered. In June 1975, the first Men’s 12-inch League was introduced and grew from eight teams to more than 50 within a few years. In time, a Women’s 11-inch League and a CoRec 14-inch League were added. In 1994, a Men’s Masters League (ages 40+) began for those who felt more comfortable playing with others of a similar age. Some of the players also played in the younger leagues and enjoyed both competitions.

The Senior League: Sandlot Softball

In the mid-1990s, the Senior League was added when the park district program manager, Gary Foiles, teamed up with retired high school teacher and coach, Fred Ynestad, to organize a casual league composed of players over the age of 50.

Ynestad and a group of retired and semi-retired players met once a week to play a pickup game. Ynestad asked Foiles for help in adding some structure to the games. Both men came up with a set time and place. The league followed normal softball rules, but the players modified and added others to accommodate the age and skill level of the players.

What started as a group of guys playing once a week, sometimes without enough players for two teams, has grown into a group of avid softball enthusiasts that meets three times a week. The casual “drop in” league now numbers more than 70 men and women who play from April to November. The park district provides the field and the player registration, and the players run the games and coordinate the week-to-week logistics. 

The friendships that have developed go beyond the love of softball. The group stays in touch throughout the year, enjoying a picnic each summer, a bowling league during the fall and winter, and a Christmas party.

Credit: Naperville Park District

A Taste For National Competition

Some of the players from the Senior League also play on competitive senior softball traveling teams. One of these teams, the Chicago Strikers, has won numerous national titles, including three gold medals in the Senior Olympics and most recently, in September 2022, the Senior Softball Association 75 and Over World Series in Las Vegas, Nev.

As with the Senior League, many teams and players from the Masters League compete in senior softball regional and national tournaments and have claimed many state, regional, and national titles. Additionally, eight male players in the program have been inducted into the United States Specialty Sports Association Hall of Fame.

Successes And Challenges

One of the strongest assets of the programs is the variety of play offered. People can always find a level of play at which they are comfortable. With support from the grounds crew in maintaining quality fields for play and the park district including funds for major field improvements in its capital plan, the program has been set up for a winning streak.

However, the road has not always been paved with gold. The park district weathered significant challenges in 2022 when a tornado ravaged the Frontier Sports Complex on a Sunday in August; thanks to the grounds crew and management, softball was up and running by the following Tuesday. As with most other departments at that time, COVID-19 had an impact, but management was able to adjust programs based on state guidelines for social distancing. The cooperation of the teams, combined with the guidance of leaders, allowed the programs to operate, even when many teams decided to sit out a season or two. After a reduction in the size of some leagues, the programs experienced a rebound, and further recovery is expected in 2023.  

Tips For Running A Successful Program

Keep costs down. While some leagues provide cash prizes to winners, we have found that most teams that participate in Naperville prefer to play more games and forego the big prizes for the winners. To provide as many games as possible and keep the fees minimal, first- and second-place winners are awarded a combination of trophies and/or mugs or glasses engraved with the team’s final standing for that season.

At one time, we also provided scorekeepers at each field. However, now that umpires are accustomed to keeping score, we have field supervisors who assist and monitor multiple fields. This has helped offset the rising costs of softballs, staff wages, and umpire fees. It has become essential to be financially creative in order to keep leagues affordable and teams coming back.

Pay attention to participants’ needs. To accommodate players’ busy schedules, the leagues play many double-headers. That means travel to and from the ballparks results in two hours of play and half the number of nights it takes to complete a season. The goal is to allow registrants the ability to participate with the least amount of impact to their schedules.

Also, with staff members being ball players themselves —including field supervisors, the softball coordinator, and the program manager—they keep in close communication with team captains to avoid conflicts for those playing on multiple teams. For example, when we know that one of the local professional teams is playing a big game on a particular night, we avoid scheduling games at that time.

Park district softball is an activity where young players in their 20s and 30s can find fun competition and players over 40 can continue to play competitively or opt for a more casual game. What’s important is there are options to decide where players fit in best—no matter the level of love for the game.

Gerry Healey is the adult softball coordinator for the Naperville Park District in Illinois. Reach him at

Brock Atwell is the program manager for the Naperville Park District. Reach him at

Sue Omanson is the community development manager for the Naperville Park District. Reach her at

The Minnie Minoso Connection

A special note in the history of Naperville Park District adult softball is that in 1991, 2022 National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Minnie Minoso of the Chicago White Sox played on one of the park district teams at the age of 66. Minoso was a six-decade player inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame seven years after his death in 2015. He was coaching for the White Sox in 1991 when he came to Naperville to play on one of the teams in the Men’s League for several games during the midseason. The players were thrilled to have the opportunity to play softball with him. He inspired many—not only for his outstanding career in Major League Baseball—but also for his warmth, vitality, and longevity as a player.