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Peterson: Pandemic aside, the game goes on

They may be a pandemic going on in this country. And record unemployment and racial strife rages on. But still the game goes on.

That game — and there aren’t many going nowadays — is the 50 and Over Softball League.

Now, the league may be the only operating one of any kind locally at the moment.

Heck, even the Little League season was canceled because of health concerns.

But the local graybeards will tentatively begin (weather permitting) the season on Thursday.

The 35 And Over League was initiated in 1978. It was intended as a place for aging players to finish out their careers on the playing field.

But it was later transformed into the 50 And Over as more and more players decided to find a place to play their favorite sport.

By that time, the regular younger softball league had dropped to below a dozen. And to be perfectly honest, aside from a couple of the better teams, the level of ball had also dropped off.

Ball of some kind has been played on local diamonds since the early 1900s.

There’s been only two times a season has been canceled. One came during the infamous Spanish Flu outbreak in 1918 when millions of lives were lost in this country.

The other came midway in the 1939 season when an outbreak of encephalitis washed away the last third of the season in the Northern Wisconsin-Upper Michigan League.

Late Houghton County Sheriff John Wiitanen said the outbreak brought things to a complete stop on local diamonds.

“Everybody took that one seriously,” recalled Wiitanen, who pitched for several teams in the league. “It was nothing to sneeze at.”

Of course, modern medicine has erased most of those fears for ballplayers.

But for some players, the desire to play is still there.

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